It’s only natural to wonder whether Saint Bernards can swim, given their sheer size and thick coat of fur. While navigating through the water is going to be more challenging for this breed, is it actually possible for them to go swimming? Safety is paramount so this is something you will want to know ahead of time. So, I decided to do some research around this breed’s capabilities in the water. I’ll be sharing with you what I found here below.
So, can Saint Bernards Swim? Saint Bernards can swim, albeit not very well. Especially in deeper bodies of water. While they do generally enjoy going in water, they do not have the stamina to stay upright and afloat for very long. Therefore, swimming should always be done in shallow waters, where games of fetch and play are preferable.
Dogs fit into three categories when it comes to swimming. Those that know how to swim naturally, those that can be taught how to swim, and then those that will never be able to swim unless they are provided with a swimming aid, such as a life jacket.
Even in breeds that fall into the latter category, most dogs love water and are usually enthusiastic about getting in it. ‘Doggie’ paddle is often used if the water is deep enough for those who instinctively know how to swim.
For those that do not, you can considered it survival swimming; where they thrash at the water in an attempt to remain afloat.
For Saint Bernards, they do appear to be quite capable at swimming; although a slow introduction to water and training are beneficial.
Let us now take a closer look at the swimming capabilities of the larger, Saint Bernard breed along with some recommendations and best practices if you were to take them for a swim.
Are Saint Bernards Good Swimmers?
Dogs that are best at swimming come from an ancestry and history of spending a lot of time in the water, they are therefore more motivated to do so and even have developed in such a way that supports this activity.
For example, they have strong limbs (especially legs), suitably sized bodies and semi-waterproof coats. Some dogs even have slightly webbed feet! These attributes enable them to paddle more effectively, and hold themselves above water for a prolonged period of time.
Golden Retrievers, Labradors and the Newfoundland are all such examples.
Saint Bernards on the other hand, are just not one of these breeds. In fact, you’ll never see the Saint Bernard added to the list of breeds born to swim by the American Kernal Club (AKC).
Instead, they were originally bred for to support mountain rescues and farming. So while they are strong, they do not have as much experience and natural knowledge of water.
Plus the fact, they can weigh up to 82kg, which can become heavier as water saturates their thick coat. That’s a lot of weight to keep afloat.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Saint Bernards therefore have their work cut out in water.
Surprisingly, they can swim and do so relatively well in shallow waters. On the edge of lakes and in the shallow areas of a calm sea are appropriate for this breed.
Due to their sheet physical size, keeping themselves afloat for any length of time is a challenge. So while they can swim, and do so quite well, they cannot really do so for long. They tire and burn through their energy very fast.
So while its not technically the movement pattern they are unable to replicate, its more the stamina aspect that holds them back.
Do Saint Bernards Like To Swim?
Most Saint Bernards love the water. This is especially true of very shallow bodies, such as streams and large puddles.
Saint Bernards will routinely run through or get in shallow bodies of water to play. They often will do so on their own accord.
For larger, deeper bodies of water – such as lakes, Saint Bernards tend to differ in their enthusiasm.
Some Saint Bernards like and will attempt to swim in deeper waters; whereas others are not as confident and may not get in or go out as far. It does depend on the dog, their experience and their prior exposure to water.
For those that are weary around water, it does make sense given the potential challenge it poses.
Some owners even report that a primal fear and instinct kicks in when they enter water that is deeper than their chest.
Those that do tend to swim have often been introduced to water while younger, and have learned to be more confident in water.
So, it is fair to say that for the most part, an owner has the ability to teach or train their Saint Bernard to be more confident or open to entering and swimming in water.
That being said, owners should respect and acknowledge their dogs own preferences. Its important to learn to recognize their body language and respond accordingly.
So, if you know that your Saint Bernard is more daring and curious, you can look to take them to a shallow lake.
However, if you notice an aversion to water in general, or any signs of fear around a body of water, its probably best you do not let them get in.
These are not the type of dogs that are easily supported or rescued!
Nonetheless, if your dog does get in the water you do need to monitor them and be nearby.
As previously mentioned, they cannot swim for long so it is important they are aware of how to get out and they do not go to far. You may need to support them in this way.
Taking Your Saint Bernard Swimming
Chances are, if you adopted a Saint Bernard, you were probably not thinking about take them swimming all too regularly.
That being said, this does not mean that swimming is totally off the cards for you and your dog. It can be a nice pastime and your Saint Bernard can enjoy it given the right circumstances and safety precautions.
