Labradors are known for their fondness of water and for the most part they love to swim. This is unsurprising when you consider the origins of the breed and the fact that they are considered to be the king of waterfowl retrievers.
But a common question that gets asked about the breed is “when can Labrador puppies start swimming?”. In this article we will be answering that question, along with a few other questions about Labradors and swimming.
When Can Labrador Puppies Start Swimming?
There is a lot of conflicting opinions on this question with some people and experts stating that Labradors can start swimming as early as 8 weeks, while some believe it is much later at something like 3 months.
The truth is that all these answers are somewhat correct and the age at which a Labrador puppy can start swimming depends on number of factors. We have outlined some of these factors below:
Your Labrador puppy needs a certain level of physical strength before they can start to swim properly. Their muscles need time to grow and they are usually not strong enough to swim properly until around 3 months of age. However, Lab puppies can start swimming at around 8 weeks in very calm and shallow water.
It is not recommended that you take a Labrador puppy swimming in public pools and areas until they are fully vaccinated. Vaccinations usually start at around 6 to 8 weeks and then continue to around 4 months of age, when the final round is given. If you do not wait until your Lab puppy is fully vaccinated, they are at risk of catching deadly diseases and viruses.
Surroundings & Influences
If your puppy lives near a safe body of water that they can access quite easily (supervised of course) they will be more likely to start swimming earlier. Additionally, if their mum, brothers, and sisters are keen swimmers then they will probably just follow their lead and head into the water at some point.
Their Past Experiences
If your Labrador puppy becomes scared of water at some point then it will take them longer to swim. This usually happens when they accidentally fall or are forced into water that is too deep and dangerous for them.
It is recommended that you wait until about 6 months of age before taking your Labrador puppy to a larger body of water such as the sea or a big lake. If you want to start earlier, you should find a shallow and calm place to so that your puppy can get used to the water.
With all of these factors out of the way we would recommend that you start introducing your Labrador puppy to the water at around 3 – 4 months. This way they will be stronger and their vaccinations will be/or nearly be finished.
Can Labradors Swim Naturally?
While Labradors have an innate ability to swim, they do not swim naturally like fish. A Labrador’s body may be more suited to swimming than other dog breeds, but it does not mean they can swim for any duration of time or in any condition. It is important to remember that your Labrador (especial so for puppies) has limitations to their swimming ability.
Why Are Labradors Such Good Swimmers?
There are a number of reasons why Labradors are known for their swimming ability with the first being their love of water. The other reasons are to do with their physical traits such as their water-resistant coat and their wide tail that acts somewhat like a rudder. Labs also tend to have a very sleek profile that lets them cut through the water.
How to Encourage a Labrador to Swim
For the most part, Labradors don’t need any special motivation or training to make them swim. Most Labs, including Labrador puppies, will simply jump straight into water and love it from the get-go.
However, this is not always the case for every Labrador puppy. Some puppies will show signs of fear the first time they approach the water. One of the best ways to get them in the water is to use the assistance of an older dog who likes to swim. The older dog can teach the young Lab puppy how to swim and encourage them into the water.
It is important that this process is not forced. Do not simply drop your puppy in the water and make them swim. By doing this you will traumatise your puppy and they may become scared of the water. This will make it much harder to teach them how to swim and it could set you back months (possibly even longer).
If your Lab puppy doesn’t want to swim and you don’t have access to an older dog (or they won’t follow the older dog into the water), you are going to have to get creative. Instead of taking your puppy to a lake or small stream, you could purchase a children’s paddling pool or fill up the bath and encourage them to get into it.
To do this, bring your Lab puppy to the edge of the water and start playing with them. Remember to bring their favourite toy and make them fetch repeatedly. After a while of playing with them, toss the toy into the water.
Hopefully your puppy will overcome their fear of the water and chase after the toy. If they do not, keep trying until they enter the water (you may have to do this over a couple of play sessions). When your puppy does enter the water make sure you praise and reward them with a treat. Reward your puppy even if they only put one paw in the water.
After a while, your Labrador puppy will begin to love the water and they will dive straight in after the toy. Once your puppy becomes used to the water in a paddling pool or bath, move onto a larger body of water. Find a small lake, pond or stream and do the same as you did before.
Some puppies will dive straight into the water without any encouragement, while others may need more encouragement. If this is the case, use the toy trick again (something like a cheap tennis ball is good because you don’t want to lose their favourite toy) and when they approach or go into the water remember to reward and praise them.
If you are still struggling, get into the water yourself. Puppies have a natural tendency to follow their mother and family, so they will probably follow you straight in.
By doing this your Labrador puppy will eventually become used to a wide range of water bodies and they will love swimming.
Swim Safety for Labradors
While Labradors are excellent swimmer, there are some precautions you need to take when your dog is around water (especially so for puppies). We have listed some things to watch out for below:
Avoid areas with strong currents or waves – A fast-moving river is not an ideal place to take your puppy for a swim, even if they are experienced. You could easily be separated from your dog or they may be pulled under by the currents. The same can be said for places where there are large waves as they may pull your dog under or out to sea.
Look for clean water – You wouldn’t go swimming in dirty water, so don’t make or let your dog go in polluted water either. If you are near a polluted body of water it may be best to keep your puppy on a lead to stop them going in or drinking the water.
Avoid bodies of water that have steps or sloped ground – If your Lab gets into trouble you will want it to be easy for them to get out. If the water body you are letting them in has steep slopes or stairs it may be difficult for your dog to get out.
Never leave your dog alone – Always make sure you supervise your dog or puppy when they are in the water. If you do not you may lose them or may not notice if they get into trouble.
Buy them a life vest – If you are going into some rough water or you are on a boat we recommend that you buy your Labrador a life vest such as this one. While a life vest probably isn’t suitable for a young Lab puppy that is growing quickly, it will be great once you dog gets older.
Don’t overexert your dog – Be mindful of overexerting your Labrador, especially if they are a puppy. If your dog becomes too tired while they may not be able to get back to shore without your help.
Be mindful of other animals and predators – Do not let your Labrador swim in areas with dangerous animals. Jellyfish, large fish, crocodiles and sharks are a threat that you should keep in mind.