Can German Shepherds Swim?

You know that your German Shepherd needs exercise and lots of it. Just like humans, dogs love it when you change up their exercise routine. Have you thought about relacing going for a walk with going for a swim instead?

Can German Shepherds swim? Yes, most German Shepherds can swim and do love the water! For the true answer to this question, you will have to ask your shepherd!! I’m serious. It comes down to their individual preferences. Even if your dog is wary at first, you can often train German Shepherds to love to swim.

What is it about German Shepherds that makes them love the water? How can you help your dog take up swimming if they don’t like it at first? Continue reading to learn more about German Shepherds and their relationship with water.

Can German Shepherds Swim Naturally?

If you just plop your shepherd into the water, will they swim? Can German Shepherds swim naturally? The short answer is perhaps. Almost all German Shepherds, barring a disability, should naturally be able to swim if you put them in water.

Every dog has a different personality and different experiences though, so it’s hard to say whether your dog will like to swim or not. Some dogs love to play with the hose but hate to swim. Other dogs hate getting a bath but love going for a swim. The only way to really tell if your German Shepherd enjoys swimming is to give them a chance to try.

There are some breeds that tend to like swimming more than others. German Shepherds are one of those breeds! Although they weren’t bred for swimming, their behavioral and physical breed traits make them naturals in the water.

So can German Shepherds swim? See how your dog responds.

If your shepherd does love swimming, this opens up other possibilities when on vacation like going camping at the beach with your dog.

Breed Traits

If you’ve spent any amount of time with German Shepherds, you know that they are naturally athletic. They have a lot of energy too.

Both of these characteristics make many German Shepherds naturals in the water. Their athleticism and energy combine to create the perfect swimming combination. They have the physical ability and the stamina to maneuver well in the water. Can German Shepherds swim? Yes, they have the ability but do they have the willingness (see what your dog thinks)!

Physical Features

What make german shepherds good swimmers
What physical traits make German Shepherds suited to swimming?

Many physical features of the German Shepherd make them natural swimmers.

Their bodies are well proportioned.

They don’t have short legs or snouts.

They are naturally lean.

Their webbed feet (more on that next) at the end of their long legs act as paddles to propel them through the water.

In addition, regardless of your dog’s coat length, almost all German Shepherds have a water-resistant double coat. This is another feature some dogs have that help them be good swimmers.

This is how the double coat works in dogs:

  1. The fluffy inner layer of fur acts as insulation
  2. The outer layer helps to repel the water.

Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to get water to penetrate all the way to your German Shepherd’s skin when you give him a bath?

This trait that is frustrating during bath time is helpful when swimming.

This trait helps them maneuver more easily and efficiently through the water as their coat repels the water. You can imagine that a regular (thick) dog coat when wet, weighs and slows down a dogs progress through the water.

The double coat also helps German Shepherds be more tolerant of colder temperatures, as much of the water is repelled from his skin.

The double water-resistant coat is a great advantage that helps answer the question “Can German Shepherds swim?”

Do German Shepherds Have Webbed Feet?

If I take the official line from the American Kennel Club, German Shepherds do not have webbed feet. Further, shepherds are described as a working dog rather than a water working dog like the Labrador Retriever or the Newfoundland. So webbed feet and German Shepherds is a controversial topic. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Just as flippers make humans more efficient swimmers, natural webbed feet make dogs more efficient swimmers.

Dogs with webbed feet use the larger surface area to propel themselves through the water. Because they enable dogs to swim more efficiently, they can swim faster and with less effort. Other water dogs include pointers, spaniels, poodles and otter hounds.

What If My German Shepherd Doesn’t Like To Swim?

Even though most German Shepherds are natural swimmers, some dogs don’t take to the water right away. Your shepherd might be that dog!

The first thing you should do is try to determine the reason he doesn’t like to swim:

  • Has there been a traumatic experience with water in the past?
  • Does your dog have a medical condition that makes swimming hard for them?
  • Is it too cold outside for your dog?
  • Does your dog typically take time to warm up to new experiences?
  • Is there something in the water your dog doesn’t like? Children or other dogs being in the water at the same time may make them nervous.

If you are able to get to the root of the problem, it will be much easier for you to help your dog learn to like to swim. Next up, we have some useful tips on how to train your dog to love swimming.

Start Small

If you already know that your dog doesn’t like the water or if they seem hesitant, don’t force them or throw him in. This could traumatize them and make them even less likely to enjoy swimming in the future.

Try slowly introducing them to water by taking him to a calm, shallow creek or letting him take his time getting into an empty pool.

Use A Life Vest

German Shepherds are known for their bravery. Some shepherds are nervous and skittish. If this sounds like your dog, he might be afraid of the water, especially if it is a new experience for them.

In addition to starting slow, try putting your shepherd in a life vest. That way they can safely test out the water without ever going under.

Using a life vest can also help to ease your anxiety, which your dog may be feeding off of. Always start with a life vest if you are not sure if your dog will be a good swimmer.

Entice Your Dog

If your German Shepherd loves to play fetch, they’ll probably also love to play fetch in the water. Dogs can fetch all sorts of toys that float – balls, rings, discs and other throw toys.

Try putting their favorite toy in the water and see they go in after it.

Here’s the experience of Bruno the German Shepherd with his favorite ball (that looks like a watermelon) and a Greenie dog treat.

