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Do Rhodesian Ridgebacks Like Water? Swimming Tips & FAQs

Two questions I receive more than I thought I would is if ridgebacks like water, and whether they can swim. In this article, I’ll explain why most ridgebacks are hesitant of water (at least to begin with) and some valuable introduction/swimming tips that will help every owner.


Do Rhodesian Ridgebacks Like Water?

It turns out that most ridgebacks don’t actually like the water. So why is it that ridgebacks haven’t inherited the Michael Phelps gene?

The simple answer is that ridgebacks don’t have a history of being used in the water. Hunting and guarding was a ridgeback’s primary role for centuries in southern Africa.

Due to this unfamiliarity with water, ridgebacks are often hesitant around it.

If you compare ridgebacks to breeds that naturally love the water, like labradors, retrievers, and spaniels, they all share a long working history of being used in the water. Go figure.

This isn’t to tar all ridgebacks with the same brush, though. You always get a few Rhodies that immediately love everything from the ocean to the sprinkler without much effort on your part!

Can Rhodesian Ridgebacks Swim?

Rhodesian ridgebacks are not natural swimmers, and many dislike water in general. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that ridgebacks are strong athletic dogs and can become excellent swimmers with training, practice, and patience.

This usually brings a sigh of relief to many owners… Even those that are initially afraid of water, can learn to slowly LOVE it. And then swimming will become a breeze.

Let’s explain why ridgebacks usually dislike water and aren’t born-swimmers.

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Introducing Your Ridgeback To Water

As ridgebacks aren’t naturally fond of water, it’s crucial to introduce them to it as early on as possible.

Not only will this set them up for success with swimming, but it will make bath times A LOT easier.

Regardless of their age, the best way to do this is to start with a small kiddie paddling pool in the yard.

Fill it up to about shin height and let your ridgeback inspect the pool, every time he goes near it, offer him a treat. Allow him to suss it out on his own without pressuring him to go near it. Eventually, try sitting with him right next to it, constantly offering your praise and a few treats.

The key to success is allowing him to progress at his own pace with no pressure. It’s vital to create positive associations with the pool, instead of negative ones.

As he becomes less phased by the water, he may even try to step over the edge himself. But if he doesn’t that’s okay. The next step is to start putting a few floaty toys in there, and encouraging him to retrieve them. Plenty of praise and treats are necessary when he inevitably gets the toy.

When that becomes easy, the next step is for you to get in the water and encourage him to get in to retrieve one of his exciting (or brand new) toys. The idea of using a kiddy paddling pool is that edges will be low enough for him to step over. And as the water is only shin height, his head and neck should be well out of the water.

Introducing The Hose/Shower Head

As well as putting in the groundwork with the paddling pool. It’s also necessary to introduce the hose/shower.

The hose and shower mean water that can be pointed and triggered at any moment. This will surprise your ridgeback and he will either view it as a game, or a threat…

The best way to introduce him to the hose/shower is to, first of all, take it off the “jet” setting and put it on the weakest mode. Spray directly to the ground and let him come to it, take a pause, offer him a treat, and repeat. Never introduce the hose or shower by spraying it directly at his face! (sounds obvious, but I’ve seen many do it before).

With time, reassurance, and treats, he should get increasingly comfortable with the hose until he no longer cares about it.

And personally, I wouldn’t turn using the hose pipe into a game… This could make bathing harder in the future.

Teaching Your Rhodesian Ridgeback How To Swim

Teaching your ridgeback how to swim doesn’t have to be a difficult process. It just needs to be broken down into small steps. And It’s best done from at least 5 months old (after vaccines), but this works for adults too.

It’s necessary to run through the introduction process above with your ridgeback before moving on to this section.

What you’ll need:
Paddling pool
Doggy lifejacket
High-value treats (for after)
Exciting toys

Step 1: Water level at neck height

The first step is essentially an extension of the introduction. This will prep your Rhody to know that the water can get pretty deep, but still at a safe level where he can stand.

You should also put the lifejacket on him at this stage to build up his familiarity with it.

You’ll need to get in the pool and encourage him to come in with you or have someone else lift him in.

