Golden Retrievers & Swimming: A Complete Guide for Safe Swimming

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Golden Retrievers are a breed built for water. The Retriever line was specifically bred to fetch items from water, such as duck and other game. That’s right, your golden fluff ball that’s afraid of getting their nails trimmed is the descendent of a hunter! 

Some Golden Retrievers are still used for returning game, but most have become ordinary house pets. Even if they aren’t retrieving animals, you can still have fun swimming with your dog. There are many different ways to enjoy water with them, however it is important to know how to do so safely.

Golden Retrievers like water and can swim in different types of water with different precautions.

Do Golden Retrievers Like Water?   

Asking the question “Do Golden Retrievers like water?”  is like asking “Do all humans like ketchup?” The answer is going to differ from human to human and dog to dog. 

In general, Golden Retrievers have a tendency to like water and the activities that accompany it.  It is coded into a Golden Retriever’s DNA to swim and retrieve things, so they are naturally going to like water. However, not all Golden Retrievers have a natural affection for the water. 

Past experiences with water will be a major factor in your dog’s attitude toward water. When they have had a traumatic experience with water in the past, they may be hesitant to go near it again. Therefore, if you want your Golden to like water it is important to associate water with positive experiences at a young age. 

Teaching your Golden Retriever to Swim

Starting your dog off at a young age is the best way to give them a life-long love of water. Never throw or push your dog into the water. If your dog’s natural instincts don’t kick in, they could drown. This can also be scary and traumatic for your dog, which can cause them to have a fear of water. 

The first thing you need to teach your dog before swimming is how to get out of the water safely. If your dog does not know how to get out using steps,or going to shore, they will try to climb out or swim away from land. Which can lead to injuries or drowning. This is crucial if you are near a body of water.

Teaching a Young Golden Retriever to Swim

Some dogs will jump right in and begin doggy paddling at their first encounter with water. If your dog doesn’t do this, it’s okay; you can teach them. Using a calm pool for the first lessons is the safest way to teach them how to swim since it is an enclosed environment with few distractions.

I recommend using a doggy life vest with a handle when your dog is learning to swim. This will allow them to focus on using their legs to paddle and not have to worry about staying up. In addition, the handle can help you guide them around as they get comfortable. If your dog doesn’t begin to paddle in the water, try moving their legs in the paddling motion, this will show them the correct movements to do. Eventually, they should start paddling all by themselves!

A great way to teach a dog to swim is with other dogs! If you have access to a mature water-loving dog, bring yours to swim with them. Dogs have their own way of communicating. I’ve found that older dogs are great to swim teachers for young pups. When your dog sees another dog splashing around and enjoying the water, they will mimic the behavior!

Dealing with Past Trauma

Some dogs have past trauma that causes them to be scared of the water. To help them overcome this fear, try exposing them to water in small, favorable doses. For example, if your dog is terrified of water and won’t get anywhere near an actual pool, try using a shallow kiddie pool.  Fill it with a bit of water, then increase the amount, and reward your dog with high-value treats as they acclimate to it. It may take a while, but your dog should eventually begin to associate water with a positive reward!

Golden Retrievers swimming in a group

Are Golden Retrievers Strong Swimmers?   

If you teach your dog how to swim and reinforce the training by taking them swimming, your Golden Retriever may become a strong swimmer. Of course, swimming strength varies from dog to dog, but the Retriever line was bred to swim, so they have a natural disposition towards swimming.

If you don’t know how strong of a swimmer your dog is, start in the pool to gauge how comfortable they are and how long they can swim before needing a break or returning to their base.  From there, you can decide what other water conditions to expose your dog to.

Swim StrengthBehavior in a Pool
BeginnerFrequent breaks, small circles from their base, does not maintain paddle when splashed or jostled
Intermediate intermittent breaks, bigger circle from their base, can handle light splashing and jostling while maintaining paddle
Strongfew breaks, large circles from/doesn’t return to base, able to maintain paddle when splash in the face with water and jostled.

****A base can be anything in the pool that you establish as a safe place for your dog. Ex – you, a floating raft, a step, etc.****

Water TypeRecommended Swimming Strength 
PoolBeginner – Strong
Lakes Intermediate – Strong
OceanStrong

What Age Can Golden Retrievers Swim?  

As a water-loving human, I couldn’t wait to have my furry friend jump in the pool with me. However, safety is the top priority when teaching a dog to swim. 

It is best to wait until they are 2-5 months old before swimming. Golden Retrievers younger than two months do not have enough muscle development or stamina to stay afloat long. Their skin is also very tender, so harsh pool chemicals like chlorine and cold temperatures may hurt them.

While you should wait to start swimming lessons, you don’t have to wait to start your dog’s lifetime love of water. Make bathtime fun for your puppy by introducing toys and letting them walk around in an inch of water. This will allow them to get comfortable with wet paws.

As your dog gets older, you should keep a closer eye on them during swim time, as they may tire faster. Swimming can ease arthritis pain in older dogs as it takes the pressure off their joints. If you are concerned with your older Golden Retriever swimming, always speak with your veterinarian. 

Golden Retrievers swim in cold water but need to be careful of hypothermia and frostbite.

