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Do Border Collies Like Water? Swimming Tips & FAQs

Whether you live by the ocean or the hot summer calls for a paddling pool, most owners are hesitant about their collie and swimming.

This article will cover this surprisingly common question in detail and much more.

If appropriately introduced from a young age, border collies will quickly learn to love the water. Collies were not originally used in water, but these dogs love any activity you can give them, and swimming is certainly one of them.

Are Border Collies Natural Swimmers?

Simply put, no, not really. Border collies are not natural swimmers. Although with a careful introduction to water and some basic lessons, a collie will quickly become very good at it.

The reason collies are not considered natural swimmers is because they were never originally used in the water. Therefore most collies are initially hesitant around bodies of water.

Some breeds like Labradors, spaniels, pointers, and other retriever breeds were frequently used for hundreds of years retrieving wild game from rivers and lakes. Due to having such experience in the water, these breeds have a natural ability to jump in and swim right away.

Border collies were almost exclusively used on-land herding cattle, protecting cattle, and other various tasks. At no point were they required to dabble in the local pond!

Do Border Collies Make Good Swimmers?

Yes, with a few practice lessons border collies can make great swimmers.

Collies are actually some of the most athletic dogs we know of. They’re fast, nimble, agile, and extremely physically capable. This makes swimming an easy task for them to get used to.

As I will explain further below, however, it’s crucial to put in place some basic safety measures before assuming your collie will be the next Michael Phelps.

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The Key To Getting Your Border Collie To Like Water

With most border collies initially being hesitant when it comes to water, it’s ALL about the introduction to water that will determine their tolerance and confidence in the future.

If you have a border collie that’s scared of the hose, sprinkler and won’t step foot near a pond, paddling pool, or ocean, it’s likely down to a bad previous experience, or still no experience at all.

How your collie is first introduced to water is crucial. Creating a positive, safe, and fun association with water will allow your collie to relax, enjoy it, and most importantly, not fear it.

How to introduce your collie to water slowly and positively:

  1. Start by playing with your collie and offering her a few tasty treats to get her mind right.
  2. Have a laundry bowl or large basin of water (on the ground) ready for the introduction.
  3. The first moment your collie sets eyes on the water or gets near it, offer her a treat and praise her. If she goes right up to it and sniffs it or starts drinking from it, that’s great. Offer her a treat.
  4. She doesn’t need to get near it, and certainly don’t force her to get near it.
  5. If she is obviously avoiding it, that’s fine for now.
  6. Continue playing with her and her toy, while offering treats and plenty of praise.
  7. After several minutes, try sitting next to the basin of water and continue throwing her toy for her.
  8. The closer she gets to the laundry bowl the better, and remember to continue rewarding.
  9. With time, occasionally encourage her to go to the water with you by her side, perhaps even throw her toy in there to see if she retrieves it. And if she does, praise heavily!
  10. Repeat this on different days until your collie is completely unphased by the presence of the water and will happily retrieve a toy that you throw in there.

Does that seem like overkill? Well, maybe a little. But that’s absolutely key for any border collie to properly get familiar with water under no pressure and while she’s partaking in something fun.

The fact you are there playing and giving her treats near the water will build a subconscious positive association with it. It’s fairly simple from there on out.

Collies that have no previous experience with water could get extremely shocked and scared if she’s abruptly introduced to it via a sprinkler or hose that’s pointed at her. So it’s best to doing avoid that.

This routine will work for collies that have no experience with water, and for those that are already afraid of it. For those that are already afraid, it will likely take a little longer, but will eventually work.

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Training Your Border Collie To Swim

It’s first recommended to introduce your border collie to water with the method explained above. This will best set her up for success with the pool.

What you’ll need:
Doggy lifejacket
Paddling pool
Tasty treats
Warm weather!

Step 1: Water Level up to her belly (1-3 days on this stage)

1. Fill the paddling pool up to belly height, so her neck and head are completely out of the water when standing. This step is to get her used to the paddling pool and the sensations of being in a body of water. If she has been introduced to water already, this stage should not be too intimidating.

2. Get in the paddling pool yourself, have some new toys to mess around with, and be sure to offer a few treats along the way. If she is resisting this stage, remember to take it slow and don’t force her. Maybe she’ll come around it to it in 30 minutes, or another day.

Step 2: Water level up to her neck (1-3 days on this stage)

1. It’s time to fill the pool up to neck height, but still just so her head can remain out of the water. Bring toys, but leave the treats this time as it’s too dangerous for her to be fed. This next step is essentially letting your collie know that water isn’t always shallow! You will likely also see your collie instinctively paddle her front legs in response to the deeper water. This is great. Continue with lots of encouragement.

