By Ann Compton, Sheltie Nation Contributing Writer
If you don’t think Shelties are a water breed, think again. Some Shelties take to water like…well, ducks. Others want nothing to do with it. You can’t assess your Sheltie’s water worthiness by how she behaves at bath time; most Shelties aren’t fond of the tub. If you want to share beach trips, boating or the backyard pool with your Sheltie, teach her about water slowly, as you would train anything new.
Take your Sheltie for a walk on the beach or near a lake. Is she interested in exploring the water? If so, let her sniff and get her paws wet. Most Shelties will instinctively try to herd the waves. Once you stop laughing, you’ll realize that your Sheltie probably would enjoy some canine water splashing. On the other hand, if your dog retreats in horror, she probably won’t enjoy the water. Some breeds are natural water dogs, such as Goldens, Setters and Newfoundlands. Low or stocky breeds such as Dachshunds and Pugs aren’t built to swim. Other breeds such as Shelties fall in the middle of the spectrum.
If you want to train your Sheltie to water, start with a kiddie pool in the back yard. Train your Sheltie to get in and out of the pool with some high-value treats. Once this is accomplished, toss a rubber toy in the pool. Put a dab of peanut butter on it for added encouragement. Make it a game and ask your dog to fetch it. If you have children, let them play in the pool. Many dogs will want to share the fun with their family.
If a kiddie pool isn’t an option, you can accomplish this training at the beach. Choose a quiet time of day when there won’t be other distractions. Take your dog at low tide, or to the shallow point in a lake. Make it fun and don’t force your dog into the water. Bring a ball and roll it at the water’s edge. Be sure your dog’s recall is solid if she’s off leash, and have a pocket full of yummy treats to reinforce it when you call her back.
If you’re working with a backyard swimming pool, teach your dog to get up and down from the pool steps at the shallow end. Then you can carry her further into the pool. Hold her until she starts to paddle with her legs and point her toward the steps. The instinct to swim should take over, but supervise carefully, and be sure she’s wearing a canine life vest.
If your goal is to teach your Sheltie to swim, whether it’s in a pool, off a boat, or anywhere the water will be over her head, purchase a canine life vest and let her get used to wearing it. A vest will give her support and confidence while she learns and keep her safe any time she’s in deep water. It’s especially important for Shelties to have a vest since the Sheltie double coat will weigh them down when they’re wet. Even if your Sheltie is an adept swimmer, if she tires, a life vest will support her weight in the water.
With more dogs enjoying the water, there are a greater variety of canine life vests available, from foam-filled to inflatable. Take your pup to the store to try the vests on; fit is important. Look for bright colored vests to make it easier to spot your dog in the water. Purchase a vest with handles! You’ll be glad you did when you try to pick your wet Sheltie up in the water. Velcro straps are convenient, but shedding fur accumulates in them so consider that when you shop, or be prepared to clean them frequently.
Keep your Sheltie safe when swimming, and you can both enjoy the water.
Animal Planet: Do All Dogs Know How to Swim?
Life with Dogs: Teach Your Dog to Swim
BoatU.S.: Life Jackets for Dogs