Dog Training

Can Golden Retrievers Swim? – Reasons Why Goldens Are Good Swimmers

A Golden Retriever swimming in the lake.
Written by Richard Jeng

It’s a hot summer day and your Golden Retriever is looking for a way to cool down. They need plenty of exercise, so no physical activity isn’t an option. What better way to beat the heat than to go for a swim? However, you may be wondering if they’ll be good swimmers.

So, can Golden Retrievers swim? Golden Retrievers were originally bred to retrieve waterfowl from bodies of water. Not only do they retain the instincts to fetch, but also instincts to swim. In addition, Golden Retrievers have the activeness and body proportions that’ll make them highly capable and efficient swimmers.

Not all Golden Retrievers are natural swimmers, though, many are. Let’s dive into the best reasons why they’re such superb swimmers and things to consider before letting them swim. Plus, we’ll teach you how to properly introduce your Golden to water.

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Why Golden Retrievers Swim Well

Chances are, your Golden Retriever will be fine maneuvering in bodies of water. In fact, there’s an even better chance the dog will love swimming. However, not all dog breeds are suited for swimming. And, other dog breeds may need much more training.

So why is it that Golden Retrievers make naturally swimmers while others don’t? We dove into the reasons why they’re built to be in water. Read on to learn more.

Bred to Retrieve in Water

In the past, all dogs were bred for a specific purpose, role or job. For example, Border Collies were bred to herd and Huskies were bred to pull sleds. Even the silly and small Pug had been bred for companionship. We call this purpose-breeding in dogs.

Golden Retrievers are no exception. In fact, they were bred to retrieve shot waterfowl, such as ducks or geese, from bodies of water. Hence, the name. But to be able to do this effectively, the Golden Retriever had to be highly capable swimmers.

After the hunter shoots down the bird, they’ll usually end up floating in the middle of the lake. Of course, it’s not efficient to take a boat out to bring back the game every time. It’s the Golden’s job to locate and retrieve the bird with their soft mouths, all while swimming.

We have a two year old Golden Retriever who loves to go swimming. But she also likes to chase the ducks, loons or any other birds that happen to swim by.

– Pjard (Winnipesaukee)

For this reason, they’re listed as one of the top 10 swimming dog breeds, according to PetMD. While it’s true that all dogs will start dog paddling when put into water, not all of them are able to sustain the paddling. Many of the smaller breeds may be overwhelmed too.

So when taking your Golden out for a swim, you can have better peace of mind knowing that several generations of Golden Retrievers were originally bred to swim. In fact, it’s not unusual to find Goldens that still swim to retrieve today.

Check out this video to see for yourself:

Golden’s Active Lifestyle

Golden Retrievers are undeniably active dogs. The American Kennel Club calls them one of the 15 most active dog breeds! This means that your retriever will require plenty of exercise, such as walking, catch and even swimming!

Swimming is a low-impact activity that’s perfect for dogs like Golden Retrievers. They’re able to get high-intensity exercise in, with little strain on the body. And given the activeness of these dogs, it’s likely that they’ll enjoy it.

All our Goldens have been from working lines, and they’re not only active, but they need a certain base level of an activity in a week or they’ll take out their energy themselves.

– Tippykayak (Golden Retriever Forums)

While swimming sounds like a great idea for all dogs, it’s not. This physical activity requires a lot of energy and not all dogs have the temperaments for it. For example, it’s probably not a great idea putting a laid-back Pug, that was bred to sit on laps, into bodies of water.

We recommend Golden Retrievers receive at least 1 hour of exercise each day. The more the better, with consideration to their age and any underlying health issues. That said, letting your Golden swim on a sunny day is a great way to give them their essential exercise.

Powerful, Long Legs

For obvious reasons, dog breeds fortunate enough to have long and strong hind legs fare much better in water. Not only are they better at staying afloat, but also at maneuvering in large bodies of water with waves.

Golden Retrievers are one of the breeds that do have such legs. They’re muscular, lean and built to be durable. Their legs give them the endurance needed to swim long distances and sustain above water for longer periods.

We’re not saying this is a requirement to be good at swimming. In fact, our short-legged Corgi is a fairly decent swimmer! It’s just that this physical quality will help tremendously. It’s why some dog breeds like the Scottish Terrier or Dachshund struggle in water.

Coats For Swimming

Golden Retrievers are water-resistant dogs. Well technically, just their coats. Unlike many dog breeds, Goldens were developed to have a double coat (as opposed to a single coat). That is, two layers of fur, for maximum protection and warmth.

