Golden Retrievers were originally bred over 100 years ago in Scotland because of the growing need for a gun dog that could retrieve game from water after being shot down.
So it's no surprise that Golden Retrievers can swim, and are very comfortable in water. They are instinctive swimmers and usually take to the water very easily, especially if they are exposed to it as a puppy.
When it comes to dog breeds that love the water and are considered strong swimmers, then Golden Retrievers are at the top of the list. Today they are one of the most popular dog breeds for families, but they were originally bred to be the perfect hunting dog.
In this article I'll explain why Golden Retrievers are great swimmers and how you can teach your Golden Retriever pup to start swimming with some tips for nervous dogs.
Are Golden Retrievers Good Swimmers?
Golden Retrievers are instinctively good swimmers. Their descendants were bred to retrieve birds and other game from lakes and rivers, so naturally, Golden Retrievers are very comfortable in water.
Along with their love of water, they also have physical characteristics that help them to become good swimmers.
To start with, they are medium in size so not too heavy to stay a float. Their legs are big enough to help to support their body in the water, and strong enough when they are swimming.
They also have a thick double coat. The outer coat is water proof. This helps it to repel water and not get weighed down. The under coat helps to keep the skin warm and dry, especially in colder water.
The Golden Retriever has all of the physical traits necessary to become a confident swimmer. Couple this with the breeds' intelligence and easy to train, relaxed temperament, and you've got a dog that has the potential to excel as a hunters companion and at water sports such as dock jumping.
Are golden retrievers Ever nervous of water?
Some dogs can have an irrational fear of water. Even if they were bred to be excellent swimmers, they can sometimes be nervous around water, especially if it's deep or moving water (such as a lake or river).
Most of the time, this fear of water is caused by a traumatic event from when the dog was a puppy, or sometimes because they were not properly introduced to swimming and water at an early enough age. This can be a problem for any breed of dog, even Golden Retrievers.
So how do you teach a dog that doesn't like water to swim? With a lot of patience and a lot of incentive, most dogs that are physically able to swim can be taught to like the water.
Every dog is different, so you really need to assess each dog individually to see what his fears are and what motivates him. Some dogs are afraid of a garden hose or a bucket of water, but are ok with swimming in shallow water or jumping off a dock into a lake. Dogs perceive the world differently to us, and sometimes their fears can be based on sounds, smells or past events that we're not aware of.
How To Teach Your Golden Retriever To Swim?
Some dogs take to the water by themselves with no problems whilst others have no interest at all.
All dogs are naturally inquisitive, and when they are puppies, most have no bad experiences or fears that can impact their love of new experiences. Golden Retriever puppies are inherently interested in water and love jumping about and playing in it.
If you introduce your Golden Retriever puppy to water at a young age (from between 8 to 12 weeks), then you won't really have much teaching to do. Young puppies that like water will naturally start swimming, and will become more daring as their confidence grows.
You should always start out with a paddling pool in your garden when you are first introducing your Golden Retriever puppy to water. Don't force him into the pool, let him investigate it himself, and maybe make it more enticing by placing his favourite toy in the pool.
Once your puppy is comfortable with shallow water, then you can introduce him to deeper water. In my experience, a great way to introduce a puppy or older dog to a deeper, moving body of water, is at the beach, or at a lake that has a shallow shoreline.
Start by walking your Golden Retriever on a leash, parallel to the water, gradually moving inwards as you walk up and down the shoreline. This will let him get used to the feeling of the moving tide, whilst allowing him to move away from it if he's scared.
To be honest, most Golden Retrievers will just want to dive right into the water and you'll probably be more nervous than he is. For this reason, I always recommend using a dog life jacket to begin with (especially if the water is deep). Dog life jackets are a great way to keep your dog safe if he gets into difficulty. Most of them also have a handle on the back of them, to make it easy to retrieve your dog from the water if necessary.
