Can Labradors swim naturally or do they need to be taught?
Not all Labs can swim, and some don’t even like being in water. But, if your Lab has positive experiences with water from a young age, they will likely love splashing about and swimming.
Traits like their double coat, healthy facial conformation, and webbed paws help to make them great swimmers.
Can Labradors Swim?
If Labs are introduced to swimming gradually as a puppy, they are likely to be happy and confident swimmers.
Labs swim, like most other dogs, using the doggy paddle technique! But some Labs might also enjoy diving into the water, and they may love to retrieve things from water.
Although most Labs will physically be able to swim if they find themselves in water, it’s still not a good idea to just chuck your Lab in deep water in the hopes that they’ll swim out.
This can be very stressful for them, and can even lead to them avoiding water in the future.
The best way to encourage your Lab to swim is to introduce the habit gradually and safely.
Why Are Labs Such Good Swimmers?
If you’ve ever seen Labradors swimming, you might think they were made for the job!
And the truth is, they were! Originally, Labrador ancestors were bred to work alongside fishermen on the island of Newfoundland, Canada.
Labs descend from a breed called the St John’s Water Dog, which you can read about more here.
From these dogs, and other ancestors after British breeders first tried to standardise the Labrador breed, Labs inherited some traits that make them great swimmers.
They have a thick, double coat that is water resistant and protects them against the chill of swimming in natural rivers and ponds.
They also have a wide otter tail to help them swim, and webbed paws!
Do Labradors Like to Swim?
Although most Labs can swim if they’re given the opportunity, not all Labradors will enjoy swimming.
Labradors that don’t seem to like water may be scared of it, because they haven’t been in it before, or may have suffered from a bad experience before now.
The best way to help guarantee that your pup enjoys swimming is to introduce them to water very gradually.
Make sure that all of their experiences with water are positive, and that they never feel unsafe in the water.
Don’t force them to do too much at once, and don’t ever put them in situations where they could get hurt, such as throwing them straight into deep water with strong undercurrents.
Are All Labs Good Swimmers?
Most Labs will be physically able to swim when given the opportunity, or if forced to do so. But, there are a few that may panic and struggle.
So, as we said before, you should introduce your Lab to the water very gradually.
Some pups will be more enthusiastic than others. As long as your Labrador is safe, don’t worry too much if he seems very excited to get in the water!
All Labradors have traits that can help them be strong swimmers. But, the prominence of these traits varies depending on the type of Labrador you have.
When Can Labradors Start Swimming?
It’s best to introduce your Labrador to water when they are young and open to new experiences. But, this doesn’t mean you should take your 8 week old puppy and pop them straight in the closest lake.
Secondly, you must introduce them to water very gradually, to ensure they don’t become scared of it.
This might take longer than you would first think, involving chasing a stick over a small puddle at first.
Gradually increase the amount of water your Lab is happy to wade through until it is slightly deeper or slightly wider.
When your Labrador is happy, you can increase it again. Never make your Lab jump straight in at the deep end – literally!
It may take a few months before your Labrador is happily swimming in deeper water.
Can Labradors Swim in Cold Water?
Labradors have a lovely thick, water resistant coat, but this doesn’t mean they can go in water of any temperature. There are still risks letting your Lab swim in very cold water.
Letting your Lab swim in cold water for extended periods can cause hypothermia, which can be fatal.
If you think water might be too cold for your dog, it’s best not to let them swim in it.
Waiting for those warmer summer months may be a better idea.
Helping your Labrador Swim Safely
As well as risks from cold water, there are a few other considerations to make before letting your Labrador swim.
If your Lab is swimming in deep water, remember there could be strong undercurrents that could make them lose control.
Plus, because lots of Labradors love to swim, they may not stop until they are completely exhausted. Not only does this leave them vulnerable in deep water, but it can cause problems like limber tail, which is very painful for them.
If your Lab’s tail is hanging completely straight and still after swimming, they may have limber tail. This problem usually goes away after a few days, but is still stressful for your pup.
And, there’s a risk of predators if your Lab is swimming in the sea or natural rivers. Watch out for jellyfish, and worse!
Keep a close eye on your Lab whilst they’re swimming to make sure they stay safe, and don’t let them exhaust themselves in the water.
Can Labradors Swim?
If they’re introduced to water gradually with all-positive experiences, most Labs can and will swim very eagerly.
But, make sure they’re never out of their depth, and don’t let them tire themselves out in the water.
Do you have a Labrador at home that loves swimming? We would love to hear about them in the comments!
References and Resources
- Tavares, S. (et al), ‘Labrador Retrievers are more Attracted to Water than to Social Stimuli: A Pilot Study’, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2015)
- Pugh, C. ( et al), ‘Cumulative Incidence and Risk Factors for Limber Tail in Dogslife Labrador Retriever Cohort’, The Veterinary Record (2016)
- Tavares, S. ‘Behavioral Study of Labrador Retriever in Aquatic Environment’, Marine Resources (2011)
- Harvey, N. ‘What is Causing Limber Tail in Labrador Retrievers?’, Vet Record (2016)
- Moon, P. F. & Ilkiw, I. E. ‘Surface-Induced Hypothermia in Dogs: 19 Cases (1987 – 1989)’, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1993)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website