Do Collies Like to Swim?

You are currently viewing Do Collies Like to Swim?
Benson from Alberta, Canada PC: Instagram @benson_the_collie

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!

A sable and white Rough Collie with a white star on her forehead stands in a lake with a stormy sky overhead
Yoshi from Florida, USA PC: Cheyanne Ramos

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.

Two sable and white Rough Collies (Lassie dogs) swim through the San Diego Bay
Champion Collie Natalie swims with her Grand Champion father Rory PC: Jeannette Poling

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

 
A sable and white Smooth Collie leads a pack of blue merle and sable Smooth Collies into a river
Smooth Collies from Finland ready to swim! PC: Suvi Lehto

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

A tricolor Smooth Collie springs off a rock wall into the water below
Blackie from Norway takes a leap PC: Astrid B. Willersrud

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. 

A sable and white Rough Collie (longhaired Collie) swims in a mountain crater lake with a ball in her mouth
Hazel swims in the Ardennes, Belgium PC: Naomi Dewaelheyns

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.

A sable and white Rough Collie (Lassie Dog) leaps out of the water after a tennis ball.
Rough Collie Orin of Meda-Garden Kennel, Hungary PC: Melinda Csecserits

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.”

A furry tricolor Rough Collie swims while holding a tennis ball
Tricolor Rough Collie Bree from Germany PC: Andrea Wall

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

A blue merle Rough Collie in an orange life vest lies calmly on an paddle board while a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy in a yellow life vest sits on the board and appears to be vocally complaining to his human, a woman wearing a black scuba suit who is standing and paddling while she looks down and laughs at her puppy
Finn the Rough Collie shows Matilda the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy how to ride a paddle board PC: Erica Lipari

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

 
Two Rough Collies in life vests tow a man through the water. He is holding the handles of their life jackets
Rough Collies Ziva and Ace from New York tow their dad back to safety PC: Caryl Jersey

Conditions

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.

A sable and white Rough Collie wearing an orange life vest and holding a ball in her mouth swims in a creek lined by tall reeds
Orinka from Hungary PC: Melinda Cescerits

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

Special Cases

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!”

A smooth Collie leaps off a dock into the water. Color unclear, and appears as a dark silhouette with a white ring of fur around its neck
Smooth Collie Tosca from Finland enjoys dock diving PC: Elisa Salmi

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.

 
A sable and white Smooth Collie (Collie shorthair) wearing an award ribbon sits on a bale of straw in front of a beaming woman and a sign that reads "K9 Water World, San Marco, Texas"
Paige from Texas, USA PC: Erin Gorney

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.

A blue merle Scottish Collie leaps into the water from a dock
Tris from Urquhart Collies, Texas, USA PC: Audrey Reed

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.

A sable and white Rough Collie (Lassie dog) leaps from a dock into a pool, with a banner in the background that reads "The Splash Zone at K9 Country Club"
Rough Collie Howdy from Texas, USA loves dock diving! PC: Jessalyn Meyer

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!

A tricolor Collie Rough stands on a surboard riding through waves with an intense look of concentration on her face
Bitzy showing off her technique! Photo courtesy: Erin Matthews

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.

a young sable and white (tan and white) Rough Collie puppy snorkels - head underwater - in a river
Lilah from St. Louis, Missouri USA PC: Rachel Politte

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!

A sable merle rough collie in an aqua life vest swims a lap around a pool while a person holds onto the handle atop the vest to help her steer
Sable merle Rough Collie Timber from Oklahoma learns swimming is not so bad! PC: Sarah Hoke

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

A blue merle Rough Collie puppy stands on a ramp leading down into a pool
Neo from Queensland, Asutralia got started young PC: Chloe Lewty

If you’re determined to turn your Collie into a swimmer, the recommended equipment is:

  • patience
  • praise
  • treats/toys
  • a life vest
  • a canine role model who loves to swim!
 
A sable and white Rough Collie and tricolor Rough Collie swim through the ocean side by side wearing matching teal vests
Rough Collies Timi and Blaze from South Australia PC: Tahlia Nitschke

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

julie kirschbaum old smith collie puppy
Link, Smooth Collie puppy from Massachusetts, USA PC: Instagram @codacollie
If you have a Rough Collie, keep in mind some small mats may form after a swim, depending on the coat type. And of course, a Rough won’t dry out nearly as quickly as a Smooth. When we come back from a swim session, our waterproof car seat cover really helps. Sometimes we even use old “dog towels” before we let them inside. Paw cleaners are very helpful also, even just for rainy days and good for any type of dog! Make sure you have the right grooming tools for a quick brush-out after a swim session, especially if you were at a sandy beach.
“The Smooth Collie fur is perfect for swimming. And they shake twice, then dry.” – Astrid Willersrud, Norway
A blue merle Smooth Collie swims through a river
Blue merle Smooth Collie from Finland PC: Suvi Lehto

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.   