Another way to entice him is if you get in the water. You’ll show your dog that it’s safe. Since German Shepherds are such loyal dogs, they may want to get into the water simply because that’s where you are.

If your dog likes to play with other dogs, you could also take him to a place where there are other dogs playing in the water to show him that it’s okay and that it can be fun.

Praise Often

Do everything you can to make swimming a positive experience for your dog.

Even if they don’t get in the water very far, praise them for trying.

Be sure to be happy and speak with a positive tone.

You can also play games with your dog in the water, always giving him high praise when he does well.

If your dog seems nervous, anxious, or scared, don’t force it; this might be a good time to leave the area and give your dog a break.

What Can I Train My German Shepherd To Do In The Water?

Once you are sure your German Shepherd is a strong swimmer and is very comfortable in the water, you can teach him to do some fun things!

Training Your Dog To Fetch In Water

teaching your dog to fetch in water
  1. Make sure your dog knows how to fetch on land.
  2. Try just throwing their favorite (floating) toy in. They may fetch it the first time! If they don’t, continue reading.
  3. Try shallow water and short distances. Reward your dog any time they fetch the toy.
  4. Try water a little deeper, but where your dog can still touch. Again reward them when they do the desired behavior.
  5. Move on to deeper water at a farther distance.

Note that you may need to spend a lot of time at any given step. Don’t get discouraged if you need to go back a step.

Training Your Shepherd To Jump In Water

This can be tricky for some shepherds who don’t like to get their head wet.

  • Jump in yourself. Your dog might just be interested in your behavior enough that they follow you. If they don’t, continue reading.
  • Start with a well-known command, such as “Fetch” or “Come”.
    • For fetch, throw the toy into the water and see if your dog jumps in after it.
    • For come, you should be in the water and command your dog to come to you.
    • Note that if your dog is showing signs of fear or anxiety, back off and stop giving him the command.
    • You can confuse him if they want to please you by responding to the command but is afraid to complete the task.
  • Try using stairs in a pool or a gradual bank in a creek.
    • Once your dog is partway in the water, throw their favorite toy just in front of them. This will encourage them to take a small jump to reach the toy.
    • Slowly work up to throwing the toy farther away.
    • Eventually, try throwing the toy from the edge so your dog has to jump in to retrieve it.

Safety Tips When Your Shepherd is Swimming

Use a life vest

A life vest is useful if your shepherd is swimming in open water off a beach and the waves are rough. A flotation device gives you some extra confidence that they are safe if they swim quite a distance away from you. A life vest is also useful to shepherds that may not be confident swimmers.

Bad water

Don’t let your dog swim in water that doesn’t look right. Algae in water will discolor the water (e.g. red, green) and it’s unsafe for dogs to swim in. Water that is not clear could also indicate pollution which again, is unsafe for your dog. Not only could they develop a tummy bugs, ear infections and eye irritations.

No drinking

Don’t let your dog drink the water they swim in unless it is really fresh. They may be drinking bacteria in rivers, streams and lakes. There could be too many chemicals if they drink swimming pool water which will upset their stomach. Salt water can cause vomiting and dehydration.

Not too long in chlorinated water

If your shepherd is swimming in highly chlorinated pool water, don’t let them swim for too long. The chemicals in the water will dry out their skin or may cause skin or eye irritations.

Hazards in the water

Look for hazards. If your dog is jumping off a pier, make sure the water is deep enough so they won’t injure themselves. Sharp objects like broken bottles, abandoned fish hooks etc. on a beach or at the bottom of streams, rivers and lakes can cut your dog’s paw pads. Black ice can be very hazardous for dogs. So please don’t get your shepherds to retrieve toys in the winter when there is black ice on the surface of the water.

For other ways to keep your shepherd safe in water, visit petMD.

Related Questions

What are the benefits of swimming?

  • Great for overall health.
  • As a form of exercise, it is low impact. It lessens the pressure on your shepherd’s tendons and joints.
  • Can be used as a technique to improve mobility (hydrotherapy).
  • Aids weight loss.
  • If your shepherd gets bored easily, swimming is a great way to add variety to their exercise routine. Dogs can find swimming fun and you can also combine fetching a toy and swimming.
  • Helps your shepherd get some relief during those really hot summer days.

You can read more about dogs and swimming.

swimming can cool your dog down

Duke the German Shepherd pup (source: owner Diane’s video)

How long should my shepherd swim for?

For most dogs, that depends on your shepherd’s fitness level and their familiarity with swimming. The minimum is 10 minutes and the maximum is 30 minutes. Shepherds are naturally athletic and, assuming your shepherd grows to love swimming, I would shoot for 30 minutes for a good workout.

Where you take your German Shepherd for a swim?

Have a read of this article here.

Final Thoughts

Swimming can be a really fun activity, as well as a great bonding experience for you and your German Shepherd. Even if he doesn’t like it at first, take it slow and be patient with him. In time, you may have a dog who loves to swim as much as you do! If swimming doesn’t work out to bring variety to your dog’s exercise regime, maybe try flyball instead.

Dedication: This article is dedicated to my dear German Shepherd, Beau.

Beau and Red
Beau and her best friend, Red

If you are interested in more articles about German Shepherds, read this article about their acute sense of smell. Did you know they can pick up a scent 40 feet underground?

Other Articles About German Shepherds


Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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