A Golden Retriever has an undercoat, which has a wool-like feel to it. As a matter of fact, it’s intended to keep the dog warm, just like your wool coat. This means these dogs are better suited to swim in cold water for longer periods of time.

The second layer of fur is called the topcoat, otherwise known as “guard hairs.” And like the name suggests, the topcoat was developed to shield the Golden Retriever from debris and dirt. But more importantly, it’s water-repellent, thus keeping the skin of your dog nice and dry.

All these qualities of the coat are huge advantages for Golden Retrievers in water. When a dog is exposed to cold temperatures for long durations, they could easily lose energy, become disoriented or feel stiffness in the joints.

Golden Retrievers, however, are less likely to experience these symptoms because they’re well protected by their coats. But having such a useful coat means that Golden Retrievers do tend to shed quite a lot. In other words, grooming is essential for these dogs!

Golden Retriever “Swimmer’s Ear”

A Guide to Golden Retriever exercises.

Thanks to the long floppy ears of Golden Retrievers, it’s important you’re aware of “swimmer’s ear” in your dog. Just like with humans, certain dog breeds may develop ear infections after spending some time swimming.

The breeds most susceptible to swimmer’s ear are those with long ears that hang down. This will naturally reduce air circulation, thus creating an attractive environment for both yeast and bacterial growth – ultimately leading to an ear infection known as otitis externa.

It’s not just the exterior ears that trap water, but also the structure of a dog’s ear canal. Your Golden’s interior ear is actually an L-shaped structure. It’s a problem for dogs because the ear shape makes it more difficult for dogs to shake out residual trapped water.

Veterinarians sometimes joke that if floppy-eared dogs could have their ears pinned to the top of their heads, we could prevent quite a few ear infections.

– Annie Li, DVM

Swimmer’s ear in dogs will result in itchiness, redness, muffled hearing and sometimes pain. You may be able to tell if your Golden Retriever is constantly shaking his or her head. And if they’re scratching or rubbing the ears after a swim, you may want to check it out.

And don’t think taking them to “cleaner water” will make any difference. Whether your Golden Retriever is swimming at the beach or in the most pristine lake, it doesn’t matter. What actually causes swimmer’s ear is the moisture of water.

Cleaning Golden’s Ears After Swimming

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to prevent swimmer’s ear in Golden Retrievers. All you have to do is clean their ears after each swimming session. It’s not very difficult to do and could go a long way in preventing pain and discomfort in your dog.

Because of the structure of your Golden’s ears, never use q-tips to clean or dry out the ears! In fact, don’t use anything with a pointed tip. It could potentially do more harm by pushing dirt deeper into the ear canal, thus causing infections or trauma to the eardrum.

The AKC recommends using ear solution specifically made for cleaning your pet’s ears. The brand we recommend is the VetWell Ear Cleaner. It’s made in the USA by real veterinarians and gentle on the ears. In case of an infection, it’ll also relieve itching.

It’s really simply to use. Apply the solution liberally into your Golden Retriever’s ears. Then, you will want to massage the base of the ear. Finally, let your Golden shake as much out and wipe down the rest with some gauze or cotton after.

How to Teach Golden Retrievers to Swim

As tempting as it may be to throw your Golden Retriever into the water and see how he fares, we don’t recommend this. Despite their natural swimming instincts, it’s much better to slowly introduce them to water. You don’t want one incident to ruin swimming for them.

The good news is that most Golden owners have very little difficulty teaching their dog to swim. But not all retrievers are the same, so you may want to follow these steps on getting your dog adjusted and ready for a swim!

Do Goldens Need Life Vests?

First things first – get your Golden Retriever a life jacket. Unlike other breeds, there’s a decent chance they won’t need it. Or at the least, won’t need it for very long. However, it’s fairly cheap and could provide a timid dog with extra confidence.

The AKC recommends using dog life jackets despite the breed. Plus, not all Golden Retrievers will be fantastic swimmers off the bat. If anything, it can provide peace of mind for you.

The Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket is the only life vest that we’ve used (with our Corgi and Aussie) and can actually recommend. It’s very buoyant and made with high quality, but the best feature is the rescue handles – just in case.

For Golden Retrievers of full adult size, we recommend Large or Extra-Large. But if you need one for a puppy, make sure to check the sizing charts. Just remember that these dogs grow very fast and can outgrow the vest in a few months!