A mahogany sable and white Rough Collie stands on a shoreline with front paws in the water
Sir Gustav from Florida, USA on gator patrol PC: Cheyanne Ramos

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

 
A sable and white Smooth Collie happily splashes through a creek
Smooth Collie Alfred from Indiana, USA PC: Breanna Cheesman

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

A sable and white Rough Collie wades in the water with a hound mix and some humans
Molly the Collie from New Mexico being the pool monitor PC: Rich Sanchez

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

A tri-headed white Rough Collie (black head and black patches on white body) cools his lower body in a rocky pool
Snowy the white Collie from Vermont, USA PC: Jen Waya

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 

A tricolor (black with white and tan markings) Smooth Collie wades in a stream holding a blue ball in her mouth
Tessa the tricolor Smooth Collie from Finland PC: 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

a tricolor Smooth Collie stands happily in a doggy wading pool
Gemma from Atlanta, Georgia PC: 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

 
A sable merle Smooth Collie wades through water
Seamus the sable merle Smooth Collie from Western Australia PC: Kelly Pilgrim

Mila says water melts Collies; but after many years and effort, she will go to her armpits.Katie Rogers (California USA)

Water-Averse Collies

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.

A sable merle Rough Collie puppy stands on a bank overlooking a deep stream with lily pads on its surface
Vakaa from Florida, USA being rightly wary of what lies beneath PC: Cheyanne Ramos

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!

a sable and white Rough Collie stands on a peninsula of land overlooking a lake
To swim or not to swim? Melker from Sweden PC: Johanna Korvela

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

 
A tricolor Smooth Collie sits on a paddleboard while his human steers from the rear
Westley the tricolor Smooth Collie says this is fine PC: Stephanie Minshull

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

A tricolor Smooth Collie wearing a life vest rides contentedly in a boat next to an older man in a hat
Mister from Wisconsin, USA is content to boat wtih his grandpa PC: Chrisy Fell

Do we have a category for Collies who like to lay on floaties while parents swim? – Mike Zeinstra

A sable and white Rough Collie lies on a large flotation device while his human pushes him through the lake
Sasha from NC, USA prefers to be escorted in style PC: 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

A sable-headed white Rough Collie puppy leaps on the dry part of the beach
Vasya the sable-headed white Rough Collie puppy PC: Instagram @motherofdoggos

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

A blue merle Smooth Collie sits before a dam
Leo from Poland PC: Krzysztof Kipran

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

A sable-headed white Rough Collie sits beside an inground pool
Sable-headed white Rough Collie Declan from Texas, USA PC: Andra Oyler
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
A mahogany sable and white Rough Collie leaps through snow with tongue lolling happily from his mouth
Mahogany sable Rough Collie Leo from Iceland enjoys a snowy romp PC: Urður Einarsdóttir

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!

A tricolor Smooth Collie splashes through the water intent on retrieving a tennis ball
Tricolor Smoothie Ayrton from the Czech Republic PC: KennyPhoto

Poll Results

Rough Collies FB Group (328 Votes)

Collies Who Swim
66 Votes 20%
Collies Who Wade
142 Votes 43%
Water-Averse Collies
120 Votes 37%

Smooth Collies FB Group (295 Votes)

Collies Who Swim
67 Votes 23%
Collies Who Wade
116 Votes 39%
Water-Averse Collies
112 Votes 38%

623 Overall Votes

Collies Who Swim
133 Votes 21%
Collies Who Wade
258 Votes 42%
Water-Averse Collies
232 Votes 37%
A tricolor Rough Collie wearing Rex Goggles (doggy eye protection sunglasses) stands in a shallow stream
Connor from California wears Rex Goggles for eye protection PC: Nautica Watkins

Emily Sowulewski

Emily is an avid writer, blogger, and Collie lover who collects and posts stories about Collies from around the world. Submit a story, ask a question, or just say hi; Emily would love to hear from you.