Swimming is not rehabilitation

dog swimming with head up and back extended

In recent years, dog rehabilitation is becoming recognized as an important step in recovery after injury. However, many dog owners think that swimming is the answer.

In many cases, swimming can make things worse. Many dogs don’t like or are not natural swimmers. This makes them struggle in the water; they stick their head up, tense their back muscles and scramble with their front legs to keep afloat.

So if it is the shoulder that needs strengthening on a labrador with no back issues or pain this might be helpful. Most of the time though, it is a back leg like a cruciate injury after surgery, back legs aren’t used much in swimming. Many dogs also have some form of stiffness in the back which will jam up if they swam.

Another common mistake is to swim too early in the rehabilitation. Muscles become sore from overwork. If the body is not ready or balanced, too strenuous exercise will stress these muscles more. It takes experience and skill to judge when the correct exercise should be performed.


I prefer wading to swimming. Wading keeps the feet on the ground so the back is not arched, all four feet have to work so the back legs can be strengthened. You can vary the water depth to suit the area you want strengthened. For the non swimmers, we can borrow cavaletti exercises from the horse world. So poles on the ground or an obstacle course will work the front and back legs as well as the core muscles in the back.

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