When I set out to answer this question, I made some initial assumptions that I found to be inaccurate after polling two different international forums for Smooth Collie and Rough Collie people. Based on over 600 responses, far more Collies are willing to get in the water (63%) than I had anticipated!
Do Collies like to swim? Yes and no. It depends on the individual Collie and often on whether they had positive water experiences when young. But based on the data I collected, swimming Collies are in the minority at 21%, with Smooth Collies (shorthaired Collies) being slightly more willing to submerge themselves than Rough Collies (longhaired Collies). The majority of both Rough Collies and Smooth Collies will at least wade (42%), but many (37%) are water-averse as cats and avoid wetting their paws.
In this post I’ll talk a little about Collies who like to swim, Collies who wade, Collies who don’t like to swim or wade (water-averse), and a few outliers who – in typical Collie fashion – refuse to be neatly categorized. We’ll also discuss tips to encourage your Collie to participate in water-related activities.
“I’ve had three Smoothies who loved water in any form and three who think it’s caustic acid.” – Ann Griffith
Table of Contents
Collies Who Like to Swim
Some Collies actually can’t get enough swim time. Smooth Collies, being more streamlined, have an advantage over their longhaired Collie siblings, and this may make them more inclined to emulate Michael Phelps. (Olympic swimming champion and literally the only swimmer I know.) According to the surveys I conducted, Smooth Collies are 3% more likely to swim than Rough Collies.
My second Smooth Collie was an amazing swimmer who also had an impressive water entry, according to a field Lab trainer. His grandson would swim if motivated. My current Smooth will go elbow deep on his own and will swim if necessary. – Sylvia Griggs, Washington, USA
The Rough Collies who gleefully hurl themselves into lakes or pools often have a more manageable amount of fluff. For instance, Scottish Collies, Old Time Scotch Collies, and farm Collies in general are usually not heavily-coated and thus have less fur weighing them down when wet. (The more distantly related but less fluffy Border Collies generally excel at swimming, as well.) Female Collies also tend to have less of a mane and may be more likely to swim.
My friend Quianna’s rescued Collie Loki is more of the Scottish Collie type, and he regularly outswims Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Doodles at our local dog park. No one at Lake Bow Wow gets to a ball before he does! Loki competes with other good swimmers, but his fetch game can’t be beat.
Vakaa, my most recent Collie addition, at six months old is so obsessed with water that I got him a spill-proof water bowl to stop him from flooding my kitchen. He frolics in the hose stream, snorkels for a mechanical fish in his wading pool, swims like he was mentored by otters, and on his first beach day ran into the waves like a selkie returning to their natural habitat. Both of his parents are AKC Rough Collies. Recently, I had an Embark DNA test done for Vakaa, and his results came back 100% Collie. My best friend said, “I’m still not convinced.”
But as scientist Felice Bedford said, genetically speaking, “A lucky Collie (or Shetland Sheepdog) was a founder of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Thus, Collie’s genes live on in every member of that breed.” While “water dog” Rough Collies like Loki and Vakaa are more the exception than the general rule, it isn’t all that shocking when some Collies blow the breed stereotype out of the water. (Yes, pun intended. I do love a good dad joke.) Any breed can balk their “prescribed” behavior pattern!
“Seamus the Smooth Collie loves swimming in Lake Norman (North Carolina, USA) more than his Lab brother Piper. By the way, he hates going out in the rain. I think it gets in his ears lol.” – Denise Dies
However, I heard from a few Collie owners who say that their dogs attempt to herd them even while swimming! So whether on land or sea, just know that your Collie will probably remain a herding dog at heart.
“My first Smoothie willingly swam when I swam. He spent his time herding us back to the shore.” – Kristin Hartness, Executive director at Canines for Disabled Kids in Massachusetts, USA
While plenty of Collies swim, some might be particular about their environment. Smooth Collie owner Ceci Ingalls said, “Dixie loves our creeks and ponds but not swimming pools!” This may have something to do with easier entry/exit points, since some dogs feel more confident getting into a creek with a visible bottom or a pond with a gradual dropoff. It is also possible that pool chemicals can be a major turnoff to sensitive Collies.