Introducing Goldens to Water

This next step is crucial. It’s very important that you gradually introduce your Golden Retriever to water. These dogs are naturally outgoing and adventurous dogs that will often jump into the body of water without a care in the world.

However, that doesn’t mean the introduction phase isn’t important. They may not always know what they’re getting themselves into, until it’s too late. That being said, start off small with your bath tub or a kiddie pool (if they’re puppies).

Get them adjusted and comfortable to being in water. Don’t be afraid to spend plenty of time in this first step. The more comfortable they are with playing in water, the more likely they’re able to take the “leap of faith” into a bigger body of water.

You can find alternative ways to make water fun for them. For example, set up a sprinkler in the backyard and let them run around. Whatever it is, the most important thing is that your Golden is having fun! And with their fun-loving personalities, it should be easy.

Next, you’ll want to bring your Golden to the exact spot that he or she will be swimming in. This can be your backyard pool, the lake or a nearby pond. You don’t want to throw them in just yet, but let them sniff the water and familiarize with the location.

Time to Swim!

Before this day of swimming, you’ll want to make sure your Golden understands at least basic obedience. With this, you’ll have established some trust with your dog. And when it comes to new experiences, trust is important. Good news is, they’re easy to train.

Always start off in the shallow end. In other words, make sure your Golden is able to stand up without his head or neck submerged underwater. They won’t be swimming at this point, but it’s essential they slowly adjust as to not feel overwhelmed.

It sounds like Brady may have spooked himself. Don’t make a big fuss about not swimming. I would not put any pressure on him. Let him go at his own pace.

– Ambikagr (Golden Retriever Forum)

Dogs are excellent at learning from their humans. So, you’ll want to get into the water and try calling for your Golden to come. Make sure to bring out the best treats and his favorite toys to “bribe” him deeper in. Positive praises are a must!

Never force your Golden Retriever into the water. If they don’t like being in there, you can try again after a few minutes. Forcing them runs the risk of scaring them for life. All it takes is one incident for them to never want to be in water again.

Fetch in the Water

As we mentioned, swimming isn’t the only instinct Golden Retrievers have. They’re also some of the top retrievers in the world. So if you’re having trouble getting the dog into deeper areas of the body of water, consider playing fetch.

Bring the object that they usually play catch/fetch with on land, such as a favorite tennis ball or some other toy. Try throwing the object slightly deeper into the water. More often than not, their instincts take over and they go in after it.

Enzo will only retrieve if it’s something very high value to him or if it’s thrown into the water. He will retrieve anything from the water: tennis balls, frisbees, sticks.

– Enzos_mom (Golden Retriever Forum)

If they bite, start throwing the object deeper and deeper in. Before they know it, their fear of going in will be in the past. Again, you can reinforce this type of behavior by giving them praise and delicious treats throughout the whole process.

Do Golden Retrievers Like Water?

How to groom a Golden Retriever.

Not all Golden Retrievers will be a fan of water. Like humans, we all have different preferences and tendencies. But because this is such a common question among Golden Retriever owners, we’ve decided to survey real owners.

We collected some responses from the Golden Retriever Subreddit, Golden Retriever Forum and other various dog forums. Here’s what the owners had to say:

Real Owner Answers

1. Sharlin says No:None of the my Golden Retriever pack likes water a lot. They’ll jump in a little at the river if they have to, but they would rather stay dry. Go Figure!

2. Kerry_up says Yes: Archie is a true water-loving dog. Sometimes I feel like he’s half seal, as he probably prefers being in water than land. What a strange dog.

3. Robinseggs26 says Yes:The two goldens I have love the water. They get in the kiddie pool and lay down and roll around in the water. It depends on the dogs.. some love it.. and some not so much.

4. Lovestofly says Yes:Putz our golden loves water. He doesn’t care where it is. He jumps right in to a lake or stream and into the bath tub. Yep, even if I’m trying to take a nice relaxing bubble bath and forget to lock the door.”

5. Simmerysims says No:I’m confused, i thought they were water retrievers. No matter what I do, there’s no way I can get Simba into the pool. We tried treats and stuff too.”

6. Rickgibbs says Yes:It took Samson a while to warm up to playing in water. He didn’t just jump in and love it. But now, when we go out to a lake, we can’t keep him out of the water.

7. Mindy72813 says No:Pretty uncommon, isn’t it? We live right by a huge lake where lots of Golden owners bring their dogs to frolic in the lake and mine doesn’t like it at all.


So, does your Golden Retriever like water or swimming? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, tell us if you have any other tips for owners!

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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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