5 Reasons to Teach Your Dog To Swim (and 4 Not To)

Honey the Golden Retriever gets her paws wet in Fall Creek.

It’s a little chilly, dontcha think?

Ever since Honey was a puppy, I hoped she would swim. But she just wasn’t interested.

Finally, this weekend, she paddled a short distance and I was overjoyed.

Why is it so important that my dog know how to swim?

1. I want company.

I love to swim. My husband sinks like a rock. Is it too much to ask for someone to go swimming with?

2. One hundred twenty years of breeding can’t be all about looks.

Lord Tweedmouth developed Golden Retrievers to retrieve birds he shot while still being gentle house pets. Honey’s a lovely companion. She’s got the retrieving down. But ask her to retrieve something from the water? Forget it.

C’mon Honey. You’re not representing your breed if you don’t swim.

3. For safety.

Honey goes kayaking with me. If she fell overboard, I want to make sure she doesn’t panic.

After all, she’s not going to find a anything to stand on in the middle of our 300 foot deep lake (about 91 meters).

4. To save on shampoo.

Did you know that Honey smells the exact same after drying off after a swim as she does when I use expensive shampoo to give her a bath?

Why do I bother? Eau de Fish Poop apparently smells just as good.

Honey the Golden Retriever sits in MIke's lap at the side of the creek.

Honey: “Ahhh, that’s much better.”
Mike: “That’s what you think.”


5. Build her confidence.

Every new skill Honey learns boosts her confidence. It’s fun to see her grow as she learns new things.

Of course, there is one big reason (or 4) to not teach Honey to swim.

Because I don’t want her to be lured off to follow him.

The Golden Retriever swims with a stick in his mouth.

Or him.

This Golden Retriever is bringing his ball back from the water.

Or them.

Two Golden Retrievers are swimming.

They are handsome, aren’t they? I’m thinking Honey might even prefer them to salami.

So maybe teaching her to swim isn’t such a good idea after all.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should I continue to teach Honey to swim? Or should I just accept her the way she is?
photo credits: (swimming dog with stick) emma.kate, (dog retrieving ball) Andrew Morrell Photography , (two dogs swimming) Andrew Morrell Photography, all via photopin cc. Click images to learn more about the photographers.

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  1. Let me see……someone I greatly admire has told me people don’t like every person, why should a dog like every dog? (Okay, I’m paraphrasing because my mind is mush but you know what I mean.) I have Retrievers that don’t care to fetch but that’s okay, not every dog likes to fetch and not every dog likes to swim. :-)

  2. I think it might be a good thing that Honey isn’t crazy about swimming. She’s much more likely to stay in the boat when you sail off into the sunset!

  3. Actually a little of both: Teach her to swim so she does know how if she has to. BUT once she knows how, let her just be herself. If she doesn’t want to swim, neither one of you will enjoy a dip in the lake. I wish we had a lake nearby where I could have taught Callie & Shadow, but I’m more of a doggie paddler myself. Swimming would be so good for them now with the arthritis!

  4. So very happy that Honey’s swimming! A milestone for a retriever! I, too, have retrievers (Labradors), and they’re in the lake all the time. I wish we had a pool or a pond here at home, that’s how much they like to swim.
    I say go for it — keep letting Honey explore the water! She IS a retriever after all! It’s in her blood. Enjoy!

  5. I agree with Sue. Keep her at it enough so you’ll know she’ll be able to if something happens while kayaking, and then let her pick. I wish Rita would swim, but she’ll only follow me out if I wade out, then turn around and head back. Her best friends (a boxer) swims like crazy and I keep thinking one of these days Rita will go in with her, but so far nope!

    That crazy swimming boxer has almost swum across the bay – in fact we talked to a guy at Fiesta Island who had to swim across after his dog swam to the other side (maybe only about 1/2 mile, but whaddya gonna do when your dog gets out on the other side??). So… maybe it’s a good thing she doesn’t swim!

