Can German Shepherds Swim Naturally – Do they like water

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Can German Shepherds swim

Can a German Shepherd swim? Yes, most German Shepherds are excellent swimmers. Although they were bred as a herding dog, not a water dog, they can be taught to swim. All German Shepherds have the ability to learn to swim.

Germans Shepherds are strong and athletic and have the tools they need to be good swimmers. These include: –

  • Long powerful limbs to propel them through the water.
  • A thick powerful tail to use as a rudder and propel them.
  • Webbed feet to be able to push more water.
  • A long muzzle making them efficient at breathing.
  • They are muscular and lean giving them the power required.
  • German Shepherds are double-coated. The outer guard coat is fairly water-resistant so they don’t get weighed down. The inner undercoat keeps them warm.

All these traits help to make a German Shepherd an efficient swimmer once they have been taught and gained confidence in the water.

Why do German Shepherds have webbed feet

Dog breeds that have been bred to swim such as water retrieval breeds like Labradors have webbed feet. You may wonder why a German Shepherd has webbed feet if swimming is not a nature instinctive trait.

The most likely explanation is that as they are from Germany, webbed feet assist them when walking on snow.

Are German Shepherds naturally good swimmers

As we have discussed, German Shepherds were not bred to be natural water dogs. However, most German Shepherds like water and can learn to swim quickly. In most cases, once they go in to the water and their paws don’t reach the bottom, they will naturally start to doggy paddle.

Are some German Shepherds afraid of water

At first, many German Shepherd puppies may be unsure of the water. Once they have gained some confidence they will usually take to it quickly.

If a dog is frightened of water it is often the result of a traumatic experience. This may be something like falling in a pool when they were a puppy.

It is important when teaching a German Shepherd to swim to take it slowly to avoid frightening them. A bad experience can set them back and may even put them off water for life.

Benefits of swimming for German Shepherds

The first benefit of swimming for dogs is that it is one of the best exercises for them. It will tire them out quickly. Ten minutes of continuous swimming is the equivalent of going for a 30 – 40-minute walk. Great for owners who have a dog with a lot of pent up energy, but are short on time.

As German Shepherds are a high energy and athletic breed, swimming is an ideal exercise for them. To learn more about exercise for German Shepherds see here.

Swimming is also an excellent exercise to strengthen and build muscle along with their heart and lungs. To top it off, swimming is a no-impact activity meaning it is not jarring their joints.

If you have a dog that does have joint or tendon injuries or is recovering from surgery swimming is great for rehabilitation. In addition, dogs that suffer from Hip or Elbow dysplasia or arthritis can benefit greatly from swimming as it helps to keep their joints mobile without putting undue stress on them. Learn more about Canine Hydrotherapy here.

Another advantage of taking your German Shepherd swimming is that it is a great way to cool off in the hot weather. Having black in their coats and being a double-coated dog, swimming is a great way to cool off.

How to teach a German Shepherd to swim

When first teaching your German Shepherd to swim, put a dog lifejacket on them. This will help them feel more confident by giving them more buoyancy. In addition, dog lifejackets have a handle on them so you can hold you German Shepherd up or even grab them easily if they begin to panic.

Once they have gained some confidence you can even attach a rope to the handle on the lifejacket so you can control how far away from you they swim or pull them in if they need help.

Start them off in shallow water so they can walk around and comfortable and gain confidence. If you don’t have anywhere where they can start off in shallow water, a paddling pool is a good option.

Once they are comfortable in the shallow water, you can take them out so their paws don’t reach the bottom. In most cases, they will simply start to doggie paddle.

Stay next to them and stay calm yourself not to over-excite them. It is better to not talk to them if they are nervous or if you do, speak in a calm tone.
You can give them support by holding the handle on the lifejacket or by supporting them underneath.

Give a little distance between your dog and your legs and body. If they start thrashing around they can scratch you with their claws.

