Sheltie Planet

Do Shelties Like Water?

By Becky Turner

Do Shelties Like Water? Well - maybe! With encouragement, Shelties can go swimming and get a great gentle exercise. Here's how to do it.

A Shetland Sheepdog in The Water

Our Sheltie Piper enjoying the water on a hot day

A lot of Shetland Sheepdog owners would agree that Shelties hate water.

But this isn't always the case. It turns out that with some encouragement, many Shelties can take to water like ducks! And this is a good thing because it allows them to take a cooling dip on a hot summer's day or get gentle exercise that doesn't put excessive strain on any joints.

Take Your Sheltie Puppies Swimming

Like many dog behaviors, a Sheltie's feelings about water are partially genetic and partially down to the environment she grows up in.

At first, the ocean, rivers and lakes can be strange and scary to a wee Shetland Sheepdog. So to overcome this instinctive fear, familiarize her with water when she's still young.

Just like socializing puppies, if you want your Sheltie to become a true water dog, you need to do this before nine months.



How to Teach Your Sheltie to Swim

We taught our Shelties to swim with gradual desensitization. (Throwing your pooch into the deep end - quite literally - would only give her a scary experience and possibly even cause her to develop a phobia of water. Besides, this would be extremely dangerous. Take it slow!)

Step #1 - When Howard was a puppy, we took him to a 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, and Howard had to be brave enough to walk through the puddles that came to the top of his legs.

Step #2 - Next we took Howard to a safe swimming beach where there were barely any waves - and started walking out to sea. At first, Howard whimpered and tried to call us back. But after a minute he plucked up the courage to follow us. Shelties will follow their clan pretty much anywhere to avoid being left behind. We made sure that at no point he was under an excessive amount of stress (if your Sheltie starts to really panic, you need to slow down the desensitization process for her).

Step #3 - Finally, when the water was just below Howard's chin and he couldn't walk any further, we lifted him up a few inches. Instinctively, he began to paddle his paws in the air. We lowered him back into the water and off he went swimming of his own accord. It was an amazing sight and all the more fascinating that he had a built-in instinct to doggy paddle!



A bedraggled Sheltie in the sea

Pete snaffled up Howard when it looked like he'd had enough!

Teaching Adult Shelties to Swim

Our Sheltie, Piper, had not been exposed to many things when we took him in at 9 months old. Water was one of them.

But 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, positive exposure.

However, the first time Piper 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 Pete in to save him when I realized Howard was quite happily paddling around in little circles like a wet fish.

Then Piper decided it was his turn. Totally out of character, he courageously plopped off the wharf and into the river next to Howard.

Man, did we laugh. It was a complete shock but also delightful to see Piper's paddling instinct kick in. 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 in concentration.

After that bold start, Piper followed his own desensitization program - by cautiously testing the water and flapping his paw around in, before deciding it's time to swim. Totally adorable.

About The Author

Becky Turner is a writer and zoologist-in-training. Learn more about Becky here. If you'd like to support her work, check out her ebook, The Sheltie Anthology, a complete guide to everything Sheltie.