Keep reassuring him that everything is okay and have his toys at the ready. Avoid feeding him treats while in water.

It’s advised to spend only a few minutes in the pool at a time, and repeat this process 3-5 times. This will solidify familiarity with water.

Step 2: Out of depth/swimming level

After your ridgeback is very comfortable being in the water from step one, it’s now time to make it real!

This time you’ll need to fill the pool up to where your ridgeback needs to swim.

If your ridgeback is still a puppy and easily picked up, have someone else hand him to you while you are in the pool. You can use the top handle on the lifejacket to slowly lower him down into the pool while you take most of his weight.

If your ridgeback is a heavy adult, then you might need to create a step for him so he can enter the pool himself. You, however, should still already be in the pool, ready to take his weight using the top handle of the lifejacket.

When your ridgeback enters the water, he’s should instinctively start paddling ALL four legs. Sometimes, only the front legs will work, frantically and with a lot of splashing… This is normal, but not efficient, so you’ll need to lightly touch his hinds legs/paws to trigger them to paddle.

Always keep a hold of the top handle on his lifejacket until he is able to paddle without splashing and using all four legs.

Although my explanation was somewhat long, the swimming process will happen very quickly and easily, assuming he was properly introduced.

And that’s it!

All that’s needed now is a lot of practice.

Important Advice To Know

Let’s run through some crucial tips and pointers to be aware of when teaching your Rhodesian ridgeback to swim.

1. Use a doggy lifejacket (to start with)

The lifejacket will of course make swimming a lot easier, and remove a considerable amount of risk.

The lifejacket makes your job of teaching your ridgeback to swim much easier as it has a convenient handle right on the top. This will allow you to take your ridgeback’s weight at any moment.

2. Practice without a lifejacket (eventually)

Ironically, the second most important tip is to eventually ditch the lifejacket.

While a lifejacket is necessary for the learning stages, it’s CRUCIAL for you to supervise and help your ridgeback swim when not wearing a lifejacket.

If he only ever uses a lifejacket, he’ll never really get the feeling of keeping himself afloat without assistance. This could prove to be a huge safety issue if he decides to bound into the ocean or jump into a river without warning.

3. Keep swimming lessons very short

Swimming should always be kept short and sweet. 10-20 seconds of swimming at a time is surprisingly strenuous and taxing on the body. Remove him from the pool to let him catch his breath and recover

Allow him to rest for a good few minutes before bringing him back in.

Only once he’s a competent swimmer should you allow him to remain swimming for much longer than 30 seconds at a time.

4. Avoid the ocean for now

It’s far safer to teach your ridgeback how to swim in a controlled environment. The ocean has waves, undercurrents and can drop off without warning. So before your ridgeback is very competent, keep your ridgeback swimming in a pool in your yard.

In some lucky neighborhoods, there are dedicated doggy swimming pools for the purpose of swimming and socializing.

5. Always avoid lakes and rivers

Although the ocean might be fine, it’s best to stay clear from lakes and rivers unless you’re positive they are clean and hazard-free.

Rivers can be fast flowing with strong undercurrents, and stagnant lakes are a hotbed for bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so opt for the paddling pool or the ocean.

6. Don’t offer him treats while in the water

Offering high-value treats is a crucial part in helping build positive associations, but only offer them in between swimming sessions, and once he has caught his breath.

Offering treats to him in the water is an unnecessary risk to take.

7. Don’t leave him unattended around the pool

It’s advised to drain the pool when you are finished with it OR ensure that he can’t access the pool when you are not around.

This is a basic safety tip even for those with dogs that are competent swimmers. You never know what can happen and the risk is not worth taking.

Is Swimming Good For Ridgebacks?

So is it worth all the effort teaching your ridgeback how to swim?… Yes! Absolutely.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for Rhodesian ridgebacks. Swimming is unique in the fact that’s high intensity, yet completely non-impactful. It will work your ridgeback’s heart and muscles without placing much stress on his joints.

If you plan on taking your ridgeback for a swim in the ocean, just ensure the weather conditions are suitable for it.

Thanks for reading!


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.