Remember to be patient and stay calm. If your dog is panicking or becoming overwhelmed allow them to leave the water and have a rest. Then give it another go.

Water Safety for German Shepherds

It is crucial for all dog owners to be aware of the potential risk and safety issues when swimming their dogs. Things to beware of include;


The most obvious risk and safety factor when swimming is the potential of drowning.  It is highly recommended that you put a lifejacket on your German Shepherd, at least while they are learning to swim.

Due to their well-muscled bodies and low fat, they may not float as well as many other dogs.

View dog lifejackets on Amazon US, UK and Canada here.

Even the most confident swimmer can tire and become fatigued. If your dog is showing signs of fatigue remove them from the water to recover. If their rear end goes below the water don’t wait for them to correct themselves. They will be unlikely to recover.

Always supervise your German Shepherd when in the water. It is also recommended to learn about dog first aid including CPR and giving mouth to nose.

Swallowing water

Swallowing too much water while swimming can lead to water intoxication. This is when sodium levels outside the body cells become significantly depleted. This is known as “hyponatremia”. The cells become swollen and get bigger.

If the brain cells are swollen with fluid it causes an increase in the intracranial pressure and a lot of damage to the brain. This results in “water intoxication” and, depending on how serious it is, the condition can cause brain damage or even death to a dog.

Consult your vet immediately if you suspect your dog as taken in too much water.

Chlorine in swimming pools

Pool chemicals and chlorine can irritate a dog’s skin, coat and, eyes. Always give your dog a rinse off with fresh water after swimming. If their skin is irritated after swimming keep them out of the pool for a few days. Consult your vet if the skin doesn’t improve.

Water in the ears

If your German Shepherd is tilting or shaking their head after swimming, they have probably got water in their ears. Clean the ears out with a dry cloth to remove excess water.

This can lead to an ear infection. You will probably notice a yeasty smell coming from the ear. Ear infections can become quite serious. Consult your vet if in doubt.

Obstacles in the lake

If swimming in a lake or pond, keep an eye out for any obstacles your German Shepherd could get caught on. Look for objects that may be just below the water surface or even on the banks. It is a good idea to always remove your dog’s collar before swimming to prevent this.

Where to swim your German Shepherd

There are several options when it comes to places your German Shepherd can swim. These include swimming pools, lakes and rivers, and the beach. We will look at these in turn.

Swimming in a pool

If you have a swimming pool or access to use a pool, this can be a good option. The disadvantage of swimming pools is that many have steep steps to get in. A swimming pool with a gentle ramp is best. However, with some confidence building training, they will get used to using the steps.

There are also many Hydrotherapy and swimming centers available for dogs that have a ramp running into the water.

At the beach

Splashing and playing in the shallow water at the beach is lots of fun for a German Shepherd. Ensure that the waves aren’t too big and they don’t go out too far. This is probably best as the waves and currents can be potentially dangerous.

Rivers and lakes

This is probably the best option if you have access to a lake or river. The gentle sloop into the deeper water is a good way to help them build confidence. Just beware of currents in a lake.

Children’s paddle pool

Although your German Shepherd won’t actually be able to swim in a splash pool, they can have lots of fun. It is a good way for them to gain confidence around water and cool off on a hot day.

View Paddling pools on Amazon US, UK, Canada here.

Can German Shepherds Swim in Chlorinated Pools

In general, chlorine in swimming pools is safe for a dog to swim in. However, Pool chemicals and chlorine can irritate a dog’s skin, coat, and, eyes. Speak to your local pool supplier to see if they can recommend a gentler alternative to chlorine.

Always give your dog a rinse off with fresh water after swimming. If their skin is irritated after swimming keep them out of the pool for a few days. Consult your vet if the skin doesn’t improve. Ideally, don’t let them swim for too long in chlorinated water.

Ensure also that your German Shepherd doesn’t drink or ingest too much chlorinated water. A bigger concern would be if your dog eats Chlorine tablets. Always be sure to store your pool chemical suppliers in a safe place.

