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Can Irish Setters Swim? Swimming Tips For Irish Setters

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A surprisingly common question asked by setter owners is whether or not their setters can swim, and if so, is it an activity they enjoy? This article will explain everything an owner should know about their Irish Setter in and around the water… Let’s get into it!

Are Irish Setters Good Swimmers?

Irish Setters are regarded as some of the best swimmers among all breeds! Due to their long history of hunting, pointing, and retrieving on ALL terrain, swimming was a part of their daily life for a very long time. Therefore, most setters will be natural swimmers right away.

In preparation to write this article, I asked 10 Irish Setter owners how their setter got along with water in general, from bathing, playing with the sprinkler to swimming. And my suspicions were confirmed… Every single owner said that their setter absolutely loved playing around with water, especially swimming.

I think we can definitively say that Irish Setters can swim, and LOVE to swim.

Of course, necessary safety measures should always be taken with puppies, and that’s something I will cover in more detail further below.

Why Irish Setters Are Natural Swimmers

Irish Setters were developed in the 1800s when hunters were crossbreeding English Setters, Spaniels, and Gorden Setters together. The result from such a mixture was the Irish Setter.

Irish Setters, with their blend of traits from each respective hunting breed, become extremely popular and well-known for their work-ethic, agility, and capabilities to perform in all weathers and on all terrain.

Swimming would certainly have been a part of their retrieving duties. Fallen prey and game birds that entered into bodies of water were swiftly retrieved by the setters and presented to their owners.

So, although Irish setters were developed fairly late (compared to other breeds) they were already primed to be perfect water dogs. And so today, still hold their natural talent to swim in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. (more on safety later).

Teaching Your Irish Setter Puppy To Swim

Even though your Irish Setter puppy will most likely instinctively know how to swim. It’s best not to leave that to chance.

Thankfully, with the help of a doggy paddling pool. You can practice at home, in a controlled environment, and at a pace that’s comfortable for them.

Puppies in general, shouldn’t get wet until they’ve completed their vaccinations. To be on the safe side, wait until 4-5 months of age before getting your Irish Setter puppy wet or teaching him to swim.

What you will need:
Doggy paddling pool
Doggy lifejacket
High-value treats
Decent weather (I wish I could provide a link for that) lol

1. Keep The Water at Belly Level

To begin with, fill the paddling pool only until it’s at about belly level for your setter. This is likely his first time experiencing a body of water and this is more than enough to get him familiar with it.

This is purely for familiarization, and teaching him to swim isn’t the focus. Get in the pool yourself, have fun, play with him and give him some treats (outside of the pool). Create as many positive associations with the shallow body of water as you can.

Do this for a few days.

The better his starting relationship with water is, the better swimmer he will be for his entire life! I can’t stress this enough and it’s worth taking it slow to start.

2. Raise Water To Just Under Chin

After he’s happy with the shallow water, it’s time to raise it to just under his chin. He should be able to stand upright and hold his own head out of the water.

Put the life jacket on him, get in the pool yourself, and bring him in. This will be considerably different and this is where things get more serious. This is to show him that the water isn’t always going to be shallow.

The life jacket will have a top handle that you can use to hold. The goal is to periodically hold and slightly raise him off the ground using the handle. Once raised, he should instinctively start paddling his legs. This is what you’re looking for.

Ensure ALL four legs are paddling. Give him 20 seconds of paddling (while you are holding him up) then lower him down and let him rest.

3. Raise Water Out of Depth

The next stage will be full-on swimming.

Again, ensure he has his doggy life jacket on, get in the pool yourself, pick him up and lift him in. As you lower him in the pool slowly his legs should start to paddle autonomously. If you notice his back legs are not paddling, touch them, and this should trigger them to get going.

At first, he’ll be splashing around and his legs will be working harder than they need to. To begin with, this is ok as he’s just getting used to the sensation of keeping himself afloat.

Always have one hand on his handle ready to lift him up if need be.

Swimming is extremely exhausting! Only let him swim for 10-20 seconds at a time. Especially the first time you try this.

Additional Tips For Swimming Success & Safety

Let’s run through some additional tips to help keep swimming fun, safe and beneficial.

1. Keep Lessons Short

Keep the lessons and time spent in the pool short. Only let him swim for 10-30 seconds straight before bringing him out of the pool, or holding him up securely so he can rest.

Remember that this will be a very intense experience for any puppy who has never had to swim before. So keep it brief, enjoyable, and rewarding.

2. Plenty Of Rewards

One way to guarantee a good relationship with the water is to make it a pleasant experience (praise and treats).

Be sure to give him all the praise that you possibly can before and after the swimming lessons. And of course, plenty of high value treats!

Great positive associations with swimming, and he’ll be a pro by the very next time you put him in the water. They learn quickly!

3. Be Conscious Of The Temperature

If you’re not in the heart of summer when the sun is shining and the temperature is at least 17C (60F) then it’s easy to get cold very quickly.

Whether you’re using the doggy paddling pool or down at your local beach, consider the temperature of the water as well as the temperature and breeze when he gets out.

4. Always Use a Life Jacket

When teaching your puppy to swim for the first time, don’t take any risks. Even if you are there, put his life jacket on to make the whole situation completely safe and hazard free.

Only remove the life jacket once he’s been swimming for quite some time.

5. Don’t Leave The Paddling Pool Full

If you did a great job of building positive associations with the pool, he’ll want to dive in the water AT ALL TIMES.

Although this enthusiasm is great for swimming lessons, it’s also a potential hazard for when you aren’t there to supervise.

If your inexperienced puppy has a moment of madness and dives into the pool when you’re inside the house, you could have an emergency on your hands. To remain on the safe side, fence the paddling pool off, or remove the water each time.

Avoid Rivers & Lakes

Even if your adult Irish Setter is a competent swimmer, rivers and lakes should still be avoided. Rivers and lakes pose dangers that we might not be able to initially see.

Rivers can have hidden currents that are strong and hard to keep afloat in. Lakes, particularly still bodies of water, can be infested with different kinds of bacteria and parasites.

For these reasons, it’s advised to always avoid rivers and lakes…

What About Ocean Swimming?

When it comes to the ocean, it’s best to use your judgment. Some coasts are incredibly calm and the tides can change on a daily basis to suit swimming. Contrary to this, some coastlines will be inappropriate to swim in at all times… Please check your local lifeguard notices if you are unsure.


Thank you for reading!
Was this article helpful? Please let me know your thoughts! I am always happy to hear feedback!

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