  6. Mom never had to teach a dog to swim, they have all just hopped in and swam. My sister has a serious dislike of being wet, so she does not swim and doesn’t even like if I shake my wet self near her. She dislikes going out in the rain too. She enjoys wading but that is it. She has ended up in the water a couple times in her life and she could swim but it did not make her happy. I would teach Honey to swim if she likes the water!

  7. Swimming isn’t for everyone, but I agree, teaching her how could save her life. For some dogs, it’s a natural (that would be Sage); for others, a wade in the creek is enough.

  8. We agree if you do anything in the water with Honey she ought to know how to swim for her own safety. Most dogs love water and even those who don’t should be able to swim if they have to as mostly it is natural. Good luck. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  9. We have TWO Labs who not only don’t like to swim, they don’t fetch either. A real disservice to their breed. I excuse them both since I think they both had a pretty tough life before they landed here and just never had an opportunity to be playful. We are taking a vacation this summer – to Big Bear Lake and I’m hoping the calm lake and surroundings will inspire them – there’s also usually some ducks paddling around. We’ll see. If they don’t then, I’m just going to let them be. As long as Honey knows enough to get herself to the shore, I think she should have the choice. Maybe you need a 2nd dog – one that you test out as a swimming partner before you adopt?

  10. I agree with a few of the above comments – teach her so she has those life saving skills down, but don’t force it after the fact if she does not enjoy it. You never know, she might change her mind in the learning process.

  11. Never thought about having to ‘teach’ a dog to swim I guess I thought it was instinctive. But yes probably a good idea!

  12. I actually had a dog that didn’t know how to swim! She liked to ‘try’ to swim, but the poor girl just wasn’t getting it. I ended up buying her a life jacket so that she could join me and the rest of the dogs for water playtime.

  13. It wasn’t until recently that I learned not all dogs know how to swim. I’ve always had dogs who jumped right and swam any chance they got. Never occurred to me you might have to teach them.

    I know you will, but the only thing I can add is let her go at her own pace. She’ll let you know if she changes her mind. :)

  14. I think the practical reasons outweigh the risks. Honey already listens to you quite well and I think the temptation to follow other dogs wouldn’t be a problem for her. As long as she’s not totally resistant to the idea, I’d go for it!

  15. One of my Poodles (Misty) is a total water dog. She whines when she sees the lake out of the car window and can’t wait to run down and jump in. Which is a total nuisance to me. If I could take some of the water dog out of her, I would. So, I think you should be glad to have a non-swim-lover.

  16. It is so interesting to find out that not all Golden enjoys water (swim). I started swimming at a young age. At 11 weeks I was swimming in the lake. Golden LAUGHS on #4. Just have to be patient and gotta have something that will entice her to retrieve it. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  17. Ty swam … once. And Buster has never taken his feet of the beach to the best of my knowledge. Neither of them is interested and for us it’s not a big deal. Teaching them to change a tire would probably be more useful for us landlubbers. For you guys, teaching Honey to swim is pretty important given how much time you spend (and plan to spend) on the water. You’ve had so much success training her to do other things she was uncomfortable with, I’m sure you can nail this one too.

  18. Chester is like your husband. He hates the water but I bet if his life depended on it he would swim (plus with the life jacket he would not be likely to sink). I think as long as Honey is enjoying her swim lessons you should go ahead.

  19. Our golden Sheba LOVES to swim. We encourage it because it is such good exercise for her, and because we enjoy watching her. Her brother, however, would wade into the water but wouldn’t go out over his head. We encouraged him and went out with him, but when he continued to resist, we decided to just let him be, and threw the ball in the shallow water for him.
    I think swimming could be great exercise for Sheba when she gets older and maybe can’t run or take long walks like she can now. That’s a good reason right there to encourage it, I think.

  20. BJ wants no part of the water. Even with carrying him in, he struggles to get out. I decided that since there is no body of water near us, and my sister never invited us to go swimming in her pool, I’m not going to pressure BJ to go in the water.