Dogs have long been associated with a love of swimming. Some breeds, including the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, and Golden Retriever were developed to be strong swimmers due to the kind of work they were expected to do, but what about those that weren’t bred for this purpose like the West Highland White Terrier (Westie)? Westies can certainly learn to swim, but this doesn’t mean that all Westies enjoy swimming.
In this post, we’ll explore the Westie’s relationship with water and share some top water safety tips for swim-happy Westies.
Do Westies Like Swimming & Water Activities?
It really depends. Some Westies enjoy swimming and/or playing in the water, whereas others may be more hesitant or simply avoid the water altogether.
Westies are active dogs that enjoy a wide variety of physical activities, but as mentioned in the introduction, Westies weren’t developed for swimming. They were developed as land hunters capable of tracking down and exterminating rodents that were scavenging supplies of grain. Nevertheless, some Westies do become confident swimmers if they are allowed to explore the water safely and at their own pace.
Why Is My Westie Afraid of Water?
Contrary to popular belief, not every dog simply plops into a pool and starts effortlessly doing laps. Some dogs need more time to get used to the water and actually learn to swim before they develop their confidence. If your Westie seems uneasy around water, it may be that they’ve just never been introduced to it properly and the newness is making them nervous.
This isn’t the only possibility, however. Sometimes, dogs are afraid of water because they’ve experienced a traumatic event at some point that has made them fearful. Examples of this could be being forced to get into the water before they’re ready or a previous owner (if your Westie is adopted) using water as a form of punishment.
How to Introduce a Dog to Water for the First Time
If your Westie is nervous around water and you want to help them overcome their fears or you have a dog that has never experienced water before, one thing you could do is try introducing your dog to a paddling pool before they start exploring deeper bodies of water.
Fill the pool so that your Westie can step in and paddle without having to actually swim, and encourage them to get in by getting in yourself and tempting them with their favorite treats or toys. If they see you in there, this will help them to feel more confident stepping in themselves.
Don’t force your Westie into the water under any circumstances—be patient and let them come in when they’re ready. When you progress to letting your Westie into an actual body of water to swim, like a pool, start off in the shallow end to ensure your dog can safely enter and exit.
Top 7 Water Safety Tips for Westies
Whether you’re teaching your Westie to swim or they’re an experienced swimmer, taking some things into account can make the activity safer for both you and your dog. Follow these tips for the safest possible swimming session:
1. Make Sure Your Westie Wears a Lifejacket
Put a canine lifejacket with a handle on your dog, whether they’re a good swimmer or not. Not only does a lifejacket make them easier to spot in the water and help them to feel more confident, but it could save their life in a sticky situation. Lifejackets are also useful tools for teaching dogs to swim because you can hold onto the handle to make them feel safer.
2. Brush up on the Basics
Before heading into the water, your Westie should be able to follow basic commands—especially “come” or “out”.
3. Prepare for Easy Entry & Exit
Your dog not knowing how to easily get into and out of the water could spell disaster. Your Westie should always have a well-thought-out entry and exit route whenever they enter any body of water.
4. Supervise Closely
Not supervising your Westie—even if they’re a good swimmer—while they’re in the water is a very bad idea. Even in calm waters, dogs can get into trouble unexpectedly and very quickly, sometimes with fatal consequences. This can happen due to unforeseen dangers or your pup tiring out.
5. Pick the Right Time
One of the keys to ensuring your Westie stays safe when swimming is keeping a close eye on the water and weather conditions. Avoid areas with fast currents, big waves, strong winds, and the like. You’ll also want to steer clear of water that’s too cold.
6. Provide Clean Water
If you’re heading to a lake, beach, or pool, don’t forget to take along some fresh drinking water to prevent your dog from resorting to drinking potentially bacteria, or chemical-carrying water. Parasites, salt water, and algae are also dangerous for dogs.
7. Avoid Blue-Green Algae
Areas with blue-green algae, which is common in lakes, rivers, and ponds, should be avoided because many types are toxic to dogs. Blue-green algae poisoning can even be fatal, so it’s best to just not take the risk.
In brief, some Westies are comfortable with swimming and are even good swimmers, whereas others aren’t—it all depends on their preferences and experiences.
If your Westie shows an interest in swimming, it’s best to start small with shallow water to build their confidence before progressing to pool, lake, or ocean swimming. Your Westie should always be kitted out with a properly-fitting canine life jacket and be under close supervision at all times.