As summer starts to wind to a close, a lot of people are looking for fun ways to beat the heat with the help of their four-legged friends.
But whether you’re planning on visiting the beach, the lake, or just your local pool, it can be tough to know just what your German Shepherd can handle. However, rest assured: with a little bit of training, your GSD will be ready to hit the water without any problem!
In the News or Around the Home
A few years ago, you may have seen behind the scenes footage from the movie A Dog’s Purpose, where a German Shepherd dog appeared to be forced into a pool of water for a shot.
The footage was ultimately debunked as misleading, but not before it gained a lot of media attention and sparked a round of debate as to whether or not dogs ever really choose to go in the water of their own free will.
While the footage was unfortunate for both the supporters of the film and the people who rallied behind the footage only to find that it was intentionally misleading, it brought up a question that pet lovers have been struggling with for a while now. Do dogs like swimming?
Especially with breeds like the German Shepherd, which were not specifically bred to be in or around large bodies of water, it’s a pretty important question.
On a similar note, a lot of pet owners have noted that their dogs, while seemingly excited to go to the lake or the beach, are extremely reluctant to get into the water when it comes to something as mundane as taking a bath. Because of this reluctance, you may feel nervous about taking your dog somewhere where there’s a lot of water.
The good news is: most dogs love it! All dogs can naturally “doggy paddle”, and the instinct behind learning to swim is present in nearly every breed of dog, from Great Danes to Chihuahuas.
However, this doesn’t mean that every breed of dog should constantly be swimming or is naturally adept at spending large amounts of time in the water.
Ultimately, while individual preferences may vary from animal to animal, German Shepherds as a breed are well suited to swimming, and most seem to very much enjoy their time being in or around large bodies of water!
A Little Bit of History
As mentioned above, there are certain breeds of dog that were specifically bred to be in and out of the water or to be very comfortable swimming.
Popular breeds like Poodles and Labrador Retrievers were originally bred to help hunters retrieve animals that had fallen into the water, and so were bred and trained to be comfortable swimming.
German Shepherds, on the other hand, were not bred to swim. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the breed developed as a herding dog that could defend herd animals from predators while also taking orders from a human shepherd or farmer in order to help carry the workload.
By the early 1900s, the dogs we now call German Shepherds had started to gain prominence in a more specific area: as guard dogs.
Since the 1900s, German Shepherds have gained a reputation for being intelligent and fiercely protective, which makes them a perfect fit for military, police, or guard work.
However, because of their protective nature and keen intelligence, they also have gained a massive amount of popularity as family pets.
This unique background means that German Shepherds are not specifically designed to be comfortable around water, the way other popular breeds are.
However, their willingness to follow orders and their ability to learn and retain information at an unusually fast rate means that they’re usually pretty quick learners.
Even though German Shepherds may not have originally been developed as water dogs—or even as retrievers, the way that most water-friendly pet breeds originally started—they are smart enough and loyal enough that they can be very easily instructed on how to swim.
You may have to work with your dog to get him or her over her nerves, but how much of an issue that depends on the individual dog.
Because of their high intelligence, the average German Shepherd shouldn’t have any real problem overcoming his or her avoidance of water and learning to swim every bit as well as any Poodle or Labrador Retriever!
Where to Start
When you’re first starting off your swim lessons, make sure you get your dog a life jacket. If your dog feels comfortable swimming after only a few lessons, then you can absolutely get rid of the jacket, but having a little bit of extra support will help your German Shepherd face any fears that they might have at learning to swim.
Just like with children, it is absolutely imperative that you never leave your dog unattended when they are first learning to swim.
If your dog has access to a pool in your backyard, consider finding a way to block their route, so that they aren’t in any danger of falling in and becoming too tired to keep swimming.
Especially during the first few lessons, make sure you aren’t standing in water over your head. If your German Shepherd panics, they may try to climb on top of the most stable thing that they can reach—and if that stable thing happens to be your head or shoulders, it can get pretty uncomfortable trying to keep both your own head and your dog’s head out of the water!
Basically, to teach your dog to swim, start them off in shallow water. Make sure you give them plenty of praise and affection, and never force them to go any faster than they are comfortable with.
If you live near a beach or a lake, gradually walk your dog deeper into the water, or start on the very shallowest step of your pool.
