How can you teach a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to swim safely in open water?

11 June 2024

Your Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller) is a natural swimmer. As a breed, they are known for their love of water and their strong swimming skills instilled from their original purpose: luring and retrieving waterfowl. However, this doesn't mean that your beloved pet automatically knows how to swim safely, particularly in open water. There are crucial techniques and safety measures that you, as the dog owner, must teach them.

Understanding Your Dog's Breed

Before jumping into the pool or open water, it's essential to understand your dog's breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) categorizes the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever as a "sporting breeds." Their history as waterfowl retrievers explains their natural affinity for water.

Tollers are known for their intelligence and eagerness to please, which makes them highly trainable. They are energetic and need regular physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. However, they also have a thick double coat, which can make them overheat in warm water or hot weather. That's why it's crucial to ensure they have plenty of fresh water to prevent dehydration and to cool down after swimming.

Training Basics

Your Toller might be a natural swimmer, but swimming in open water is a different ball game. The waves, currents, and depth may be new and frightening for your pet. Therefore, training should start early, preferably when your dog is still a puppy.

First, introduce your Toller to water. You can start with shallow waters, like a kiddie pool or a calm lake. Let your dog explore and get comfortable in the water. Remember that all dogs, even water-loving breeds, can be hesitant at first. Patience is vital during this process.

Begin teaching basic commands, such as 'come,' 'stay,' and 'leave it.' These commands will be beneficial for your dog's safety when swimming, especially in open water where there could potentially be hazards.

Safety Lessons

Safety should always be a priority when teaching your Toller to swim in open water. Life jackets are essential for all dogs, even those bred for water. A life jacket provides an extra layer of safety and can help your dog stay afloat, especially in rough waters.

Teach your pet how to get in and out of the water safely. This training includes finding the pool steps or the shore in a river or lake. Also, teach them to avoid dangerous areas, like undercurrents, riptides, and areas with heavy boat traffic.

Avoid throwing your pet into deep water abruptly. This action can create panic and develop a fear of water. Instead, gradually introduce them to deeper water, always staying by their side to provide reassurance.

Swimming Lessons

Once your Toller is comfortable in the water and has grasped the basic safety rules, you can start teaching them how to swim. Start in shallow water and gradually move to deeper areas. Use toys or treats to encourage them to swim. You can also get into the water with them to show them it's safe and fun.

As your dog becomes more confident in the water, start introducing more complex tasks, like fetching a toy from the water or swimming against mild currents. Always be there to supervise and ensure your pet's safety.

Wrap up with Dry Land Training

After each swimming session, make sure you dry your dog thoroughly to prevent hypothermia and other related health issues. It's also crucial to work on dry land exercises. Strengthen your dog's recall command, obedience, and overall fitness level. These training elements will significantly contribute to your pet's safety and enjoyment in the water.

Teaching your Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to swim safely in open water is a process that requires time, patience, and consistency. However, with the right approach and techniques, you can ensure that your pet is safe, confident, and enjoys their time in the water. Your reward will be the joy and satisfaction of seeing your beloved companion having fun while staying safe.

Remember, while teaching your Toller to swim can be a fun and rewarding experience, it's important to always prioritize their safety and wellbeing.

The Importance of a Life Jacket

Ensuring that your Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever sports a life jacket is an underrated yet crucial part of water safety. For swimming lessons or even a casual swim, a life jacket or a life vest enhances your pet's safety. Whether your dog is just learning how to swim or is already a seasoned swimmer, a life jacket provides an additional layer of protection.

A dog's life jacket serves two primary roles: buoyancy and visibility. Even though Tolling Retrievers are natural swimmers, they can tire, and waves or currents can be stronger than expected. The buoyancy provided by a life jacket can help them stay afloat and conserve energy. It also makes your dog more visible in the water, allowing you to keep an eye on them at all times.

Choosing the right life jacket for your dog is vital. It should be the right size, allowing your Toller to move freely without the jacket slipping off. It should also have a handle on the top, enabling you to quickly grab your dog if needed.

Even with a life jacket, never leave your dog unattended in the water. Always ensure you're within a safe distance to assist if needed.

Monitoring Health After Swimming

After your dog's swim, it's essential to take certain steps to ensure their health and happiness. Your Toller's thick double coat may retain water and cause them to get cold quickly, which can lead to hypothermia. Therefore, it's crucial to thoroughly dry your dog after each swimming session.

Check your pet for any signs of injury or discomfort after swimming. The open water can sometimes contain hazards such as sharp rocks or debris. Also, watch for signs of water intoxication, a potentially fatal condition that can occur if a dog ingests too much water. Symptoms include lethargy, bloating, vomiting, and loss of coordination.

It's also important to clean your dog's ears thoroughly as the moisture can lead to ear infections, especially in breeds like the Toller, known for their floppy ears.


Training your Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to swim safely in open water is about more than just teaching them to swim. It's about understanding their breed's unique traits, instilling essential safety lessons, using the right equipment such as life jackets, and taking care of their health after swimming.

Teaching your dog to swim is a process, but your patience and dedication will pay off when you see your Toller confidently enjoying the water. Keep in mind; training should be a gradual process that respects your dog's pace and comfort level.

As a pet owner, prioritizing your dog's safety in and out of the water is paramount. Remember, the goal isn't just to teach your dog to swim but to ensure they can do so safely and confidently.

As you embark on this journey with your pet, keep in mind the words of Roger Caras, "Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." Enjoy every moment of this special adventure with your Toller!