When you think of Australian Shepherds, you probably picture them herding cattle, being in a rodeo, or just energetically running in a park. But have you ever wondered if Aussies like water?
The answer depends on the dog. Australian Shepherds don’t take to water like the dogs bred for it, such as Labrador Retrievers. Some love the water while others aren’t so sure. However, they are all capable of swimming when given a chance.
Let’s dive deep into everything Australian Shepherds and water. We also go over a few ways to safely introduce your Aussie to water and swimming.
Why Don’t All Australian Shepherds Like Water?
Australian Shepherds were not bred to work in water. The ancestors of the Aussies came from the Basque region of Spain, where they were used as shepherd dogs.
The Basque shepherds traveled to Australia with their dogs, and in the 1800s, they again brought their dogs with them to the United States. At this point, they had gained popularity as rodeo dogs, and since they had come from Australia, the Americans gave them their Australian Shepherd name.
But it was Americans that bred the dogs that gave us the breed that is so well-loved today, so they actually should be called “American Shepherds.”
In any case, since these dogs were bred as working dogs that only worked on the land, they don’t have the same affinity for water as water dog breeds.
Can Australian Shepherds Swim?
Most dog breeds have the ability to swim, and some can naturally swim as soon as they hit the water. But some breeds should stay out of water that is deep enough for swimming because of their flat faces and body shapes (Boxers, Basset Hounds, Shih Tzus, etc.).
Dogs with super thick and long coats might have difficulty swimming, so it’s best to keep these factors in mind.
Australian Shepherds have moderately long double coats that help protect them against cold and heat. A double coat not designed for water can weigh the dog down to a certain degree. This could help explain why some Aussies are reluctant to plunge into a body of water.
But Australian Shepherds are athletic and enthusiastic and have the right build for swimming. Some of these dogs will thoroughly enjoy running into the water and going for a swim.
So, yes, Aussies are capable of swimming, but sometimes they need to be encouraged and taught the basics.
Introducing a Dog to Water
Before you jump into teaching your Aussie to swim, you need to introduce your nervous dog to the water. Some dogs are wary and unwilling to enter deep water or any water, for that matter!
The most essential rule is to not force the dog into the water. They need to develop a positive association with it rather than a negative one.
- Find shallow water. Start by finding a body of water that is shallow and doesn’t go up beyond your Aussie’s chest. Stick with shallow, gentle rivers or the shallowest parts of a lake.
- Enter the water yourself. Once you’re in, just start running around. Hopefully, this will get your Aussie excited, and they might join you.
- Throw a toy into the shallow end. You can also try throwing a toy or other object that gets your dog excited to chase in the shallowest part of the water. Your dog should get excited enough to run in to retrieve it.
- Use positive reinforcement. Once your dog does enter the water, reward the action with treats and/or praise. This will help create a positive experience with water.
- Continue to play with your dog. If your dog seems comfortable in the shallow water, continue playing with them and slowly move into slightly deeper water.
- Continue with the praise when your dog enters the deeper water. Don’t force it. If your Aussie seems unwilling to enter the deep water, just go back to the shallower end.
- Rinse and repeat. Your Aussie might not be too convinced initially, so repeat these steps every time you take your dog to the water.
- Try a dog pool. You can also try a kiddie/dog pool at home in the backyard. Throw a few appealing floatable toys in it, and your Aussie might be quite happy to splash around.
Teaching a Dog to Swim
Some dogs take to swimming like they’ve been doing it their entire lives. But others might need a few lessons.
The best option for swimming lessons is in your own pool, if you have one. Otherwise, look for dog swimming centers or any lakes or oceans that are calm with few currents.
You’ll need to invest in a life jacket for your Aussie. This will help any dogs that are nervous in the water so they can focus on swimming and not worry about staying afloat.
Life jackets are also a good idea in general, as you don’t want your dog to go too far from shore and start to tire. So, it’s an all-around good safety measure, and it can also give your Aussie more confidence.
Most dog life jackets have a handle on the back, making it easier to hoist your dog out of the water when necessary. The handle also works well for teaching your dog to swim, and if they swim far off, the life jacket makes it easier to spot them.
You can use the handle to lift your dog and hold them over the water to see if they instinctively start paddling their legs. Get in the water with your Aussie and swim alongside them, as this can help them feel more comfortable.
If you know someone with a dog that loves to swim, try bringing this dog with you to your swimming lessons. Some Aussies might watch and learn from their friend and enjoy playing so much that it just happens naturally.
Plenty of praise and treats can continue to make this experience enjoyable for you both.
- If you are using positive reinforcement during this process, don’t give treats to your dog while they are swimming. They will need to swallow, which you don’t want your dog doing while trying to stay afloat.
- Try to avoid any swimming or water lessons when the water is too cold. The last thing that you want is to expose your dog or yourself to hypothermia.
- Keep your lessons short. Swimming is an exhausting exercise, and you don’t want to push your Aussie too hard.
- Once your dog seems comfortable swimming in the life jacket, try practicing without it. If your dog is suddenly in the water and doesn’t have their life jacket on, they might not know how to swim without it.
Australian Shepherds are energetic dogs that have the ability to be amazing swimmers. But their ancestry and how they were bred don’t necessarily make it a natural activity for these land dogs. With patience and care, your Aussie will likely love water and swimming in time, but be aware of the possibility that your dog will never feel truly comfortable when around water.
Just be sure to take things slowly and patiently, and give them plenty of praise when they take a small step. Keep it fun and light, and you might have your Aussie swimming with the best of them.
Featured Image Credit: Sebastian Moreno, Shutterstock