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Can German Shepherds Swim? – A Guide to Swimming With Your GSD

A German Shepherd swimming in the lake.
Written by Richard Jeng

German shepherds are a breed known for their athletic abilities. After all, they’re the top choice for the K9 police force. But just because they’re athletic doesn’t necessarily mean they’re natural at moving through water.

So, can German shepherds swim? Generally, yes, German shepherds can swim. Though they were not specifically bred for dealing with water, this breed usually can swim excellently. Their natural energy and agility gives them an edge when off land. Still, sometimes this breed won’t like water and may even seem afraid of it.

But not all German shepherds are equally good swimmers. In addition, there are a few things that all owners need to know before taking a German shepherd out to a pool or a lake. 

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Can German Shepherds Swim Safely?

It isn’t hard to picture a German shepherd swimming. Few canines can compare to their sheer athletic ability or physical prowess of the GSD. However, this doesn’t automatically mean they can swim or that they’ll be great at it. 

So what needs to happen for a German shepherd to swim safely? First, we should always start with the assumption that your German shepherd cannot swim. Just because your neighbor’s GSD is an excellent swimmer doesn’t mean yours will be.

It is important never to put them in any large body of water until they have shown they know how to swim. Or at least until you teach them.

However, you can rest assured that the odds are your German shepherd has the potential to swim. As long as they do not have any major muscle or skeletal health concerns, that is.

Like most dogs, German shepherds should instinctively know how to swim. Which is fortunate, since we cannot communicate techniques to them otherwise. Still, there are some steps to take to ensure the learning experience goes smoothly.

How to Teach a German Shepherd to Swim

Learning to swim in a safe environment is the top priority for both humans and canines. I mean – we don’t simply toss children into pools and hope for the best (at least, we certainly hope we don’t!).

Helping your dog learn to swim is an important part of their life. If done wrong, they could end up with a fear of water. If done right, they might come to love splashing around. 

Below are some AKC swimming tips to ensure your German shepherd’s first experiences with water are safe and enjoyable.

  • Life Vest: This is usually a good idea for younger dogs. Though German shepherds are athletic enough to swim almost right away, sometimes playing it safe is a good idea.
  • You First: If you go into the water before your dog, they may be more likely to join you. But never force them to get in if they don’t want to.
  • Start Shallow: Before swimming, it’s important your dog isn’t afraid of water. A shallow pool or pond that comes up to about their chest is a good start. Once they are comfortable with water, you can move on to something deep enough they can actually swim in. 
  • Rewards: Be sure to have plenty of treats to reward your German shepherd every step of the way. Treats not only reinforce positive associations with water for them, but can encourage them to be a little more brave. 
  • Always Be Present: This holds true from step one into infinity. We recommend always being present when your dog is swimming. Accidents are rare, but can be prevented simply by keeping an eye on them. The deeper the water, the closer the attention should be.  
  • Patience Is Key: Not all German shepherds will take to the water at the same pace. If yours seems more hesitant, we recommend staying optimistic and letting them go at their own speed. Keep up with the rewards and they will come around eventually.

There is no “perfect guide” to teach your GSD how to swim. It really depends on your dog. Some will naturally jump in and start paddling away, whereas others will be afraid. Just remember that this may take time, and that you should never force them.

Do German Shepherds Like Water?

Though many dogs absolutely love water, there are plenty that are afraid of it. German shepherds aren’t known for being overly timid, but there is a chance yours might not like water.

Or they could even be afraid of it. However, a German shepherd’s naturally courageous demeanor means it is less likely to fear water. If they can take down an armed robber, they’ll likely overcome a fear of water.

However, German shepherds were bred for herding and various work on land. Unlike the Poodle, the GSD doesn’t have a natural affinity towards water. Though, this can quickly change when they realize how fun swimming can be!

As we mentioned in the previous section, treats can be crucial to giving your dog a positive experience with water. Encouraging and rewarding your German shepherd when interacting with water will boost their attitude toward it.

Also, being mindful while bathing your dog is essential. If your dog has an experience where water goes over their heads and makes breathing difficult, they might begin to fear water in general.

Some tips to follow at bath time to ensure no fears (of water) develop include:

  • Don’t pour excessive water over their heads, especially their snouts and nose.
  • Instead, use a washcloth for their face.
  • Use comfortable warm water. Cold water isn’t pleasant for anyone.
  • If you are bathing your German shepherd in a tub, take measures to ensure it is not slipper. Try an anti-slip bath mat or choose a bath with a textured bottom. Those long limbs can slip easily on a wet porcelain surface.
  • Include treats to reinforce that this isn’t a scary experience. Rewards both before, during, and after a bath can be a strong help.
  • Always stay positive. Your attitude can have a significant impact on how your canine friend feels as well.

