Do Australian Cattle Dogs like water
The Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler and Red Heeler) are one of those breeds that absolutely loves the water and to swim. As a result, they are in general excellent swimmers.
Every dog is an individual and there will be some Blue Heelers that aren’t keen on the water. This is more likely a confidence issue rather than a lack of natural ability. It is a good idea to introduce your Heeler to water at a young age to give this confidence.
Australian Cattle Dogs are an extremely high energy working breed and require a large amount of exercise. For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise see here. Swimming is one of the best ways to exercise a dog.
Swimming can tire a dog and burn energy quickly. Ten minutes of continuous swimming is equivalent to taking your dog for a 40 to 60-minute walk. It is also a good muscle conditioning and strengthening exercise as they have to push their limbs through the water. To learn more about swimming exercise for dogs see here.
Teaching a Blue Heeler to swim
For the majority of Australian Cattle Dogs, swimming comes quite naturally. Generally, as a Blue Heeler gets into the water where their paws don’t reach the bottom, they will simply start to doggie paddle. It is more a case of introducing them to the water and building their confidence.
When first teaching your ACD 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 Blue Heeler 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.
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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.
Alternatively, you can throw a ball into the water or get in yourself and call them to you.
Water Safety Issues
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 Blue Heeler, at least while they are learning to swim.
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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 Australian Cattle Dog when in the water. It is also recommended to learn about dog first aid including CPR and giving mouth to nose.
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 Australian Cattle Dog 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 Heeler 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.
Swimming Games to play with your Blue Heeler
There are many games and toys you can introduce to your swimming sessions with your Australian Cattle Dog. This a great way to increase the fun and get more of a workout from the session.
A 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 Heeler 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.
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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 Heeler in the water also. Being a herding breed, pushing the Jolly Ball around caters to their natural herding instinct. As your dog can not bite or hold the ball in their mouths they need to push it around the pool.
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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 Blue Heeler see here.
We hope you have found this guide to Australian Cattle Dog swimming helpful. Let us know in the comments if your Australian Cattle Dog likes to swim.