Can Australian Cattle Dogs swim?
Many Bue Heelers love to swim and often are excellent swimmers. They are not a breed that was bred to be water dogs. However, due to their athletic ability and love of exercise, they usually do enjoy swimming. They also have many of the traits that make a dog a good swimmer. These include a waterproof coat, are athletic, and have good levels of stamina.
Every dog is an individual even of the same breed. Although most Blue Heelers love to swim and like water, there will be some that are not keen. With training and building their confidence, even these Blue Heelers can learn to love swimming and playing in the water.
Do Blue Heelers have webbed feet?
No, Blue Heelers don’t generally have webbed feet. Usually, the breeds that have webbed feet are water dogs such as Labradors or Newfoundlands. The webbed feet give great assistance when paddling through the water. There are also some examples of breeds that were bred to walk on snow having webbed feet.
Blue Heelers have no history of being bred to swim even though they are often excellent swimmers. They were bred to herd and drove cattle.
All dogs start life with webbed feet, but most lose the majority of their webbing early in life. Some Blue Heelers may have partial or half webbing on their feet.
Do Blue Heelers like the beach?
blue Heelers love being outside and being active. The beach is a great opportunity to run along the sand and splash in the water. Most Blue Heelers would love this. However, every dog is an individual and some Dalmatians may be wary of the waves.
If you are taking your Blue Heeler to the beach be aware of the size of the waves and always supervise them.
Are Blue Heelers strong swimmers?
Once a Blue Heeler is confident in the water and has been taught to swim they are in fact quite powerful swimmers. They are athletic and strong dogs. With the buoyancy of the water taking their weight away, their powerful limbs are able to power through the water.
They have many other traits that assist them in being good swimmers. These include muzzles that help with breathing and keeping their head out of the water, strong legs and thick tails, they are athletic and have good levels of endurance.
Are Blue Heelers afraid of water?
A few Blue Heelers can be a little unsure about the water. Once they have built some confidence around the water they will probably enjoy it. Blue Heelers are smart (learn just how smart here) and are very trainable and with some time teaching them to swim their confidence will grow.
It is important when teaching a Blue Heeler to swim to take it slowly to avoid frightening them or making it an unpleasant experience. A bad experience can set them back and may even put them off water for life.
Often if a dog is afraid of water it can be due to a traumatic experience around water such as falling in a pool as a puppy.
Benefits of swimming for Blue Heelers
There are many benefits for your Blue Heeler to go swimming. These include
Energy burning exercise
Swimming for dogs is one of the best exercises for them. It will tire them out quickly. Ten minutes of continuous swimming is the equivalent of going for a 30 to 40-minute walk. Great for owners who have a dog with a lot of pent-up energy, but are short on time.
Blue Heelers are active dogs that need to release pent-up energy. Swimming is probably one of the fastest ways to do this. For more on Blue Heeler exercise see here.
Swimming is also an excellent exercise to strengthen and build muscle along with the heart and lungs. By having to push their limbs through the resistance of the water, the muscles get a good workout.
Low impact activity
Floating in water takes your Blue Heeler’s body weight off their joints and tendons. If your Blue Heeler has joint or tendon injuries or is recovering from surgery swimming is great for rehabilitation.
In addition, dogs that suffer from Hip or Elbow dysplasia or arthritis can benefit greatly from swimming as it helps to keep their joints mobile without putting undue stress on them. Hydrotherapy is becoming a popular means to treat and rehabilitate injured dogs.
Swimming is also an excellent exercise for a Blue heeler that is trying to lose weight. It takes stress off of the joints, works the muscles, and burns energy fast which increases calories burnt. For more on helping an overweight Blue heeler lose weight see here.
Cool off in hot weather
Another advantage of taking your Blue Heeler swimming is that it is a great way to cool off in the hot weather. Blue Heelers are generally tolerant of hotter weather. Even though the Blue Heeler is well suited for warmer temperatures it is still important not to overwork them in hot weather. All dogs can suffer from overheating or heat stroke. Swimming can be a good way to cool off.
It is also important to understand that swimming is a strenuous activity so they can still overheat. Give them plenty of rest if swimming on a very hot day.
For more hot weather tips for Blue Heelers see here.
How to teach a Blue Heeler how to swim
Ideally, teaching your Blue Heeler to swim and be confident around water when they are a puppy is best. An adult Blue Heeler can be taught to swim, but this may take some patience. It should be taken slowly to not put them off.
