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Can Bernese Mountain Dogs Swim? (What About Their Size?)

Whether or not Bernese Mountain Dogs like water or swimming is asked by both current and prospective owners. Some aren’t even sure if this heavy-set breed can stay afloat! To better understand this we asked a large group of BMD owners how their Berner acts around water… Here’s what we found out.


Most Bernese Mountain Dogs will be hesitant and cautious of water in the beginning, but with little practice can learn to swim and enjoy it. Introducing them to water slowly and positively will ensure they come to like it.

Why Bernese Mountain Dogs Aren’t Natural Water Lovers

The reason why Berners rarely take to water right away is due to their history. Don’t worry, we won’t go into a full history lesson here, but I’ll explain a few basics.

Berners have a long history, primarily being used in Switzerland to help with all-around farming duties. Not only would they help pull heavy carts, but they also acted as courageous guard dogs for the cattle and families.

At no point in their history were Bernese Mountain Dogs used in the water. Something we see with capable water dogs is an extensive history of being used in the water. Those breeds that rarely touch or even see water, are instinctively cautious of it.

We Asked Berner Owners

To get a fairer answer to this question, we took to BMD groups, forums, online polls, and of course, we asked the few Berner owners we could find at the local park.

We asked 35 owners whether or not their Berner liked swimming or water in general. Here’s what we found:

7 Owners (20%)
Said that their Berner hates swimming and most forms of water. Even bath time is a huge issue. Despite training, they just refuse to go near water or get wet.

12 Owners (34%)
Said that their Berner will get their paws wet at the very most

10 Owners (28%)
Said that their Berner will paddle and go up to their chest, but rarely goes out of depth

6 Owners (17%)
Said that their Berner loves swimming and most forms of water/getting wet

Analyzing the results

In the end, it seemed like the results were pretty mixed. Almost an even amount of owners said their Berner hates or loves swimming (7 and 6). Which, doesn’t really sway the answer…

Then, almost an even amount of owners said that their Berner was happy to get their paws wet and nothing else, along with those that were happy to paddle up to their chest, but not actually swim.

The conclusion seems to us that Bernese Mountain Dogs may or may not like the water. Some do, some don’t. Although many will get their paws wet at the least, so that’s a foundation that can certainly be built upon.

Let’s run through some tips to encourage a Bernese Mountain Dog to like water.

Properly Introducing Your Berner To Water

Let’s run through some of the most important tips to get your Bernese Mountain Dog enjoying the water and eventually swimming in it.

1. Positive association

This is a fundamental principle to understand before anything else. Getting your Berner to like water can be done easily once positive associations are established.

What do I mean by this? Well, simply put, it means when around water, your Berner feels calm, safe, and happy, instead of apprehensive, worried, or stressed.

You can start building positive associations by using plenty of treats, praise, gradual exposure, and a stress-free approach that doesn’t pressure your Berner into doing anything they aren’t comfortable with.

Over time, your Berner will link all of these positive things to water, and will therefore have a positive association with it.

2. Start small

Before trying your luck with a full-size swimming pool or paddling pool, try a plastic laundry bowl or bucket filled with water.

Place it beside you outside, sit down and encourage your Berner to come over and inspect it. If your Berner already doesn’t mind a little water, then move on to bigger things like a paddling pool or even the hose. For many, this will already spook them. And if it does, the work starts here.

3. Start young

If you’re reading this and you have a puppy, then it’s recommended to start introducing them to water as soon as possible (providing they’ve completed their jabs).

The sooner you are able to introduce your Berner to water, the easier it is for them to get used to it. If you already have an adult, that’s not a problem, but the time it takes for your Berner to come around to water might be longer.

4. Treats and praise

Whenever your Berner gets close to inspect the laundry bowl, bucket of water, sprinkler, or hose, be sure to praise heavily and reward with treats.

This is the key to building a positive relationship with water… it shows them that they are being a “good boy” for being near the water which they will remember for the next time.

Keep building on this, and before long your Berner will love water.

5. No pressure

One of the worst things I see some owners do is pressure their dogs to interact or go into the water before they are ready.

This creates nothing but fear and anxiety, which will only make it increasingly harder the next time. Therefore, the only way to properly introduce your dog to water is to allow them to inspect it in their own time.

And it’s up to us to make them feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. This is why I recommend sitting down on the floor next to a shallow bucket or laundry bowl with treats and toys. This is a non-threatening situation that allows your Berner to feel safe and secure.

What To Do If Your Berner Hates Water

If your Berner has suffered a bad past experience, then it can be very challenging to make progress in the right direction.

The steps outlined above to introduce your Berner to water remains the same, but it will likely take much longer.

Every step has to be done very slowly and gradually. Introducing them to a small bowl of water might be what’s required first, then with time, move to a large laundry bowl, followed by a shallow swimming pool further down the line.

The importance of positive associations remains paramount. If you can slowly start building a positive link between your Berner and water, it will become increasingly easier to move forward.

And of course, this is done with plenty of tasty treats, praise, fun, and no pressure.

Swimming Advice & Safety Tips

If your Berner is comfortable enough with the paddling pool, then it’s time to teach them how to swim. Let’s run through some general advice and safety tips to make this process easy and stress-free.

1. Doggy lifejackets

In the beginning, it’s recommended to use doggy lifejackets. This eliminates a lot of the risk involved with swimming and will help your Berner understand what it feels like to float and need to paddle.

Lifejackets are also very helpful for the teaching stage because they have handles on them. This allows you to maneuver and handle your dog while they are in the water.

2. Be in the pool as well

When it’s their first time trying to swim, it helps to be in the pool (or ocean) with them too. Your Berner will feel much safer and confident if you are in their with them. (Just watch out for their nails!)

3. Ensure all legs are paddling

A common thing that dogs learning to swim do is to only use their front legs. This is no good. All FOUR legs must be paddling, otherwise, it will exhaust your Berner quickly, and even cause them to panic. This is why using a lifejacket is advised.

If your Berner isn’t using their back legs, you can trigger them to move by lightly touching them.

4. Practice without the lifejacket

As important as it is to start with the lifejacket, it’s important to practice without it too.

Once your Berner can comfortably swim around, using all four legs, it’s time to advance. If your Berner only ever experiences swimming with a lifejacket, it could come as an unexpected shock if they were to fall into a swimming pool, lake, or run in the ocean.

Practice swimming without a lifejacket in a controlled environment. Again, it helps if you are in the water too.

5. Keep sessions short

Swimming is exhausting even for hardened water dogs. It’s crucial to keep periods of swimming very short, around 15-25 seconds at the most.

This doesn’t sound like much, but your Berner will be panting like crazy after a short burst like this. After 15-25 seconds ensure they rest for at least a few minutes before swimming again.

Why Should You Encourage Your Berner To Like Water?

You may be wondering, why does any of this even matter? If my Berner doesn’t like water, so what?

Well, to a certain extent, that’s right. If you Berner doesn’t like water its not the end of the world.

However, for those that love the water, not only do they have an extra method of cooling down in the summer, but they have an amazing way to keep fit will preserving their vulnerable joints! Which is something that all Berner owners should be considering.

In addition to those two great points, it will make bath time so much easier!

While you might not need to regularly bathe your Berner, when it comes around to doing so, it’s much easier if they already like the process.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to check out more Bernese Mountain Dog articles >


Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.