Can Shetland Sheepdogs Swim? (Explained and Helpful Guide)

Can Shetland Sheepdogs Swim

Shelties may enjoy swimming once they become accustomed to and confident in the water. It’s much safer for your Sheltie to swim when supervised by an adult to ensure their safety. The primary risks for a swimming Sheltie include getting too far out and not having enough energy to swim back, and their double coat becoming waterlogged, making it hard for them to stay afloat.

Never fear, it’s not impossible to teach your pet to learn to love the coolness of splashing through water. For tips and other specific information regarding the ability of swimming for your Shetland sheepdog, read on this article.

How Shetland Sheepdogs Swim?

Virtually all dogs have the intuitive doggy paddle encoded in their doggy DNA. This technique plays out exactly like its name sounds, with the pooch continuously pawing with its front paws while its hind licks kick over and over to keep afloat and to propel forward.

If you happen to have a shetland dog who can swim and also enjoy it, you’ll see it propelling through the water head above the surface just as a golden retriever or other medium-sized dog would.

Why Aren’t Shetland Sheepdogs Natural Swimmers?

Breed History

The Shetland Sheepdog originated in the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Shetland Sheepdogs were bred specifically for herding sheep across rocky terrain, unlike breeds trained to swim after ducks or retrieve fishing nets.

  • Shelties were bred for speed, agility, and stamina on land.
  • As swimming wasn’t necessary for herding sheep, it wasn’t a skill developed in Shetland Sheepdogs.
  • The chilly climate meant few opportunities to swim recreationally.
  • Without a history of aquatic activities, swimming capabilities were not prioritized in the breed.

Physical Attributes

Several physical attributes of Shetland Sheepdogs make swimming more challenging for them compared to water-breed dogs.

  • Shelties’ small lung capacity, due to their narrow ribcage and chest, limits the air intake necessary for staying afloat while swimming.
  • Heavy coat – The dense double coat that keeps them warm also gets waterlogged and weighs them down in the water.
  • Unlike other water-friendly breeds, Shelties lack webbing between their toes, having oval-shaped feet instead, which reduces their propulsion in water.
  • Compact build – Longer, leaner bodies cut through water more easily. Shelties’ smaller builds require more effort to swim.

These physical limitations put Shetland Sheepdogs at a disadvantage in the water compared to swimming breeds.


The typical Sheltie personality also does not naturally lend itself well to enjoying swimming.

  • Cautious – Shelties tend to be reserved and wary of new experiences and environments.
  • Low prey drive – They were bred to herd, not retrieve prey from the water.
  • Shelties are bond-focused, preferring to stay close to their owners rather than exploring risky areas independently, such as water bodies.
  • Coat-conscious – They dislike getting their prized coat wet and dirty.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs Like Water?

Most owners’ Shetties report a general dislike of the water. Those who have a Shetland sheepdog who love it are likewise in the minority.

Since a dog can inherit its traits and quirks from its parents, it’s possible not having properly “socialized” a Shettie to water at bath time as a pup can lead to an aversion to water as an adult. For example, it could have simply never came across the notion to swim until now.

However, you might occasionally have the rare specimen that has a rare natural love of getting wet. Owners have reported those who even enjoy running through hoses during playtime, or even safely by the beach shore, yet while still refusing to actually swim.

Benefits of Swimming

The benefits for your Shettie dog, much less any dog breed really, are as helpful as they are ubiquitous, and are similar to those enjoyed by humans!

Hydrotherapy is something that veterinarians regularly recommend for overactive or anxiety-ridden dogs. It entails having the pooch swim in regular daily or otherwise scheduled sessions under supervision.

Another one of the big reasons as to why swimming is prescribed to obese and older dogs is because the activity is easy on the joints. It’s less demanding than running or jumping under gravity, and can enable a dog to get the much-needed exercise he needs without putting any excess strain on an injured limb/arthritis or any orthopedic problems.

Lastly, it’s a fun activity that can satisfy the most active of dogs without exhausting them, while being relaxing and calming for others, being as therapeutic for the mind as it is for the dog’s body.

Supplies You Will Need to Teach Your Shetland Sheepdog How to Swim

If it’s your dog’s very first time even stepping into water outside the bathtub, use a small-sized, inflatable kiddie pool to test the waters (pun intended).

Optionally, you can choose the beach shores, although you must visit them at a time when other visitors are not around, such as early dawn, in order to ensure minimal distractions.

A canine lifejacket is a must if it’s your pet’s first time in water, and still required for natural bodies of water that have currents such as a river or at the beach.

Teaching Your Shetland Sheepdog to Swim

As with most teaching of tricks or abilities, you’re going to have to approach teaching your reluctant pet with patience and ample encouragement. First and foremost: never leave your dog unsupervised in water. Keep that canine life jacket strapped on.

With your kiddie-sized pool, lure your Shettie into the water either by stepping in yourself or luring it in with a toy or treat. If you have a backyard swimming pool, you can teach it to go up the steps by walking up yourself into the pool and having your pooch follow you.

It’s also entirely possible for your pet to leap in without direct orders from you. One owner on the internet said that his Shetland sheepdog acted completely out of character by leaping into the pool after seeing a puppy in the family enjoy it so much.

Once it has finally reached in ankle/chest-deep, now it becomes a task of having her associate water with positive, fun emotions! Begin tossing a toy for it to fetch in the water and return it to you by the edge of the pool.

Be patient, and never force your dog to go into the water. If your shettie hops out of the pool simply repeat luring it back into the pool. Eventually as she gets comfortable within liquid you can move your activities to the deeper end of the pool (if in a backyard pool).

It’s absolutely vital that your shettie keep the canine life jacket on, as her double coat would be heavier underwater, and the lifejacket will keep her afloat once she has tired out. It will also teach her to feel supported within the buoyancy of water.

Tips for Swimming with Your Shetland Sheepdog

  • It’s best to buy bright-colored canine life jackets, which can easily be spotted from a distance.
  • Some owners report that their Shettie simply sinks within water, even with a life jacket on, refusing to even paddle. If you’ve attempted numerous times with patience and various methods to get him to cooperate which are still met with failure, don’t blame yourself for giving up.
  • Because of the thickness of a Shettie’s coat, trimming it will make it slightly more lighter within the water and making staying afloat slightly less tiresome for him.
  • Make swimming a fun experience for your dog by having children and other family pets within or nearby the water. Shetties feed off the positive vibes of family members around them, and can be more receptive to swimming lessons this way.

Post Swimming Care

Aside from drying the dog by patting it down with a towel, you must not neglect giving it another rinse or even an additional bath after swimming.

If your dog has been swimming in a salt-heavy or chlorine-prevalent pool, it is imperative that you spray or lather its coat with conditioner and other high quality dog hair products during a rinse of bath afterwards.

This is especially important for Shetties, since their long coat is so fine-looking and can get matted or coarse if just left to dry after swimming in chlorine-heavy waters. For these reasons, it’s probably best not to convert your Shettie into a daily swimmer!

Other Activities Shetland Sheepdogs Enjoy

Aside from swimming, Shetland Sheepdogs can find many other outlets for expressing their energy and play. These include, but are not limited, to:

  • Agility exercises
  • A simple stroll through the park
  • Playing fetch in the backyard
  • Flyball
  • Pawing back and forth in gentle imitation of a “boxing match”
  • Tug of war with a toy

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