Do Westies like water and swimming

Can Westies swim

Yes, Westies can swim, but swimming is not natural for them. They are not strong swimmers and need short bursts in calm water and they should always be supervised.

Many Westies love to swim despite the fact that they are not natural swimmers and have some disadvantages. Their short legs and chunky little bodies are better designed for chasing prey low to the ground and digging.

The one thing in their favor when it comes to swimming is that Westies are energetic dogs. Swimming is a physically demanding activity and excellent exercise. Westies require plenty of daily exercise and swimming is a good way to burn energy and strengthen their muscles. For a guide to Westie exercise needs see here.

Ideally, teaching your Westie to swim and be confident around water when they are a puppy is a good idea. Adult Westies can be taught to swim but it should be taken slowly to not put them off.

Even if your Westie doesn’t swim they will still enjoy playing and splashing around in the shallow water. This will still give them a workout as there will be extra resistance walking through the water.

Benefits of swimming for Westies

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 Westies are a high energy and athletic breed, swimming is an ideal exercise for them. To learn more about exercise for Westies 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 Westie swimming is that it is a great way to cool off in the hot weather.

Teaching your Westie to swim

When first teaching your West Highland Terrier 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 Westie 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 Westies

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 Westie, at least while they are learning to swim.

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 West Highland Terrier 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 Westie 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 Westie 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.

Fun water activities for Westies

There are many games and toys you can introduce to your swimming sessions with your Westie. 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 a Westie dog as it engages their natural chase and prey instinct. 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 Westie 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 Westie 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 numerous other games to play in the water such as fetch, chase, and even diving. For more ideas of games to play while swimming your Westie see here.

Where to swim your Westie

There are several options when it comes to places your Westie 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 Westie. Most Westies won’t actually swim in the sea due to the waves. 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 Westie 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.

In Conclusion – Do Westies like water and to swim

Many Westies love to swim but are not naturally strong swimmers. It is best to keep the swimming sessions short and preferably in calm water.

The body shape and short legs of a Westie are not ideally built for swimming. They should always wear a lifejacket while in the water.

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

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Guide to Westie exercise

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