How Long Can Golden Retrievers Swim? 

Some Golden Retrievers will be content to swim until they pass out. As the owner, it is your responsibility to limit their swim time if they cannot self-regulate. (You wouldn’t let a child eat chocolate until they decide to stop!) Many factors can affect how long a Golden Retriever can swim, such as location, temperature, and age. 

Location

Where your Golden Retriever swims is an important factor in deciding how long they swim for. The main places I take my dogs to swim are the pool, lakes, or the ocean. These places have different water content, which influences how long I allow my dogs to swim in the water.

Pools

I am lucky enough to have a pool in my backyard, so pool time happens 2-3 times a week at my house. There are many different activities to do in the pool, such as floating on rafts, laying out on the sun step, chilling on the deck, and of course swimming!

In regards to active swim time, the American Kennel Club recommends limiting time to 10 minutes. This is recommended to stop water toxicity, which is caused by water ingestion. When dogs swim, their mouths are level with the water, which can slip into their mouths even though they are not actively drinking.

While I usually let pool time last about an hour, I follow the AKC’s recommendations and limit active swimming to 10 minutes out of the hour. I also only use non-absorbent toys when playing in the pool. Using squishy toys that hold water will release pool water into their mouths, causing them to ingest it.

Puppy pool time is my favorite way to get my dogs active and swimming. Since it’s a controlled environment, unlike the ocean or a lake, I don’t have to worry about other animals or water diseases. I also really like using the pool to teach other dogs to swim.

Lakes and the Ocean

Lakes are suitable for intermediate to strong swimmers, but I would not put a dog that’s still learning to swim in a lake. Also, depending on the size, lakes can have currents and waves that require more energy to maneuver. 

You should only let your dog swim in the ocean if they are a strong and experienced swimmer. This is because the ocean can have even stronger currents and waves than a large lake, and these currents can become unpredictable. 

No matter how strong a swimmer your dog is, you should use a doggy life vest when swimming in a lake or the ocean. This will allow you to support your dog if they need help navigating back to shore. In addition, you should always keep a close eye on your dog when swimming in unpredictable waters.

Due to the extra energy required for active swimming, sticking to the AKC 10 minute limit is even more crucial for lakes. You don’t want your dog to overexert themselves and be unable to make it back to shore. Before bringing your dog past the wave break, you should wade out to the depth you plan to swim at and make sure there are no undercurrents or dangerous objects that could hurt your dog. If it is hard for you to stay afloat, it will probably be even harder for your dog. 

You can do many other activities at the lake or the beach if you decide not to swim or you reach the suggested time limit. 

Temperature can be a problem for Golden Retrievers when swimming.

Temperature 

Temperature is an extremely important factor when considering how long your dog should swim. Golden Retrievers should not swim in cold water for extended periods of time.

If the water temperature drops below 50 degrees F, you should not let your Golden Retriever swim. If there is no way to get an accurate measurement, try sticking your hand into the water. Hold your hand there for at least 10 seconds; if it is too cold for you, then it is too cold for your dog.

Swimming in cold water can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, which is why it is always safer to err on the side of caution and save swimming for sunnier weather. Different factors affect cold water tolerance, such as cloud cover and wind chill. 

If your Golden Retriever decides to take a dive despite the cold, make sure you take care of them after their swim. Dry your dog off immediately and encourage them to drink warm liquids such as water or soup broth; this will aid in raising your dog’s body temperature and decrease the chances of hypothermia.

Age

Golden Retrievers under the age of two and over the age of nine should not swim in cold water. Young and old dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite than dogs in their prime. Exposure to cold can also weaken a young or old dog’s immune system and make them more vulnerable to disease.

Do Golden Retrievers Swim Underwater?

Golden Retrievers can dive underwater and retrieve objects up to 15 feet below the surface!  Golden Retrievers are able to hold their breath due to the mammalian diving response. However, just because they can do something doesn’t mean they necessarily should.

Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve game from water, so they are better suited for underwater diving than other breeds. However, they cannot form a water-tight seal, as humans can. This means that water can leak into their nose and mouth. If this happens regularly, dogs can develop pneumonia.

Final Thoughts

Golden Retrievers have always been a water-loving breed, and that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon! That being said, they aren’t fish (no matter how hard they try and convince you) and need to be monitored when swimming. 

Knowing your dog’s swimming strength can be the difference between a fun day at the pool and a trip to the veterinarian. While this article isn’t meant to scare you away from swimming with your Golden Retriever, I do want you to take some precautions during swim time. 

Sources

American Kennel Club: Teach Your Dog to Swim
The Mammalian Diving Response
The Swim Guide: How to Safely Take Your Dog Cold Water Swimming
PetMD: Dog Hypothermia
VCA Hospitals: Frostbite in Dogs
Pets MD: Dangers in Water Are Often Invisible
American Kennel Club: Taking Your Dog to the Beach. Tips & Safety
Purina: Tips for Going to the Beach with Your Dog
Law Country Kennel: Tips on Taking Dogs Swimming
American Kennel Club Canine Health: Water Dogs
Oakhurst Vet: Lakes, Ponds, and Water Safety for Dogs
PetMD: Parasites