Regardless of your Saint Bernards aptitude for swimming, ensuring they remain safe at all times is a must. This is especially true in breeds that would be a challenge to rescue! Conditions can change and it can be impossible to tell where your dog will go or how much energy they have left.
Dog Life Jackets come strongly recommended.
But, due to their sheer size, finding a life jacket can prove a challenge. Saint Bernards have an average neck size of 32″ and an average chest size of 30″.
Thankfully, the XL Kurgo Safety Jacket available on Amazon, was designed for larger dogs – primarily giant breeds.
Getting a dog life jacket will allow you to be more adventurous with where you go. You can let your dog into the water with the comfort of knowing they can remain afloat, even if they were to go out too far. Plus, your dog can build their confidence making them more open to swimming in water in the future.
It also comes advised to expose your dog to water regularly, while they are still a puppy. Familiarizing them with water from a young age will help them to be more self-assured around bodies of water and overcome any natural instinctive fear.
When doing so, remember that gradual desensitization is essential. You should never put your puppy/ or dog, into deep waters to begin with as this can make them anxious and more fearful long-term.
Here are some other considerations when taking your Saint Bernard swimming:
Build Your Saint Bernards Confidence
Introducing your dog to water in a safe, relaxed and fun environment and context is a good place to start.
Whether this is a kiddie pool in your backyard, or a calm beach on a day that the waves are gentle, or a shallow lake.
You may have to provide incentives to get them to go in. Other dogs may be inclined to go in on their own accord.
If you notice that your Saint Bernard is not as forthright, then sometimes getting into the water first or throwing in toy can be enough to get them in.
Ultimately, you want to start slowly and get them used to the feel of water and different levels of depth. It should be somewhere where they can find a comfortable depth, for them.
The sea tends to work quite well as the waves can help push them back to shore, if, they were to go out too far.
Being around your Saint Bernard when in water is crucial at all times, you need to monitor and support them if required.
If you notice your dog getting stressed or anxious, its best to retreat back to land.
Be consistent, and introduce them to new and more challenging bodies of water over time. By staying close to your dog they will know you are there for them which will provide some additional confidence.
Appropriate Depth Of Water
With the Saint Bernard breed, you will always need to be careful with the depth of water and how far they venture out.
This is true even in a lake.
As previously mentioned, Saint Bernards will burn through their energy quickly and will struggle to keep afloat after they do so.
Some dogs will regulate their energy and look to come out of the water when they feel they need to. However, this may or may not be possible depending on where they are.
So, be sure to take them to appropriate depths of water, especially in the beginning.
Some Saint Bernards might never confidently get in deeper waters, and that is fine. They should never be forced.
Tips For Swimming With Your Saint Bernard
- Introduce your Saint Bernard to water over time, preferably from a young age.
- Never leave your Saint Bernard unattended in or around a body of water. Watch over them and help direct them or support them if and when required.
- Be patient and let your dog build their confidence.
- Keep swimming periods short and never let your dog be in the water at the end of a long day.
- Never Exercise before whether this be a long walk or even a gentle stroll; Saint Bernards will need to have all the energy they can to swim safely.
- Never force your Saint Bernard into any body of water, especially if are not confident or familiar of water.
- Use treats and toys to give incentive to enter the water.
- Get in the water yourself to give your dog more confidence.
- Make it fun to reduce your dogs anxiety levels and enjoy the experience. This will help build confidence.
- Routinely praise and acknowledge the bravery of your Saint Bernard.
- Strap on a Life Jacket to keep your dog safe at all times. Ensure you put it on them long before the water to give them a chance to get comfortable in how it feels on their body.
Despite their large size, Saint Bernards are actually quite capable when it comes to swimming. Most dogs in this breed also tend to enjoy doing so.
However, they do naturally tire quickly in the water so sessions should be kept short and the water should never be too deep.
Its also important to note that not all Saint Bernards will be fond of water, or even specific bodies of water. These are often those who have not had much experience and do not have the confidence.
Exposure from a young age is important to help your dog become familiar, and learn to overcome their primal and instinctual fear.
For this reason, its imperative that you introduce a dog to water over time. Teach them how to navigate the water and keep it sage at all times.
Ultimately, taking your Saint Bernard is possible. They may not fly through the water or be as capable as a Newfoundland, but they can learn to swim in a lake. This can be great when it is hot and in the summer seasons.
Equally, swimming offers a great amount of exercise and mental stimulation for a dog. Its gentle on the joints and can help strengthen the muscles in the legs. So it is worth your while to actively promote in your dog.
But just remember to be patient, stay close at all times, and try to have some fun in the process.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.