Others mentioned Collies who swim in freshwater, but not the ocean. Can’t blame them for not wanting to swallow saltwater or battle big waves! It seems that many Collies prefer calmer water, though I also heard from people whose Collies love the ocean and even enjoy taking showers. Apparently, it’s all about personal comfort level. Just remember that dogs are individuals, and Collies can be a very quirky breed.
“I introduced all my Collies to the pool because I did not want them to fall in and drown. The Roughs learned how to swim to the steps and then NEVER set foot in the pool again. The Smooth is in the pool every summer.” – Manisha Gupta, Texas, USA
Some Collies may only swim with the proper motivation. Take Cedar, for example. Jodi Stadfeld said he normally only wades up to his belly, yet he loves to be on the paddle board or kayak with her when she goes out on the water in Canada. One time she made the mistake of leaving him behind, and “he went flying off the dock to get to me!”
Not many Collies are dock diving dogs, but in 2019 one made history by becoming the first Smooth Collie to win a dock diving title. Paige, bred and owned by Erin Gorney, is truly a versatile Collie. Officially, she is Group Placing GCH Aidan’s Fly Me To The Moon HSAs NAJ CGC TKN DN VA: meaning she has earned titles in herding, agility, trick dog, and dock diving competitions, as well as having her Canine Good Citizen certification! Erin started her out slowly with an actual swimming lesson, and Paige loved it so much that they just went from there.
The record-holding Collie so far is Tris, a blue merle Scottish Collie from Urquhart Collies. Tris won her first dock diving title in 2017, was invited to the Eukanuba National Championships, and has been the #1 Collie since. Her longest recorded jump was 16 feet (nearly 5 meters)! Like Paige, Tris is also a Jane-of-all-trades, having successfully competed in multiple other dog sports that won her the SCPS (Scottish Collie Preservation Society) R-I Versatility Title.
Most of the people I heard from just do dock diving for fun, not competitively. But in the case of Suvi Lehto from Finland, leaping off a dock is a practical skill since she is training her Smooth Collies in water rescue. Then you have Asher, a Smooth Collie from New Jersey, USA who enjoys leaping off Kelli Carpenter’s kayak to retrieve his frisbee from the river.
Ever heard of a surfing Collie? Erin Matthews and her tricolor Rough Collie Bitzy, (a.k.a. major pointed Sunnland’s Castle on A Cloud) are members of So Cal Surf Dogs based in San Diego, California. Some people are lucky enough to live near places that offer dog surfing lessons; but for those who don’t, the Animal Center’s website even offers a virtual surf dog training lesson!
My Smooth Collie loves the water, but doesn’t swim, doggie paddle, or float. He fully submerges until I panic and rescue him!! – Sarah Emig from Pennsylvania
Me: Oh my… Thinks he’s a seal, eh?
Sarah: Or Scuba Steve!
How to Train Swimming
My female Rough Collie Yoshi has loved splashing through shallow water since she was a small pup. She grew up watching my male Collie Gustav wade, and I regularly took her out with my friend’s American Pit Bull Terrier who is a swimming fiend. I carried her while I waded up to my shoulders and kept one hand under her chest as she swam the short distance back to shore. Then I heavily rewarded her with praise and treats! After the guided swimming lessons (and several thrown balls) she decided that dog paddling was quite pleasant.
Yoshi’s coat thickened over time, so while she will swim “naked,” I think she likes having the additional buoyancy a life vest gives her. Since she sits higher in the water when wearing her vest, she inadvertently swallows less of it. I highly endorse life jackets for any dog. Not every dog will need or want one, but especially if they’re new to swimming, it can only help!
