One of the biggest things dog owners dread is the day they find out their dog hates water. Aside from dogs hating water, dog owners sometimes have a harder time accepting the fact their dog isn’t going to be the water-dog they were dreaming for. Some owners become impatient and inadvertently instill a permanent fear in their pooch.
With some training and coaxing, you can turn any dog into an aquatic loving one by practicing good habits.
In my lifetime of owning dogs, I’ve had them all–the water loving ones and water hating ones. From puppies, to young adults, and even seniors, they’ve all learned to love water. I’ve also met dogs who were born and raised in shelters that took to the water with no training or proper introduction. And I’ve also met dogs of good stock run at the sight of water. Understand dogs are individuals with different tolerance levels. Even if there are traits passed along to make breeds good swimmers, it will not make up for a bad introduction to water.
Deep down, dogs just love to have fun! Dogs who are scared and confused about water don’t know any better, yet, but water is FUN. Knowing how to make a dog feel secure and confident in the water is the biggest secret to making them beg for their next swim.
Below is a list of things that can easily traumatize a dog and should be avoided. You almost have to put yourself in their situation–you wouldn’t want any of these things happening to you as an introduction to water, would you?
What NOT to do:
- Never toss your dog into a large body of water expecting them to swim miraculously
If you’re trying to find out if your dog can swim, tossing a dog into large body of water will only traumatize a dog. Not only can the impact stun the dog, there is a great chance of them inhaling water and or loosing air due to the impact.
- Never drag your dog into a large body of water expecting them to think it’s OK
Forcefully dragging your dog into a large body of water will not make your dog confident in the long run. Dogs learn to adapt to things at their own pace. Using excess force to push or pull your dog into the water will leave a lingering thought of struggle and distress every time your dog sees a large body of water.
- Never give your dog a bath with cold water using high powered nozzles (hose water)
Avoid bathing your dog with a high powered hose and or cold hose water. If your dog is shivering, that’s probably a good sign the water is too cold. Not all dogs are crazy for hose water, so for beginners, don’t introduce pressured water to dogs lacking confidence.
- Never expect your dog to swim in cold water or in cold weather
Some of the best times for dogs to learn to swim is in the warmer seasons of the year like spring and summer. If you’re not willing to take a dip in 40 degree weather then your dog definitely isn’t either. Use good judgement when playing in Mother Natures harsh weather conditions.
- Never use rough or fast moving water (creeks and streams) as a place for swimming lessons
If you’re taking your dog out for their first real encounter with water, then avoid moving water at all costs. Swimming in a creek or stream requires a lot of confidence and conditioning. The pull of underwater currents can scare your dog, even you, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Swimming in moving water also requires a great deal of conditioning. Just because you own an aquatic-loving breed, respect the fact that dogs are individuals because I’ve seen the best of them sink. Always use a dog life jacket when swimming in moving water.
- Never expect your dog to be a natural born swimmer
People sometimes think dogs can perform the impossible like leap over walls, chase down rabbits, and swim on their first try… because they’re a sporting dog? Be prepared with the precautionary thought that your dog will sink like a rock and you’ll have to go in for them. Though some dogs are natural born swimmers–Labradors and Newfoundlands–I’ve met some that never learned to like water, let alone swim. Aquatic-loving breeds are equipped with the tools to powerboat through water (big webbed feet and powerful shoulders), but can and may need some tuning if they don’t float right away.
- Don’t make a big deal out of it–be there for them
Dogs feed off of our energy. They know when we’re sad. They know when we’re happy. But they don’t know what to make of our high pitched laughs. When dogs are learning the quirks of swimming or learning to tolerate water, you need to be encouraging and praising–not laughing at the top of your lungs taking pictures from a distance. This does nothing for a dog but put them in an awkward situation they won’t want to be in any time soon.
If you own a dog who is having a hard time accepting water, there are a few things you can do to train them. The reason I say, “train,” is because they require patience. Lots of patience. You should never expect your dog to love water the first day of implementing these methods. Dogs are individuals, so you need to be willing to work with them until they are 100% confident and comfortable.
Practice good habits
- Always make bath time fun and memorable
The bread and butter of getting a dog to like water is bath time! When your dog has a hard time accepting water, it’s important to make bath time fun and memorable. This is an instance where water and dog must meet. So be sure bath time becomes a happy pastime for you and your dog. Use warm water on a low pressure setting if bathing indoors. If bathing outdoors, for beginners, use 5g buckets with warm water and a cup to pour over your dog. Use treats and lots of praise so your dog knows they are doing a fantastic job and that water leads to extra love and treats.
- Get in the water with them
Dogs that do everything in confidence, have had the pleasure of socially adapting to life due to good parenting and or just being the extroverts that they are. Dogs can easily get over their fears if we stand in the way of them and show them, physically, that it’s OK to proceed because, “look, I’m fine, so will you.” Dogs trust us, but only if we lead.
- Always make jumping and splashing in a body of water fun
If you don’t have the luxury of owning a swimming pool, one of the best ways to get in the water with your dog is with a kiddie pool. Kiddie pools are inexpensive (around $9) and are perfect for coaxing dogs into water. You can start off by filling these small pools ankle high, tossing in a few toys, and starting a good ol’ game of fetch. Place your dog in the kiddie pool and sit/play with them–praise them, play with them, show them a good ol’ time. With time, increase the water level until your dog isn’t afraid to make a splash in the kiddie pool on their own.
- Use a buddy system to help build confidence
One of the best ways for dogs to feel confident and comfortable around water is by using a seasoned water-loving dog. What I mean by that is a dog or dogs that have no problem with swimming or splashing around in water. Allowing your dog to observe their body language will help your dog engage in the water activity without thinking too much. They’ll see there is nothing to fear because all they see are tails wagging and dogs having a fur-load of fun.
- Always think safety.
Safety for your dog should always be first priority when playing in water. Us humans, sometimes think our dogs have superhero powers because they’re the descendants of wolves. We must understand that they too can get bloat, muscle cramps, and fatigue during physical exercise. So, with that being said, always use a dog life jacket if swimming in large bodies of water. Experienced or not, dog life jackets help keep the mind focused on the fun parts of being outdoors. Always keep in mind that there is no better alternative for safety than adult supervision.