This is where the life jacket comes in handy: for a lot of dogs, the instinct will be simple to paddle with the front paws and let the back legs droop in the water.
While this will keep your dog afloat, it will also tire them out very quickly, and teaches bad habits for future swimming lessons. The life jacket will help you hold your dog in place and will also help them feel more secure as they’re starting out.
Once your dog is comfortable in water that’s deep enough to allow for paddling, hold them in place with their head above the water until they start paddling with all four paws.
If they seem at all uncomfortable, go back to shallower water. As with any other training, make sure to reward your dog with treats and praise for every advance that they make.
If your dog has started paddling like a pro, let the life jacket support their weight and step away, keeping your dog on a leash for safety reasons. Encourage them to swim to you, and reward them for covering increasingly larger distances.
If your dog seems comfortable and happy in the water, you can consider removing the life jacket, but don’t rush it! Once again, if your German Shepherd seems panicked or anxious at any point in the lessons, take them back to shallower water, reward them for good work, and help them calm down before trying again.
Finally, make sure your dog knows how to get out of the water. Especially if you’re giving your swimming lessons in a pool, take the time to show your dog how to climb the stairs, or where the shallow end of the pool is. This will give them an exit strategy in case they accidentally fall in while you’re not watching.
The most important thing to keep in mind while teaching your dog is to make sure they’re happy and comfortable the entire time, and to reward them for every little bit of progress they make! Your dog should feel as excited as you are whenever you both get a chance to cool off with a dip in the water!
For a more visual cue of how to teach your dog to swim, check out this YouTube video to learn how it’s done!
What to Look Out For
When your dog is learning to swim, or once they’ve mastered the basics and are ready to hit the water with the rest of their family, make sure you keep their safety in mind. The dangers associated with swimming vary widely depending on whether you’re planning on heading to a pool or to a natural body of water.
According to VCA Hospitals, If you and your German Shepherd are headed to the beach or to a lake, probably the biggest danger is bacteria. Make sure that your dog is vaccinated against Giardia, a waterborne parasite that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive mucus, among other symptoms.
In any natural body of water, take the time to make sure that you and your dog are swimming in a protected area. Make sure to keep an eye out for strong currents or recreational boaters. Even surfers and boogie-boarders can pose a threat to your dog’s safety, so make sure the area is safe before heading into the water.
In both swimming pools and natural bodies of water, make sure your dog is protected from the sun. While dogs are obviously not prone to sunburn in the same way that humans are, their noses and the pads of their feet can still get sunburned after long hours spent out on the water.
You can buy sunscreen made specifically for dogs, or just make sure that they have easy access to shade.
Similarly, make sure both you and your pooch are staying hydrated. If your dog drinks from the same water that they’re swimming in, the chances of picking up some sort of parasite or bacterial infection increases drastically.
Have some clean, freshwater close on hand so that your dog can come to you for water before drinking the same water they’re paddling around in!
Finally, just like with humans, make sure you hit the pause button on your dog’s playtime after they’ve eaten. Food tends to stay in a dog’s digestive tract for longer than it does in a human’s, so plan your day out around that fact.
According to Whole Dog Journal, As a general rule, it takes anywhere from half an hour to two hours before it’s safe for your dog to swim, so hold off on any strenuous swimming to prevent a bloated tummy.
What You Can Do
If you’re going to teach your German Shepherd to swim on your own, the best thing you can do is make sure that they’re comfortable, confident, and having a blast.
Make sure to reward their progress and comfort them when they’re looking a little panicked, and you and your dog will be swimming up a storm in no time!
If you’re not entirely comfortable teaching your dog to swim, then you may want to consider buying swimming lessons for your four-legged friends.
A lot of dog training schools have courses on swimming, and your local veterinarian may be willing to give your pooch a private lesson!
Check for swimming schools in the area, or touch base with your vet, and see if you can’t find a way to get your dog out of their comfort zone and into the water.
No matter what you decide, whether you train your dog yourself or trust an expert to get the job done, a dip in the water is a great way to cool down!
As the “dog days” of summer draws to a close, take a chance to explore the natural world or just chill in the backyard! With a little bit of practice, you and your dog will be ready to hit the beach, the lake, or the pool!