You should put a lifejacket on your Blue Heeler when first learning to swim. This will help to give them confidence by giving them more buoyancy. In addition, dog lifejackets have a handle on them so you can hold your Blue Heeler up or even grab them easily if they begin to panic.
It is best to start off in shallow water so they can reach the bottom. This will allow them to become comfortable and gain confidence.
Once they are calm and relaxed in the shallow water, you can take them out so their paws don’t reach the bottom. In most cases, they will simply start to doggie paddle.
Stay close to your Blue Heeler to keep them calm by holding on to the handle on their lifejacket. Ensure you keep your body and leg a little way from them to avoid getting kicked and scratched if they start thrashing around.
Remember to be patient and stay calm. If your Blue Heeler is panicking or becoming anxious allow them to leave the water and have a rest. Then give it another go.
Getting your Blue Heeler to enter the water.
The most difficult step in teaching your Blue Heeler to swim is getting them in the water. Once they are in and their paws don’t reach the bottom they will instinctively start to doggie paddle.
The Lure Method
This approach is based on positive reinforcement. Using a treat or their favorite toy, lure them into the shallow water. Reward them by holding the treat above their nose. This will teach them to hold their head up out of the water.
Gradually encourage them to go into deeper water rewarding them as you go. Hold them by the handle on the lifejacket or have your hand underneath them for support. Once they seem confident you can reduce the support and treats.
Leash Pressure Method
Leash pressure is what is known in dog training as negative reinforcement. Positive and negative in dog training don’t mean good or bad. Positive is when you add something for the wanted behavior (a treat or reward), and negative is when you reinforce the behavior by removing something. In this case, it is the pressure on the leash.
Get in the water holding the leash attached to your Blue Heeler. Pull the leash tight. You are not pulling or dragging your Blue Heeler, but simply keeping pressure on the leash. Once they move closer to the water, the pressure will be released. This signals to them that this is the wanted response.
Water Safety for Australian Cattle Dogs
Blue Heelers generally are strong swimmers due to their athletic ability and strength. Don’t just assume your Blue Heeler will be. There are some potential risks and safety issues that need to be understood despite how good of a swimmer your Cattle Dog is. Things you should be aware of include –
The most apparent risk and safety factor, and the most dangerous for your Blue Heeler in the water is the risk of drowning. Putting a lifejacket on your Blue Heeler is an excellent idea especially when they are new to being in the water and swimming.
View dog lifejackets on Amazon here.
Even a Blue Heeler who is a strong swimmer can tire and become fatigued. If your Blue Heeler appears to be becoming tired and fatigued give them time out of the water to rest. If their back end goes below the water level and they become vertical they will sink straight down. It is near impossible for a dog to correct themselves when in this position.
You should always watch your Blue Heeler in the water and be close enough to assist them if needed. I highly recommend learning how to give mouth-to-nose canine CPR) and general dog first aid. You never know when you may need to use this knowledge.
Dogs will often take in water when swimming and many dogs will actually drink the water. However, consuming too much water can lead to water intoxication, also known as “hyponatremia”.
When this occurs the cells in the body become swollen and the sodium levels outside the body cells become significantly depleted. This can also affect the cells in the brain which when become swollen cause intracranial pressure. This can lead to brain damage and can also even kill a dog.
If you are concerned that your dog has taken in too much water it is important to consult your vet immediately.
Chlorine in swimming pools
Many of the chemicals used to keep a pool clean such as Chlorine can be harmful to your Blue Heeler. They can cause skin irritation, dry and damage the coat, and sting their eyes. There are pool chemicals available that are less harsh that your pool supply company will be able to advise you about.
After swimming in a pool it is important to always rinse and wash down your Blue Heeler with fresh water. If your Blue Heeler’s skin is showing signs of being irritated such as redness, flakey skin, and making them scratch a lot it is a good idea to give them a few days break from going in the pool. If the skin doesn’t appear to be improving it is a good idea to speak to your vet.
Water in the ears
You may be aware that dog breeds that are bred specifically as water dogs (Spaniels, Newfoundlands, etc) will have floppy ears to prevent water from going in. Blue Heelers have pointy ears that stand up. This makes them more prone to getting water in them when swimming. If your Blue Heeler is tilting its head to one side or shaking it after swimming, they most probably have got water in their ears. It is best practice to always give the inside of their ears a clean and wipe them out with a dry towel or cloth.