If you are teaching an older Golden Retriever to swim then he might be more apprehensive than a puppy. Sometimes introducing a toy can help him to overcome and forget his fears. If you get into the water with him, this can also help him to see that there is nothing to fear and that playing in the water with his best friend can actually be fun.
What are the benefits of swimming for a Golden Retriever?
Swimming can have great benefits for Golden Retrievers. This is especially true if he is older, injured or overweight.
Swimming can have great benefits for all dogs. This is because whilst their legs are not touching the ground, the leg muscles still have to do a lot of work to keep them a float and moving. This is great for burning energy, whilst not putting the back and leg bones and joints under too much pressure.
All dogs can benefit from swimming, but it's especially beneficial for medium to large dogs such as Golden Retrievers. This is because many dogs of this size are prone to becoming overweight. In fact, a 2018 survey estimates that over 55% of dogs in America today are overweight. This obesity epidemic in pets ( 59.5% of cats are estimated to be overweight) is caused by feeding them too much and not enough exercise.
Overweight Golden Retrievers are more likely to suffer from damage to their joints, weaker muscles and soft tissue damage. They are also more likely to have sores and hot spots on their elbows, shoulders and stomach from lying down a lot, especially in hot weather.
To add to this, hip and elbow dysplasia can affect around 20% of Golden Retrievers, and being overweight only exasperates these conditions.
So swimming can be a great form of exercise for overweight Golden Retrievers, as its a great way to burn off calories whilst keeping stress off the joints and paws.
Golden Retrievers, just like many other gun dogs can also suffer from allergies, especially flea allergies. Swimming can help to soothe hot spots and itchy, inflamed skin, whilst clearing the undercoat of dirt and dead skin. Its also a great way for Golden Retrievers to cool down on a hot day!
Can Golden Retrievers Swim Underwater?
Yes Golden Retrievers can swim and play underwater. Most dogs that love the water can swim underwater too. They instinctively know how to hold their breath for short periods of time while diving under water.
Check out this amazing Golden Retriever playing underwater fetch:
Tips For golden retriever swimming
If you're planning on bringing your Golden Retriever swimming to a lake or to beach, you should keep a few things in mind before you let your dog into the water and after he gets out. Here are a few tips when taking your Golden Retriever swimming:
- Take it Slow. If this is your dogs first time swimming then take it slow and don't force him into the water. Some dogs take to the water quickly, whilst others need time to get used to it.
- Make sure there are no dangerous animals or plants. Most public swimming sites that are safe for people are safe for dogs and you won't need to worry about dangerous animals or plants harming your dog. Just be careful if you are going out on a boat and there's a chance your Golden Retriever might jump into the water. Some rivers and lakes contain toxic algae and bacteria that can be harmful to dogs if ingested.
- Check for trash or sharp objects. Unfortunately, many rivers, lakes and shorelines are littered with trash. Make sure your dog is not going to come into contact with sharp or dangerous objects that could cause an injury if swallowed or walked on.
- Put a Life Jack on Your Dog (and you if necessary!). Dog life jackets are a great way of keeping your dog from getting into trouble in deeper water. They are also great for older dogs, injured dogs and dogs that are not confident swimmers.
- Bring fresh water and a first aid kit. Most sea or lake water is not suitable for drinking. It's a good idea to have some bottled water with you for when your dog gets thirsty. It's also a good idea to bring a dog friendly first aid kit, in case your dog cuts his paw (or other body part) on something.
- Dry off your Golden Retriever fully when he gets out of the water. It's very important that you check and dry your Golden Retrievers' ears, belly, paws and legs. The chemicals and micro organisms in water can cause irritation and infection if it's not removed. The inside of the ears of a Golden Retriever can stay damp and can get infected very easily if they're not dried properly. Bacteria and algae can get trapped in the paws and on the underside of the elbow and leg joints. A simple dry down with a clean towel is usually sufficient. Be careful with the underside of the ears, don't dry the inner ear with a towel as you may damage the ear drum.