My advice is to introduce them to swimming as soon as possible after they’re completely immunized. I think it’s always safer to start with a life vest. My boy Barclay didn’t start with one and was just a natural at swimming; but not every dog is. I honestly just let him go in on his own and starting throwing sticks for him to retrieve. Some places do have swim classes for dogs though, and those are super awesome if you have access to them… I didn’t even have goals of my dog being a swimmer, but he just really gravitated toward it. – Sarah Hoke
If you’re determined to turn your Collie into a swimmer, the recommended equipment is:
- a life vest
- a canine role model who loves to swim!
The dogs [Rough Collie Juniper, Border Collie Indigo] had their first dock diving practice! We played on the ramp and figured out how to swim. Juniper saw the ramp as the pathway to her doom, so we took it extremely slow getting her into the water. When she took a step forward, I didn’t let her back up. After sitting in it up to her shoulders for a while, she let me bring her in and swam a short lap. She absolutely demolished my legs with her claws – apparently we’re both learning. – Morgan Descourouez, Instagram @roughandborder
“The Smooth Collie fur is perfect for swimming. And they shake twice, then dry.” – Astrid Willersrud, Norway
Collies Who Wade
If your Collie won’t swim, it’s not because they can’t. Healthy Collies can swim just fine when motivated, but they don’t always see the point of getting wet. Bear in mind that Collies are free thinkers who often require practical reasons for performing tasks they find difficult or unnecessary: such can be the case with swimming.
My polls in the separate Collie groups showed that more Rough Collies are likely to wade than Smooth Collies. Perhaps they are unwilling to fully submerge and have waterlogged fur, but for some Collies vanity may be a larger factor than practicality. Sir Gustav, my male Rough Collie with an exceptional ego, absolutely HATES to have his voluminous mane deflated. It is his pride and his glory.
Regardless of fur type though, some Collies just prefer to stay in the shallow zone.
Westley doesn’t like it when his feets don’t touch bottom, but he loves to wade and splash around. – Stephanie Minshull
Our two Collies DO know how to swim, they just don’t enjoy getting wet past their paws. Maybe something to do with getting their junk wet? – Michael Sirott
You may find that your Collie will only enter water if you are in the water – probably to ensure no harm befalls you. Sylvia Griggs says her Collie Fergus “likes being on lifeguard duty.” Many Collies participate in water activities with their pack by adopting the role of event overseer.
We live in Colorado and often hike in and around mountain streams and rivers. Maverick loves to play, but also keeps an eye on everyone and likes to keep us together. – Nicole Parkes, USA
Some Collies enjoy water while simultaneously questioning the wisdom of immersing oneself in it entirely.
Most of my Roughs paddle in their water buckets when it’s hot, but swim? No way. If we get into the pool, they race around barking their heads off – convinced we’re drowning. One of mine has tried to grab us by our swimming costumes and pull us to the side in an effort to get us out; yet if the pool cover is on happily races over it and lies on top soaking her lower areas. – Rochelle Ehrlich from Johannesburg, South Africa
Others may have decided swimming is not for them if they have had a traumatic experience. When Gustav was a young lad, we were out on a winter walk in Michigan, USA. The snow had created an optical illusion, making a drift over a deep ditch extend out farther than the actual bank. The false edge collapsed under Gus, and a mini avalanche carried him into the frigid water below. He crashed through the thin layer of ice and swam by instinct, but couldn’t get a grip on the frozen bank.
I fashioned a makeshift lasso out of my other dog’s leash and managed to loop it around his head and a front paw to haul him to safety. We were very fortunate he didn’t get sick after such exposure! That being his first time swimming, he was never eager to repeat the experience. It took years of counter-conditioning, but Sir Gustav will now consent to wade up to his elbows.
My Collie used to like it. Then our other dog pushed her off a bridge. Now she just walks in the water. – Elina Jauhiainen
In my opinion, summer wading should be encouraged. On hot days it can be very beneficial to your Collie to at least get their paws wet. Remember, a dog’s main cooling mechanism is panting, and they don’t sweat through their skin anywhere except on their paw pads. If your Collie will at least dip their toes in water, that can be more refreshing than you might think.
