|By Becky Turner||Visit The Sheltie Forums|
A lot of Shetland Sheepdog owners would agree that the phrase water Shelties is something of an oxymoron. Shelties simply don't like water! Or do they?
It turns out that with the right encouragement, many Shelties take to water like... well, ducks! They love to take a cooling dip on a hot summer day - or to roll around in a muddy swamp just to get those sweet doggy aromas going.
But why do some Sheltie puppies acquire this behavior and not others? There are plenty of water dogs that like to frolic in the sea (such as Spaniels, Retrievers and even Poodles). So why do Shelties hate water so instinctively?
Our Sheltie Howard - or is it Nessie?
Like many dog behaviors, being a water Sheltie is partially genetic, and partially down to the environment she grows up in. Water can be strange and scary to a wee Shetland Sheepdog, whether it's noisy crashing waves or a silent ominous puddle. So to familiarize her with water and get her over this natural fear, she needs to have some positive experiences with it. Just like socializing puppies, if you want your pooch to become a true water dog, you need to do this before nine months.
Why should you encourage water Shelties? Swimming is an excellent way to keep your Shetland Sheepdog fit, especially if she gets too lazy to run around. But it's also a great positive experience to give her as a puppy so she doesn't have the stress of fearing water her whole life.
Here's how we taught our Shelties to swim:
Step #1 - We took Howard to a big sandy estuary when the tide was out. This left huge empty sand beds with little rivers running between them. It was fairly non-threatening and as we walked across the estuary, Howard had to be brave and walk through the puddles that reached halfway up his body.
Step #2 - Next we took him to a beach where there were barely any waves and started walking out to sea. Howard whimpered at first but eventually walked out to sea with us. Shelties will follow their clan anywhere to avoid being left behind!
Step #3 - When the water was just below his chin and he couldn't walk any further, we lifted him up a few inches and somewhat miraculously he began to paddle his paws in the air! We lowered him back into the water and off he went of his own accord. Howard the water dog was paddling on his own - and he quite enjoyed it!
Your Sheltie may never bound courageously into the ocean like a Labrador - but at least give her a fighting chance by getting her to swim from 4-6 months onwards.
As a safety issue, small or weak Shelties may risk getting dragged down by the weight of their thick double undercoat, so make sure you supervise all their water Sheltie adventures. If they look like they're getting into trouble - get your handy Sheltie lifeguard to save the day!
If Piper is anything to go by, teaching adult Shelties to swim is not much different to teaching puppies to swim. It's all about gradual and repeat exposure.
Piper grew up in the breeder's kennels and had never seen a beach when he came to live with us at nine months old. He's also much shyer than Howard - meaning he scares easily - so we thought it would be harder teaching him something new.
Water Shelties go swimming... sort of!
The first time he went for a swim was a complete accident. One day we took the dogs down to a local park with a river. We walked out onto the little wharf and before we could stop him, Howard jumped straight in and became fully submerged. I was just about ready to push Peter in to save him when I realized Howard was quite happily paddling around in little circles.
Then Piper decided it was his turn to be a water dog, and promptly plopped into the water as well. (A bit more cautiously - at least, he didn't go under!)
It was a shock to us all but the paddling instinct kicked in straight away. We fell into stitches watching our two Shelties, freshly bathed the day before, paddling around in tiny circles with their little faces poking above the water with much concentration.
After that, Piper cautiously developed his own little system of testing the water and flapping his paw around, before deciding it was time to swim. Such a cutey.
Piper Enjoying The Water on a Hot Day
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.