If you can help your German shepherd associate water with fun (or at least, not dangerous), you will have a better shot at swimming with your dog.

German Shepherds Were Built for the Water?

Even though German shepherds weren’t bred specifically for swimming, they have several traits that make them naturally powerful swimmers.

  • Long Limbs: With long, powerful limbs, German shepherds can move through water quickly.
  • Webbed Feet: Though not nearly as webbed as a frog’s feet, a German shepherd has some natural webbing. This allows them to move through water far more effectively than without it.
  • Long Snouts: With longer snouts, it is easier for a German shepherd to breathe while swimming. 
  • Double Coat: With a thick double coat, water has a hard time getting through. That means your German shepherd can stay warmer for longer.

Compared to many other dogs, such as the Pug or Frenchie, German shepherds will have a huge physical advantage in water. So while they’re not technically built for water, they still possess all the traits that’ll help them thrive while swimming.

When Should I Not Let My German Shepherd Swim?

Swimming puts very little stress on the body, but it should still be avoided if your German shepherd has any injuries or health problems. Common injuries or health problems that might prevent your German shepherd from swimming include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Epilepsy (chance of episode during swimming)

However, swimming under the right conditions could be helpful for building up strength. Hydrotherapy for dogs can be a useful means of physical therapy. Still, we advise always following the suggestions and expertise of your local vet. 

Sometimes your GSD just hates water, and that’s okay. If your dog is deathly afraid of getting in the water and won’t budge, it’s probably a good idea to let it be.

What Temperature Is Safe for a German Shepherd to Swim In?

With their thick double coat, a German shepherd certainly has more natural insulation than we do. Still, that doesn’t mean they can swim in any body of water.

German shepherds have a high cold tolerance, and usually can even handle temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But temperatures that low will freeze water.

And in cold weather, you should ensure that your German shepherd stays dry. A good rule of thumb is to think: if I were outside in wet clothes, would I be quite cold? 

If the answer is yes, then the weather is likely too cold for letting your German shepherd go out for a swim. You’ll need to be responsible and make this decision for your dog.

Though dogs are quite good at drying themselves off with shaking, having a towel on hand could help keep your canine friend comfortable. 

KEEP PUPPIES WARMER: While adult German shepherds can handle quite cold temperatures, puppies cannot. Only let your younger German shepherds swim in comfortable weather.

Can German Shepherds Swim in Swimming Pools?

One of the benefits of a swimming pool is it allows you complete supervision over your dog. However, there is a downside as well. If your pool is chlorinated, it can strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils and lead to dry, irritated skin.

But there are ways to pool-proof your dog’s coat so they can enjoy a relaxing swim. Which a German shepherd would certainly appreciate in the summer.

Tips to pool-proof your German shepherd include:

  • Spray their coat with a canine conditioner before they swim. This can lock in some moisture.
  • Rinse off afterward. If you get the chlorinated water out of their coat it can minimize its effects. 
  • Comb out any tangles and provide a thorough brushing once a week (during swimming season) to remove any residual chlorine.
  • Dry out those ears. Keeping your German shepherd’s ears dry is important no matter where they have been swimming.

Can German Shepherds Swim in the Ocean?

Lakes and ponds rarely pose any dangers, unless they are massive lakes. The ocean, though, can be a different matter because of the salt and the unpredictability.

A German shepherd might be able to swim in the ocean, but we strongly advise against it. Not only are the waves dangerous, but spending too much time in ocean water can lead to potential salt poisoning for your dog.

Playing fetch with your German shepherd along the shore should be fine. Just make sure that they know they shouldn’t drink any water from the ocean.

Their instincts should take care of that, but just in case we recommend you bring water to keep your canines hydrated. And if they start drinking salt water, immediately step in and correct the behavior.


Let us know in the comments below if your German shepherds love swimming or are afraid of the water. What was your experience like in helping your German shepherd learn to swim?

Do you have any tips or tricks that seemed to work well? If so, we’d love to hear about them. 

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Can German Shepherds Live in Apartments? – The GSD is undeniably a big dog. So apartment owners may be wondering if they’re a good fit for their small and crowded home. Here are some tips and things to be aware of.
  • Are German Shepherds Smart? – Because German Shepherds are part of the police force, they have to be smart, right? Here’s what actually makes the GSD one of the most intelligent dogs in the canine kingdom.
  • Are German Shepherds Good With Kids? – How do German Shepherds fare with children? This is a guide for parents that have or are thinking about bringing home these massive dogs. Spoiler: a lot of training and socialization is needed.

About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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