When we take our dogs on nature walks, we bring along a collapsible water bowl. After they’ve had the chance to drink their fill, we dip their paws in one by one. Each of our dogs – even our Australian Shepherd mix – really seem to appreciate this individual attention.
My Smooth Collie loves her pool. I think she is half heron, because she wades with her face submersed to her eyes, swinging her head back and forth! – Paige Hales
My three Collies will wade at best. Though I tried introducing them to it as pups, they are disinclined to participate unnecessarily… But one does seem to like the sprinkler a bit. – Carol Cottrill
Mila says water melts Collies; but after many years and effort, she will go to her armpits. – Katie Rogers (California USA)
If your Collie doesn’t like water, you are far from alone. My polls showed that Smooths are 1% more likely than Roughs to stay away from water altogether, while 37% of all Collies avoid it. Many Collies are fastidious and despise anything that could sully their perfect white paws.
Others are extremely cautious, innately suspicious of what could lurk in murky water’s depths. In places like Australia and southern parts of America where alligators and crocodiles are a real and present danger, those ancient instincts could save their lives! Part of our task as Florida residents is to train our dogs never to run into natural water willy-nilly. Not even retention ponds in suburban neighborhoods are guaranteed safe.
The point is, if you own a Collie who hates water, know that they have their reasons. And on the bright side, you’ll be the one who has a cleaner car and house!
Many Collies vocally broadcast their concern and displeasure. Collies’ herding nature can cause them to be pushy and opinionated, as people are essentially their surrogate sheep. Some Collies are so convinced of the inherent danger in water that they turn into the “fun police” when their human flock swims. It is not uncommon for Collies to patrol the pool perimeter sounding the alarm – much like a fussy nanny demanding you cease such risky antics immediately.
In the video below you’ll find Rough Collie guide dog Amelia barking at her owner Kolby while she swims. I wonder what Amelia is trying to say: maybe something like, “Get out of the water and take me to ride an escalator instead!”
My Smooth hates water and will avoid it where she possibly can – even puddles are a no-no. In the summer she’ll stand by the river and shout, “Danger, danger!” at the dogs who are having a cooling swim. When they come out of the river she runs away, as she hates it when they shake water all over her! Baths are something to be endured. – Ali Harold of Wiltshire, England
If you have a Collie who never wants to set paw in water, don’t despair. Some Collies are just odd enough that they will still consent to water-related activities provided they can stay dry while doing them!
Chia doesn’t swim but loves going in the pedal boat with her kids! – Cheryl Lang
Do we have a category for Collies who like to lay on floaties while parents swim? – Mike Zeinstra
Some of the best comments in the Collie groups I polled were from people who have water-averse Collies. Please enjoy these remarks that explain these funny Collies better than anything I could say on the subject!
As a puppy, my boy tried to chase a duck across a pond covered with weed. Since he made the discovery that it wasn’t grass, he has avoided anything deeper than a muddy puddle like the plague. – Susan Booth
My boy will walk around puddles and barks at the sea! – Jenny Dorman
My Smooth girl loved the water until she was lifted by a wave: then the sea was evil. – Erin Matthews
Echo believes she is allergic to the dreaded wet stuff. I just think she is hilarious when wet. SOOOO offended. – Amy Robertson
My Smoothie felt it was a desecration to his body and dignity and was insulted that I would force water to touch his feet, be it salt water or even an inch or two in a kiddie pool.” – Tracy Bowman
Sue Griffin @ Tracy Bowman: “Seriously! Only heathens wet their feet.
My Collie hates it. He runs when I water plants. No muddy paw prints in our house, ever! – Arla Kafka
Our Smooth would prefer to stay dry. Rain and water make her sad! She can cross a river or a puddle if she has to, but showering is the worst someone could ever do to her. – Eva Sandersen Hetta
Ours will walk through ankle level water if on a hike, but not go out to wee in the yard if the grass is wet. – Ellie Mae
Mine does not seem to like water in liquid form lol. Loves the snow though (and ice cubes!). – Dana Musgrave
What kind of Collie do you have? Let us know in the comments below!