Can cavapoos swim?

Whilst cavapoos are capable of swimming, they are not the biggest fans of the water and don’t tend to enjoy entering the water of a depth much higher than their paws. Every dog is different, however, and your cavapoo may be introduced to swimming by another dog and take to it.

Early Autumn is a joyful time for both owners and dogs. The mornings and evenings have a pleasurable chill to them, a warning that Winter is on the way, whilst the daytime temperatures may still reach those of July or August and the sun gilds the trees with their emerging golds and reds. Our walks may take us past rivers and streams or lakes. Some of us live near the coast.

And so the question arises: what about swimming for my dog? The answer is usually a resounding “Yes!” The cavapoo is, after all, the happy combination of two breeds that generally enjoy water. 

Indeed, the poodle has a long tradition of diving in to retrieve waterfowl, and Shakespeare refers to the water-spaniel, a now-extinct breed with a name which nevertheless reminds us that most spaniels are attracted to swimming and also retrieve their prey from the water.  But before you rush to the nearest shop to buy Fido his very first bathing trunks and gel sandals, there are a few matters relating to the safety and wellbeing of your dog.

Can all dogs swim?

Well, no. We have all heard the myths about doggy paddle. Throw your dog into water and the result will be a swimming style based on the rapid flapping of all four limbs. The younger the pup, the more successful the outcome. Both are too young to have developed anything more than the elemental fears they were born with.

The reality is different. Some dogs are naturals in the water, and the best time for them to be introduced is in puppyhood, although with a rescue dog, this may not be possible.  One of my dogs, a spaniel-collie cross, could scarcely be kept from water.  She jumped into the garden pond and threatened to destroy the lining.  She was happy to float in every muddy pond, nose pointing towards the banks like the prow of a boat. One of my collies was nine before she took the plunge, although I had had her from just over seven weeks and our walks furnished every opportunity. She was clearly afraid of the water. When her companion died and I acquired a pup, Ishbel was immediately attracted to water and would jump into the local stream after a ball. Tamsin looked on with envy.

 A friend and I watched for almost an hour as she hovered on the bank or crossed in a shallow place with stepping stones.  She was clearly longing to retrieve her favourite ball.  We sent it close enough to the neighbouring bank for her to step into the water.  Then we aimed it just that little bit too far out for her to paddle to it.  There was a pause while she considered and agonised before finally pushing herself off into the water, to a round of applause.  In a very human way, she revelled in the attention. Thereafter, she was in the stream every day.  She entered the water at her own pace, not at mine, and this is the key.

Some dogs will never be brave enough.  Some will simply not enjoy it. And, note, swimming will not give Fido a liking for that much-needed bath. In his mind, there is no comparison.  Your bathroom will still look as if you have been entertaining a beached whale after your dog has vented his outrage.

How safe is the water?

Glad you asked.  OK, we all know what’s really involved here. Our dogs can leap in where we can’t, and we experience the thrill by proxy.  I remember the fun of swimming in fresh, cold, clear river water in the Scottish borders, after a vigorous run through a hillside of wild pansies, but most of the time, swimming in rivers is impossible.  They may be too contaminated – or it may be plain immodest to change into a bathing costume.  Dogs are less inhibited….However, if it’s not safe for you, it’s probably not safe for them either.   Let’s look at some of the hazards.

  • Algae are aquatic plants, but blue-green algae are actually cyanobacteria which can be toxic to dogs. They accumulate in rivers and streams, but also in stagnant water such as garden ponds and containers, or in ponds in the wild, especially in summer.  They are invisible but collectively give the appearance of blue-green scum or foam or even brown dots.  Your dog may drink it or ingest it later whilst grooming himself, and the effects can be fatal. They include weakness, seizures, the inability to stand and tremors as the bacteria cause liver malfunction.  They have been known to infect swans and even to cause rashes and illness in humans.  Avoid water with any sign of this. Ask other owners to recommend a safe stretch of water for your dog.
  • Waterways used by sailors may be contaminated by fuel. Keep your dog away from canals, which may also contain blue-green algae.
  • Consider the possibility of sharp objects under the surface. Unfortunately, daytrippers are not always above chucking empty cans and bottles into water, but agricultural rubbish can also make its way into streams. One of my dogs was badly injured and required an operation after landing on a barb under the water.  At one time, there had been a barbed wire fence dividing the stream into sections.  Had I tried to remove the barb, the paw would have been badly damaged.
  • Are streams in land grazed by livestock? Do they wade in the water and leave deposits such as slurry?
  • Every summer, news bulletins are bound to include “heartwarming” stories of dogs rescued at sea after venturing too far from the shore. Another danger is that seawater shallow enough to paddle in may suddenly become deep because of an underwater shelf.  Whether you are taking your dog on a boat or to the seaside, it is an excellent idea to buy Fido his own life jacket. Do your research and make it the best you can buy: the best fitted, the best tested. After all, your dog is The Best.  And don’t neglect the research on the beach you plan to visit.
  • Are you in an isolated place? Where can you get help if your dog – or you yourself – get into trouble?  At least carry a mobile phone and make sure it can pick up a signal.


In colder weather, your dog may be as eager to jump into the water as he was in summer, but he will need to be dried. Fortunately, modern owners are increasingly too sensible to confuse proper care with mollycoddling. Keep towels in the car, make sure that they are laundered and aired as soon as you get home and place your dog in warm, dry surroundings as his fur will take some time to dry. With longer-eared breeds such as cavapoos, check the ears regularly, especially after they have had a swim.

Toys for the water

Never throw sticks for your dog, either on dry land or in water.  If your dog acquires a stick, it is less dangerous than throwing it and encouraging him to catch it.  A stick landing from above at speed can lodge in his throat or pierce the windpipe. Instead, go for floating toy sticks and balls, but make sure that they are made of a material your dog can’t consume.  (This is quite a consideration with mine as they love to chew and destroy.) Another tip is to buy toys in blue, yellow, orange or a yellow-rich green. I made the mistake of buying my dog a floating stick in red and wondering why she was swimming round and round looking for it as it crept up behind her, nudged her ear and bonked her nose. “It’s there, you stupid mutt,” I seethed from the bank. Of course, she couldn’t see it because dogs are red-green colourblind. Dogs perceive colour, but having only two types of cone in the retina, they see a more limited range than we do.

So – find a stream, pond or beach that comes highly recommended, equip your dog with all that he needs, do your research, and everything should go absolutely swimmingly!