2. You’ll only want to spend a few minutes in the pool at this stage and constantly watch your collie to ensure she is calm and happy rather than distressed and scared. Then, every so often, lift her off the ground slightly (using the handle on the lifejacket). This should encourage her legs to start paddling.

3. You want to stay on this stage for a few days until she is competent at paddling with ALL FOUR legs perfectly every time you lift her from the ground. If her back legs don’t paddle, you can usually touch them to trigger a response.

Step 3: Water level is out of her depth (1-3 days swimming practice)

1. Now it’s time to swim for real. Remember that your collie still hasn’t experienced being out of depth, so go slow and be supportive. It’s best to get inside the pool and have someone else lift her into the pool (with her lifejacket on). Then, SLOWLY lower her into the pool and ensure her legs are paddling.

2. The lifejacket will pretty much do most of the work, but she will still be required to paddle a little. Always have one hand on the handle, ready to help if needed, but she should be fine at this stage.

3. She will likely be paddling frantically around in circles, and that’s fine for now. This is going to be a new experience that’s both exciting and adrenaline-pumping. Due to how exhausting this will be for your collie, be sure to lift her and support her weight completely so she can relax or bring her out of the pool altogether after about 20 seconds of swimming.

And that’s pretty much how to teach your border collie to swim! Repeat the final swimming process several times over the next few days

It’s straightforward when you break it down into these three stages. And don’t rush into full-blown swimming! The longer you spend on those initial stages, the more confident and calm your collie will be when it comes time to swim.

Extra Tips When Teaching Your Border Collie To Swim

Let’s run through some extra tips to make the swimming process safer and more efficient.

1. Lifejackets are mandatory at the beginning

I know some may try doing this without a doggy lifejacket, but it’s just not worth it. By getting your collie a lifejacket you are practically eliminating any major accidents from happening.

Not only this but it makes the whole process easier and more enjoyable for your collie when she’s starting out. The lifejackets also come with top handles making your job easier when it comes time to lift her or take her weight.

2. Practice without lifejackets once competent

Although lifejackets are a must in the beginning, it’s crucial to test your collie without them once she’s competent.

It would be a big mistake to only use a lifejacket at home for months or years, then expect your collie to be fine swimming the ocean without a lifejacket. It’s considerably easier to swim with a lifejacket and your collie won’t be used to the extra strength and endurance it takes to keep herself afloat without one.

3. Don’t spend too long in the pool

It’s best to keep swimming sessions short and sweet. Swimming is both physically demanding and your collie is also at risk of getting too cold.

Once your collie becomes wet, it’s difficult for her to remain warm unless its very warm outside. All it takes is a few clouds and a slight breeze and your collie could get very cold, very quickly.

It’s also worth pouring a few kettles of boiling water into the pool too. This will take the edge of the water and won’t come as a shock to your collie. All adding to a better experience.

4. Positive experiences are essential

It helps to constantly remind yourself that this needs to be a fun and positive experience for your collie.

The moment she feels stressed, unsafe or forced to partake in this activity, it no longer benefits her, and it could just make for a more difficult time in the future.

If you want your collie to be a dog that loves the water and can swim effortlessly, then it’s crucial to ensure she has plenty of positive experiences in the beginning. Get her toys and treats at the ready!

5. Oceans, lakes, and rivers are a safety hazard

Remember, that oceans, lakes, and rivers are safety hazards and should be avoided.

If you live along a very calm coastline where the ocean is obviously no threat, then this is fine. But when it comes to rivers and lakes, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

Undercurrents and even harmful bacteria can be present in rivers and lakes. Stick to the paddling pools and calm oceans.

Can Border Collies Swim In Swimming Pools?

Your border collie should avoid all swimming pools if they use chlorine. Chlorine is terrible for your collie’s skin and will likely dry it out. Dry skin can then lead to a wide spectrum of further health problems.

If your swimming avoids the use of chlorine or harsh cleaning chemicals, then in this case, it should be fine.

It’s best for your collie to only swim in fresh pure water. Salt water will be fine for most, but it’s necessary to rinse your collie down after every time she has been in the ocean.

Depending on where you live, you might have a dog center where they have swimming pools made for dogs. These pools will avoid the use of chlorine or any other harsh cleaning agent. In this situation, a swimming pool will be fine.

Is Swimming Good For Border Collies?

Swimming is excellent for border collies. It’s physically demanding but at the same time easy on their joints. It will also provide a border collie with a lot of mental stimulation and satisfaction.

Swimming is considered one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise for dogs so it’s definitely worth taking the time to introduce your collie to water and teaching her to swim efficiently.

At the same time, swimming does pose some obviously safety hazards so only let your collie swim in a safe environment and always supervise her.

Recommended Products

Here are some of the recommended products throughout this article.

Paddling pool:


Healthy training treats:

Thanks for reading!

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