How often can you take a German Shepherd swimming

The frequency and duration of swimming sessions for your German Shepherd will depend on their level of fitness and swimming ability. Swimming is a very tiring activity. Remember to give your German Shepherd rests and keep time in the water to short bursts. Five to ten minutes at a time is sufficient.

For a German Shepherd that is both a competent and confidence swimmer, you can go swimming every second day. For an other dog or dog recovering from injury, once a week for a total of 30 minutes, including rests, is recommended.

Fun swimming and water activities for German Shepherds

There are many games and toys you can introduce to your swimming sessions with your German Shepherd. This a great way to increase the fun and get more of a workout from the session.

Flirt Pole

Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it. This activity is ideal for an active dog as it works the whole body and strengthens their muscles. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. It is important that this be a controlled exercise.

A flirt pole is also an ideal way to exercise your German Shepherd in the pool. This enables you to stand on the edge of the pool or alternatively, you can get in the pool with your dog. By moving the lure around your dog needs to change direction giving them a good workout. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.

View Flirt poles on Amazon US, UK, Canada

Jolly Ball

A Jolly Ball is a nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. They come in a variety of sizes, styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war.

These are a great workout for your German Shepherd in the water also. As your dog can not bite or hold the ball in their mouths they need to push it around the pool.

View Jolly Balls on Amazon US, UK, Canada


There are many floating dog toys available that can make for a fun game of fetch and retrieve. Alternatively, use a tennis ball. If your German Shepherd enjoys a good game of fetch on dry land, and most do, it will be twice the workout in the water.

View Floating Dog Toys on Amazon.


If you want to get in on the fun, have your German Shepherd chase after you in the water.

Dock Diving

Dock jumping or dock diving as it is often referred to is fairly self-explanatory. This is a canine sport in which dogs run the length of a dock and leap as far out into the water as they can. They have a toy thrown just out of reach and it looks amazing.

If your dog loves water and loves to retrieve then this is the sport for them. There are full competition events available for dogs to participate in this sport. Of course, if you have access to a dock or launching area your dog can dive from, you can just do it for fun yourself. Of course, safety is important, so ensure the water is deep enough and free of any obstacles such as branches and put a lifejacket on your dog if they are not a highly competent swimmer.

How does Dock Jumping work?

In official events, there are generally three categories that dogs compete in which are longest distance, fastest retrieve and highest vertical jump as well as the fourth category of a combination of all three disciplines totaled together. The rules and format of this discipline may vary depending on the particular event or organizing body.

Doggie in the middle

In the water version of piggy in the middle. You need at least two people for this. Throw a ball or floating toy to each after allowing your dog to swim towards the person with the toy. Allow your dog to win on occasion and give them a break fro the game if they become fatigued.

Obstacle Course

Have your dog swim through a hula hoop by holding it halfway under the water. Or have them swim around or weave through floating objects. With a little creativity, you could come up with a challenging activity for your dog.

Wicked Ball

If your German Shepherd is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.

It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood.  Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.

The Wicked ball is durable and dog safe and is also waterproof so it can be played with when swimming.

View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.

For more ideas of games to play while swimming your German Shepherd see here.

Summary – German Shepherd swimming

Although German Shepherds were not bred as a water dog, most Shepherds can be taught to swim. They have the necessary tools to be good swimmers. German Shepherds have the athletic ability, long strong limbs, webbed feet, and a fairly water resistent coat.

Swimming has numerous benefits for your German Shepherd.They are a high energy breed and swimming is an excellent exercise. In addition to burning off pent up energy, swimming helps to strengthen and build muscle along with their heart and lungs. To top it off, swimming is a no-impact activity meaning it is not jarring their joints.

We hope you have found this guide to German Shepherd swimming helpful. Let us know in the comments if your German Shepherd likes to swim.

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