If Labs are introduced to swimming gradually as a puppy, they are likely to be happy and confident swimmers.
Labs swim, like most other dogs, using the doggy paddle technique! But some Labs might also enjoy diving into the water, and they may love to retrieve things from water.
Although most Labs will physically be able to swim if they find themselves in water, it’s still not a good idea to just chuck your Lab in deep water in the hopes that they’ll swim out.
This can be very stressful for them, and can even lead to them avoiding water in the future.
The best way to encourage your Lab to swim is to introduce the habit gradually and safely.
Why Are Labs Such Good Swimmers?
If you’ve ever seen Labradors swimming, you might think they were made for the job!
And the truth is, they were! Originally, Labrador ancestors were bred to work alongside fishermen on the island of Newfoundland, Canada.
Labs descend from a breed called the St John’s Water Dog, which you can read about more here.
From these dogs, and other ancestors after British breeders first tried to standardize the Labrador breed, Labs inherited some traits that make them great swimmers.
They have a thick, double coat that is water-resistant and protects them against the chill of swimming in natural rivers and ponds.
They also have a wide otter tail to help them swim, and webbed paws!
When Can Labradors Start Swimming?
It’s best to introduce your Labrador to water when they are young and open to new experiences. But, this doesn’t mean you should take your 8-week old puppy and pop them straight into the closest lake.
Firstly, you must wait until your Labrador puppy has all of its necessary vaccinations. This will keep them safe from health problems like parvovirus.
Secondly, you must introduce them to water very gradually, to ensure they don’t become scared of it.
This might take longer than you would first think, involving chasing a stick over a small puddle at first.
Gradually increase the amount of water your Lab is happy to wade through until it is slightly deeper or slightly wider.
When your Labrador is happy, you can increase it again. Never make your Lab jump straight in at the deep end – literally!
It may take a few months before your Labrador is happily swimming in deeper water.
7 Rules to consider before letting your Labrador Retriever swim
Now that summer is here and the mercury is rising, it’s not just us humans who want to make the most of the warm weather.
Dogs enjoy frolicking in the great outdoors, and what better way for them to cool down than with a splash around in the sea, a pool, or a lake? Although this seems great fun for any pooch, it’s worth keeping the various risks such as blue-green algae in mind, to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.
- Safety comes first
Is it safe for dogs to go swimming? If you’re a dog owner and have been pondering this question, consider a few things before letting your canine loose in the water.
- Not all dogs can swim!
Despite ‘doggy paddle’ having a reference to our canine friends, it’s wrong to assume that all dogs can swim. Before you take your dog to the water’s edge, consider that certain breeds and sizes of dogs are better suited to swimming than others. Medium to large dogs, such as Labradors and golden retrievers, take to the water with ease, but top-heavy dogs with short legs and large chests, such as bulldogs, boxers, and dachshunds, can struggle to stay afloat. Additionally, think twice about taking your dog swimming if it has special needs.
The fact is, not all dogs actually like to swim, so if your dog isn’t showing a willingness to get wet, don’t force the situation.
- Learning to swim
When introducing your dog to the water, do it gradually and slowly so they feel comfortable and won’t panic. Never toss them into the water. Dogs can tire easily, so don’t keep them in the water for too long, especially if they’re a puppy or older dog. They may be wearing a fur coat, but this won’t necessarily stop a dog from getting cold in the water, so keep swim sessions brief to prevent the risk of hypothermia.
Train your dog so that it learns to come out of the water on command, or if you’re using a pool, teach it to get to the edge easily and safely. Retrieving toys are useful to have during water safety and obedience training.
It’s worth investing in a flotation vest for your dog, especially if you go out on a boat. Buy a vest that has a handle on the back so that you can easily haul your dog out of the water.
- Assess the dangers
Before you let your dog loose in the water, take a moment to assess how safe it looks. If you’re at the beach, consider whether currents, tides, or strong waves could pose a danger. Are there any hidden obstacles lurking under the water, as well as on land, that may injure your dog? Broken shells, jellyfish, sharp objects, and debris spring to mind. Does the water look clean? Scan the horizon to see if any boats nearby could cause dangerous undercurrents.