The biggest risk of water in the ears is that it can lead to an infection. If your Blue Heeler does have an ear infection you will probably notice a yeasty smell coming from them, excessive build-up of wax, and even discharge from the ear. Ear infections left untreated can become a serious problem fast. Speak to your vet if you have any concerns.
Hazards in the water.
When swimming your Blue Heeler in a lake or stream there may be potential hazards hidden along the banks or under the water they could possibly get snagged on. It is recommended to always remove your Blue Heeler’s collar before swimming to avoid them from getting caught up on anything.
Also, be on the lookout for broken glass and objects along the banks and in the swallow water.
Where to swim your Blue Heeler
Depending on what you have access to will determine where to swim your Blue Heeler. Possible options can include –
Rivers, Ponds, and lakes
Natural waterways such as a lake or river can be an excellent option for taking your Blue Heeler swimming especially when learning to swim. The shallow water gives them a gentle introduction to the water before entering deeper water. This helps them to build confidence before taking the plunge. Ensure you guide them slowly into the deeper water to avoid them from becoming panicky when they can no longer touch the bottom. Also, be aware of any strong currents that may wash them downstream.
At the beach
The ocean is another good option for similar reasons to swimming in a lake or river. The shallow water leads into the deeper water giving them a transition area before starting to swim. Try to go when the ocean is calm to avoid the big waves which may scare and deter them.
Also, ensure they don’t go out too far. You can attach a long line to their lifejacket so you can guide them back in if they get too far away. Be aware of any strong currents or rips.
If you have your own pool at home or know someone with a pool it is a great option. Even if you don’t have easy access to a pool there are now many places that have pools specifically for dogs such as doggy daycares and hydrotherapy facilities.
The main issue with swimming pools for dogs is entering the water. Many pools have steep stairs that your Blue Heeler may be reluctant to use. Ideally, a pool with a gentle ramp leading into the water is best.
Also, be aware of the harsh chemicals often used in pools. It is best to always rinse your Blue Heeler down with fresh water after the swim to remove any pool chemicals from its coat.
How often can you take a Blue Heeler swimming
How often and for how long you should swim your Blue Heeler will depend on their swimming ability and fitness level. Swimming is a strenuous tiring activity. A burst of 5 minutes at a time is sufficient. If throwing a ball or toy for them, allow them to get out or at least be able to touch the bottom between throws to rest.
For a Blue Heeler that is a competent confident swimmer, you can allow them to swim every second day. For a less experienced or older dog, swimming once a week swim is more than sufficient.
Fun swimming activities for Blue Heelers
There are many ways to add extra fun to swimming with your Blue Heeler. This can include games and toys. A few suggestions include –
If your Blue Heeler enjoys a game of fetch playing it in the water will give twice the workout.
There is a large range of floating dog toys and balls you can use. View floating dog toys on Amazon here.
Doggie in the middle
This is the water version of piggy in the middle. You need at least two people for this. Throw a ball or floating toy to each after allowing your Blue Heeler to swim towards the person with the toy. Allow them to win on occasion and give them a break from the game if they become fatigued.
Another simple game that can be lots of fun. Move away from your Blue Heeler with a toy in hand and have them chase after you.
A Jolly Ball is a large nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. Because of their size, your Blue Heeler will not be able to grab it in their mouth. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war.
This activity is ideal for a Blue Heeler as it simulates herding. Learn more about herding balls here.
View Jolly Balls on Amazon here.
A Flirt Pole also called a Flirt Stick, is a long pole with a bungee rope that has a toy or lure attached to the end. You simply move it around and have your Blue Heeler chase it. With one of these, you can simply stand on the edge of the water or pool and have your Blue Heeler chase the toy.
Learn more about Flirt Pole exercise for Blue Heelers here.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon.
Dock diving is an actual dog sport where the dog tries to jump as far as possible from the dock into the water. Blue Heelers are very good at this sport. You don’t have to enter official competitions. this can just be a fun activity for your Blue Heeler in the pool or lake.
Summary – Australian Cattle Dog swimming
Most Blue heelers love the water and are strong swimmers. However, every dog is an individual even of the same breed and there will be Blue Heelers that are not keen on swimming at first.
Although the Blue heeler has no history of being used as a water dog they have many traits that make them good swimmers. They have muzzles making it easier to breathe, strong thick tails and powerful legs, and water-resistant coat.
Don’t assume your Blue Heeler will naturally be a good swimmer. Introduce them to the water slowly and use a lifejacket until they gain confidence.