Can Westies Swim? [What to Know About West Highland Terriers and Water]


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Can Westies Swim

All dogs instinctively know to start doing the doggy paddle when they find themselves in water. But that doesn’t mean they are all good swimmers.

Some dog breeds are better at swimming than others. While not a hard and fast rule, larger dogs are generally more natural swimmers than small dogs.

Compared to other dogs breeds, Westies are not good swimmers, but they can swim.

That doesn’t mean that some West Highland White Terriers don’t enjoy the water. But they probably won’t be able to keep up with other dog breeds that were bred to be strong swimmers.

  1. Westies and Water
  2. Do Westies Like Swimming?
  3. Training a Westie How to Swim
  4. Westies and Water Safety
  5. Swimming for Exercise

Westies and Water

Certain dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, and Newfoundlands have webbed feet. Without a doubt, these dogs will take to the water much easier than a Westie or other small breeds.

West Highland Terriers on the other hand do not have webbed feet and have short legs meant for digging up mice and other vermin.

Simply put, the physiology of Westies just doesn’t make for a good swimming body. They just aren’t built for water sports that involve swimming quickly or for long distances.

That doesn’t mean that your Westie won’t enjoy jumping in the water and going for a swim, though. It is just important to recognize that they are not strong swimmers and should never be left unsupervised around water.

Do Westies Like Swimming?

I’ve established that Westies have the ability to swim, but are not great at it. But do they enjoy swimming?

The answer to that question is very much based on the individual dog. Some Westies love to go for a swim, while others prefer to avoid water all together.

My dog Murphy was somewhere in between. She wasn’t adverse to water, but she would only swim short distances before getting out. I can’t speak for all Westie owners, but this seems like the typical behavior of a Westie around water.

Training a Westie How to Swim

By the time they are a few weeks old, your Westie will already have the ability to swim. They will naturally start paddling their legs when they are in the water.

So, you won’t exactly be training your dog how to swim. Rather, your role will be getting them comfortable around water. They will naturally improve at swimming over time.

If you and your family like to spend time around a lake, it is especially important to familiarize your Westie to the water. A water loving Westie could be a good family dog if you live on water.

If you know that your Westie will be around water a lot, it is best to introduce your puppy to water when they are young. If they are not around water when they are very young, they are more likely to be afraid of it as they get older.

By the time your Westie is an adult, it will be more difficult (but not impossible) to introduce them to water and have them enjoy it.

Here are some tips for introducing your puppy to water for the first time:

  • Start young. The early development stage for a puppy is the first 12 weeks of their life. During this time they are more receptive to new things such as water.
  • Pick a safe location. Many lakes and ponds are filled with algae and bacteria that can be especially harmful to young puppies who haven’t fully finished their immunizations.
  • Pick a calm water. Your Westie’s first experience with water should not be the ocean. Even small waves can be scary for a small pup.
  • Start small. Swimming pools are a great way to introduce your puppy to water for the first time in a controlled environment. Even a bath tub full of water is a good start.
  • Start shallow. If you are at a lake, let your Westie walk into the shallow water first and build their way up to water that’s just deep enough for them to start paddling.
  • Stay positive. You want this to be a fun experience for your pet. Bring lots of treats and water toys.
  • Don’t force it. Forcing your dog into the water is a surefire way to make sure that will be scared of water permanently. Have patience, and with time your dog will take to the water when they are ready.

Westies and Water Safety

If your pup is going to be around water, obviously you want them to be safe.

I said earlier that Westies should never be allowed to go swimming unsupervised. This is true for all dogs, but especially for breeds like the West Highland Terrier that are not strong swimmers.

Westies are intelligent dogs, but sometimes they don’t know their own limits. It is important to keep an eye on them while they are in the water.

Water Quality

Bacteria and algae blooms in lakes and ponds are particularly dangerous to young puppies before they are fully immunized, but can also be harmful to adult dogs as well.

If possible, check the water quality report for the body of water your Westie will be swimming in. The CDC maintains an index of water quality reports by state.

Even if the water is safe to swim in, you should not let your dog drink the water. You should always have fresh water available for them by carrying a dog water bottle.

Dog Life Vest

You may also want to consider a doggy life-vest for your Westie. It will help them keep their head above water so they can breathe while they are swimming.

A dog lifejacket will also help you assist your dog or grab them out of the water if necessary. They come in high visibility bright colors, so any boats on the water will be able to see them.

If you plan on taking your Westie out on a boat, a lifejacket is a must have.

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools are a great way for your Westie to learn how to swim in a safe and controlled environment, but they can also be dangerous.

If you have a pool at your house, you should make sure that your Westie is not able to get to it by herself – the same way you would for a small child.

If you plan to let your dog out into your yard where the pool is, it should be enclosed by a pool safety fence.

Swimming for Exercise

If your Westie takes to the water, swimming is an amazing way for them to get their exercise. As high energy dogs, Westies usually need at least 45 minutes of exercise each day.

However, you may be able to achieve the same results with swimming in less time due to the amount of energy Westies expend paddling.

If your Westie barks a lot, taking them for a swim is a great way to tire them out which should also quiet them down.

If you have an older Westie with health problems that limit their walking and running, swimming is a great way to get them exercise with less stress on their joints.

Can Westies Swim?

To recap, Westies can swim, but they are not great at it. As a result, it is important to exert caution when they are swimming to make sure they are safe.

With proper training and early exposure to water, Westies can learn to love the water.

Remember, terriers are not naturally water dogs, so they may not take to the water as easily as retrievers. It is best to introduce them to water within the first 12 weeks of their life to increase the odds they will be comfortable around water.

If you’re lucky enough to have a West Highland White Terrier that likes to swim, it’s a good idea to get them around water periodically so they don’t lose their love for water.

So, yes Westies can swim, but they probably won’t be winning any aquatics dog competitions any time soon.

Wondering if other terrier breeds can swim? Check out the articles below:

Kevin William

Kevin William grew up with a female West Highland White Terrier named Murphy who was always by his side. Kevin currently lives in New York state with his family including a Labrabull (Labrador Retriever Pit Bull) named Lily.

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