It’s one of the biggest fears any dog owner has: their dog will be afraid of water, or will refuse to dip his paws into any lake, pool, or puddle. Most of us have been there. Before we got our dogs, we’d go to the beach, see a happy couple tossing a ball into the ocean, their dog happily running after it, bringing it back, and waiting for more.
That’ll be me someday, you said to yourself.
And then reality set it: you got your dog, you went to the beach, you brought your ball, you gave it a toss, and your dog didn’t move a muscle. No, scratch that. He did crane his neck toward you, cocked his head, and basically said, “You’re kidding, right?”
This isn’t happening, you say to yourself. This can’t be true. Is my dog afraid of water? Are my dreams crashing down around me like the waves that Fido’s too scared to go near?
Having a dog that loves water the moment he first comes near it is a crap shoot. You’re just as likely to have a dog who prefers to lather on the sunblock and sit on the beach as you are to have a dog ready to strap on fins, goggles and a snorkel.
But just because your dog shows signs of water resistance at the start, doesn’t mean he’ll be a “heck no to H2O” kind of canine for the rest of his life. You can encourage him to be more open minded to water with a few clever tricks.
No matter what, your dog wants to have fun
Two things are guaranteed with your dog: he wants to eat, and he wants to have fun. If your dog seems apprehensive about the water, he just doesn’t quite understand how fun the water could be. As his owner, you have the ability to show him how much fun he could have; but there’s a fine line. If you’re too aggressive with your approach, you’ll end up with a dog who’s traumatized by water and will never set foot in a puddle ever again.
The key is to find this balance.
One of the easiest ways to find this balance is to determine what not to do. This is a pretty easy list to come up with; just think of all the things you’d never want done to you. This list includes:
- Don’t expose your dog to freezing cold waters and think he’ll be okay with it. Do you like it? No. Neither will your dog. Wait until the water’s warmed up before you introduce him.
- Don’t toss him in the water and think his instinct will carry him the way. His instinct will carry him back to shore – where he’ll stay for the rest of his days. No one wants to be introduced to water by getting tossed into it.
- Don’t force your dog into the water. If he’s dug his heels in and refused to go in, don’t fight it. You have to work with him and introduce him to the water when he’s more balanced.
- Don’t take him to a river. Don’t take him to choppy waters, either. You want his first experience to be with calm waters.
- Don’t give him traumatic baths. Ah, here’s one we don’t connect to his fear of water, but if we force our dogs into the bathtub, then spray him down with a high-powered nozzle, chances are he’s going to get stressed out and connect that experience to any other water experience.
So, what can you do?
- For starters, make bath time fun. Use low-pressured water, and keep it warm. Use treats sparingly to build a healthy relationship between your dog and getting wet.
- Introduce your dog to a kiddie pool. You can’t expect them to walk before they crawl, right? A kiddie pool is safe – your dog can always touch the bottom. Plus, you can have complete control over the temperature of the water.
- Be a part of the fun. Some dog owners want their dogs to jump in the water all by themselves. Good luck! If you want your dog to be a water dog, then you have to be a water person.
Listen, not every dog is going to be a DockDog, and you will find some dogs who just can’t stand water (typically smaller breed dogs). But the majority of dogs who are averse to water just haven’t been properly introduced yet. Be patient and put yourself in their shoes … paws. You as a human can instill reason into a situation; they just have their instincts. If they don’t know anything about water, or have had nothing but traumatic experiences with water in the past, how can we expect them to be the next Michael Phelps?