Crucially, don’t let your dog in the water unless you are completely certain he or she can easily get back on land. If you wouldn’t enter the water yourself, don’t put your dog at risk, either. Once your dog is in the water, supervise them at all times.
- Blue-green algae
You tend to find blue-green algae at lakes, freshwater ponds, or streams
Watch out for Blue-green algae on lakes, ponds, and streams.
Drowning is one of the biggest concerns you’ll have when taking your dog swimming, but exposure to blue-green algae is of equal importance, particularly if contaminated water is ingested. You tend to find blue-green algae at lakes, freshwater ponds, or streams, and it typically presents as a blue-green, pea soup-like scum on the water’s surface, especially during hot, dry weather.
Also known as cyanobacteria – and not to be confused with the blue-green algae powder you can find in health food shops – this type of bacteria found in stagnant water can produce toxins that are often fatal to dogs, even when exposed to small amounts.
If you suspect your dog has been exposed to blue-green algae, wash it down immediately with fresh water and go straight to your vet. Blue-green algae symptoms to look out for can include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, drooling, and breathing difficulties. Blue-green algae are toxic for dogs and can cause liver failure. If your dog is showing these symptoms contact our experienced team immediately.
The problem with blue-green algae is that it’s not always visible, and not all types are poisonous. To be on the safe side, keep your dog away from water where you suspect blue-green algae may be present, and take heed of any warning signs.
- Drinking water
It’s not just ingesting blue-green algae bacteria in the water that causes harm to dogs; if dogs drink too much saltwater from the sea this can trigger diarrhea, vomiting, and even dehydration.
Dogs who ingest chlorinated water may also get a bit of an upset tummy, so ensure they’re thoroughly hydrated before entering chlorinated water, so they’re less tempted to take a sip. Over-exposure to chlorinated water may also give dogs itchy skin or red eyes, so limit their time in the water.
Always bring a supply of fresh water with you when your dog goes swimming, so it won’t be tempted to drink harmful water sources and to ensure it stays hydrated. On hot days, be wary of signs of heatstroke in your dog, such as heavy panting, drooling, and lack of balance.
Dogs who enjoy a paddle can be prone to ear infections, so clean and dry their ears after swimming to prevent infection. An ear rinse solution specifically for dogs may be beneficial, ask your vet for more information.
Sand from the beach can also get trapped in your dog’s fur, so give them a good hose down after a swim and use a soothing shampoo if your dog has sensitive skin. Check your dog’s paws for any injuries.
With the right care, attention and precautions, there’s every chance your dog will relish a swim in the great outdoors. Remember to seek advice and get the facts, from experts such as your vet before letting your dog loose in the water.
Can Labradors Swim in Cold Water?
Labradors have a lovely thick, water-resistant coat, but this doesn’t mean they can go in water of any temperature. There are still risks in letting your Lab swim in very cold water.
Letting your Lab swim in cold water for extended periods can cause hypothermia, which can be fatal.
If you think water might be too cold for your dog, it’s best not to let them swim in it.
Waiting for those warmer summer months may be a better idea.
Helping your Labrador Swim Safely
As well as risks from cold water, there are a few other considerations to make before letting your Labrador swim.
If your Lab is swimming in deep water, remember there could be strong undercurrents that could make them lose control.
Plus, because lots of Labradors love to swim, they may not stop until they are completely exhausted. Not only does this leave them vulnerable in deep water, but it can cause problems like limber tail, which is very painful for them.
If your Lab’s tail is hanging completely straight and still after swimming, it may have a limber tail. This problem usually goes away after a few days but is still stressful for your pup. And, there’s a risk of predators if your Lab is swimming in the sea or natural rivers. Watch out for jellyfish, and worse!
Keep a close eye on your Lab whilst they’re swimming to make sure they stay safe and don’t let them exhaust themselves in the water.