As summer starts to wind to a close, a lot of people are looking for fun ways to beat the heat with their four-legged friends. Spending a day at the lake is an obvious choice, but will I be able to bring my German Shepherd?
It is only natural for owners to wonder if their German Shepherds like water, and if they would enjoy swimming. But the answer to this question isn’t really ‘one-size-fits-all’ since like any dog breed, all GSDs are different.
Yes, in general, German Shepherds do enjoy the water and are perfectly capable swimmers – these are incredible canine athletes after all. But the extent to which your dog enjoys swimming will depend on the individual.
So 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 enjoy the water without any problems!
Do German Shepherds Like Water?
You may be thinking to yourself “of course German Shepherds like water, all dogs do!”. But as with anything dog related, it’s a little more complicated than this.
Just as some dogs enjoy bath time, while others despise it – the same is true for GSDs and open water. Some hate water, while other love it.
There are also many German Shepherds that are simply indifferent. They don’t particularly like or hate water, but can definitely swim when trained properly.
While some may believe this is an insignificant and boring issue, there are actually complex reasons behind their reaction to water.
Why Do German Shepherds Like or Hate Water?
A major determining factor that will influence whether or not a German Shepherd likes the water is how they were raised from puppyhood. This includes the environment they were raised in, as well as training.
If your GSD is frequently exposed to water from a young age, then there is a greater chance your pup will enjoy and be comfortable around water.
Common ways to help get your German Shepherd used to water include bath time, swimming in the pool, and going to the lake. It’s important to ease their anxiety by teaching them that the water isn’t dangerous!
However, if your dog had a traumatic experience involving water as a puppy, this could leave a lasting scar and your GSD may never feel safe around water.
But most commonly, your German Shepherd has probably had minimal to average exposure to water throughout its life. In this case, it will neither love the water nor hate it.
At the end of the day, it will still come down to your dog’s personality and temperament. A more adventurous dog that has spent a lot of time outdoors may be more likely to jump in the water without hesitation.
How Do Different Types of Water Affect Your German Shepherd?
It’s certainly great news to hear that German Shepherd can enjoy the water and swimming. But please keep in mind that different types of water will require caution on the owner’s part.
GSDs, like all dogs, are known to swallow some water when they’re swimming. So it may be safer to stick to lakes and freshwater sources, as opposed to the saltwater of the ocean.
When taking into account the risks of ingesting too much saltwater, as well as the powerful waves and currents, we strongly advise owners to exercise caution when taking their German Shepherd to the ocean.
Can German Shepherds Swim?
While filming A Dog’s Purpose, footage was leaked of a German Shepherd dog appearing to be forced into a pool of water for a shot.
The footage gained a lot of media attention and sparked debate as to whether or not dogs ever really choose by themselves to go in the water.
This 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. GSDs can swim, but do they really like it?
A lot of GSD 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 German Shepherd somewhere where there’s a lot of water.
The good news is: most German Shepherds 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!
Are German Shepherds Natural Swimmers?
As mentioned above, there are certain dog breeds that were specifically bred to be in the water and 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 and are therefore not natural swimmers.
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.
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. But they are smart and loyal enough to easily learn how to swim.
You may have to work with your dog to calm its nerves, but how much of an issue that will be depends on the individual dog.
Thanks to their high intelligence, the average German Shepherd shouldn’t have any issues overcoming a fear of water, and will be able to learn to swim every bit as well as a Labrador Retriever!
Can You Breed German Shepherds To Be Natural Swimmers?
In order to breed a German Shepherd to be a natural born swimmer, it must be mixed with another breed.
Since this comes down to genetics, breeding a GSD with a natural swimmer like the Labrador Retriever should produce a hybrid dog that is able to swim with ease.
Unlike GSDs, Labradors and Retrievers both have webbed paws which helps make them excellent swimmers.
But webbed feet aren’t the only traits that affect a dog’s swimming abilities. Coat type and length, as well as a dog’s size are other factors to consider.
Despite this, German Shepherds can still be taught to be swimmers.
How To Teach German Shepherds To Swim
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.
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Having the little bit of extra support that a life jacket provides will help your German Shepherd face any fears that they might have when 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.
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!
Start Off In Shallow Water
When teaching 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 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.
Positive Reinforcement (and treats!)
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 your swimming lessons are 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 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!
German Shepherds and Water: Precautions
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 can vary widely depending on if you’re at the pool or a natural body of water.
According to VCA Hospitals, If you and your German Shepherd are headed to the beach or to a lake, the biggest danger is bacteria. Make sure 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.
Protection From The Sun and Heat
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 by 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 actually tends to stay in a dog’s digestive tract for longer than it does in a human’s.
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.
Helping Your German Shepherd Around Water: 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 friend.
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 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 draw 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!