A border collie is no Labrador Retriever when it comes to water, and while they are great swimmers, their fondness for water varies from dog to dog.
Are Border Collies Bred to Swim?
The border collie is a working dog bred for fieldwork – specifically herding. So, when it comes to water, this herder is accustomed to crossing streams and working in wet weather (they are no stranger to bath time after a long day in the field either,) but swimming isn’t usually par for the course.
Can Border Collies Swim?
Yes! Despite their lack of “water dog” features (like webbed toes and an otter-like tail,) the border collie can swim! This ability is apparent from the number of border collies that take part in the sport of dock diving.
Dock diving or dock jumping is an athletic sport where a dog’s trainer throws a toy off a dock and into the water. The dog waits on the forty-foot-long dock until given a command, at which point the dog heads down the dock, jumps as far as they can into the water, retrieves their toy, and brings it back. The dog with the longest jump wins.
Do Border Collies Like Water?
Well, every dog that takes part in dock diving loves water – they wouldn’t willingly take part in the sport if they didn’t! But for border collies, dock diving is also about something more.
Although not bred to work in water, the border collie is bred to have an incredible prey drive, shocking intelligence, and a burning desire to work. These characteristics are why so many border collies excel in sports like dock diving! Simply put, the border collie is happiest when it has a job to do, whether to herd sheep or fetch a toy lure from the water.
In addition to mental stimulation and providing a goal-focused activity, dock diving also gives the border collie a chance to exercise their agility! If you have ever seen a herding dog at work, you know that agility is part of what makes herding breeds so skilled.
Paddling Versus Swimming
Although many border collies do enjoy sports like dock diving, it seems that much of that enjoyment comes from aspects other than the water itself. Ask the average border collie owner, and most will tell you that their BC loves to paddle in puddles, but swimming in deep water is something that they avoid.
There are a few theories on why border collies prefer to paddle rather than swim. These include:
- Border collies are not bred to be swimmers, so they don’t have a natural draw towards the water.
- Since border collies are bred for stealth and “weather-resistance,” they lack key characteristics that make dogs good swimmers.
- Bad experiences with water in the past or a lack of exposure to water in the past.
The Natural Draw Theory
The “natural draw” theory has a small degree of truth to it. Dogs bred to work in water tend to have a natural affinity for water – but the opposite is not necessarily true. Many dogs bred for purposes other than water work do laps in the swimming pool!
So, while some dogs are bred specifically to spend time in the water, a dog does not have to be designed this way to enjoy swimming.
The Flawed Design Theory
The “flawed design” theory also has a small degree of truth to it.
Some dogs – like Labradors – are well equipped for swimming. They have otter-like tails and webbed feet that make it easy to move through the water.
Border collies do not have these characteristics, but this doesn’t mean that they are bad swimmers; it simply means that other breeds – like Labradors – are better swimmers.
So, while some dogs are specifically designed to spend time in the water, a dog does not have to be designed this way to enjoy swimming.
The Experience Theory
The most likely scenario is the “experience” theory. Since some border collies love water and others do not, it is more likely that prevalence is dictated by experience (or lack thereof.)
For example, a border collie puppy that falls into a pond and almost drowns will be wary of water in the future.
Likewise, an adult dog that lives in a hoarding situation and who has never swum will be wary of water because they have no experience with it.
Dogs that have a pleasant introduction to water, however, are much more likely to enjoy swimming.
So, the early experiences that your border collie has can play a significant role in their relationship with water!
Introducing Your Border Collie to Water
Introduce your border collie to water as early as possible. Once they live in your home, begin with bathing. Always calmly bathe your puppy and make sure that the water is at a comfortable temperature.
As your puppy acclimates to regular bathing, you can venture out more and try lakes and doggy pools. Use a favorite toy to entice your pup to try out their doggy paddle but be sure to put them in a life vest first – not all dogs instinctively know how to swim!
Conclusion / Summary
Border collies can swim and aren’t afraid of puddles, lakes, ponds, or a little rainfall! Like us, though, a border collie’s affinity for water varies from individual to individual, and while some BCs excel in water-themed sports, others prefer to stay away from deeper waters completely.