So you thought your dog would love the water. You had visions of wave frolicking, dock diving, and shore exploring—and yet your dog couldn’t seem any less interested in the water if they tried.
In fact, she looks a little scared around the water, which doesn’t fare well for your plans for beach days, canoe trips, and boating adventures. You might not be able to convert your dog into a swimaholic, but there are a few things you can do to make her feel more comfortable around the water:
Water = Fun
Water is fun. Make this your mantra for teaching your dog to love the water. Dogs inherently like fun (so do people!), so make sure they associate water with fun, carefree times—and not with stress.
Sink or Swim: Just Say No
If a dog doesn’t take to the water right away, some people think the best thing to do is to just carry her out into deep water—or worse, toss her into the water. Remember what we said about water being fun? Forcing your dog out of her comfort zone will leave her stressed out and traumatized, and will probably make her hate the water even more than she already did. Don’t do it.
If your dog is intimidated by the water, take her somewhere a little less daunting. Think a still lake or pond with easy ingress and egress and steady footing, or a mellow stream. Avoid rushing water and big, noisy waves when you’re just getting started.
Mind the Temperature
Sure, some dogs will jump right into the lake on the coldest day in the middle of winter. But if your pup isn’t a water dog, don’t force her into uncomfortable temperatures. If the water or the air is too cold for you to go for a swim, then it’s probably too cold for your dog, too.
One Step at a Time
Getting your pup to feel comfortable about the water is a game of patience. If your dog has had a traumatic past around water-related activities, it could take even longer. Slow and steady wins the race—don’t rush things.
Some dogs take to the water naturally, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll have to train her. When you trained your dog to sit or stay, think about whether you laughed, shrieked, and took photos the whole time—or if you used a calm voice, lots of happy praise, and repetitive tactics. Your dog is reading you for cues on how to react, so don’t abandon your usual training techniques.
Read Your Dog
Just as your dog is reading you, you need to read her, too. Understanding how she is feeling will help you figure out whether to keep going or to back off, whether you should give her another challenge or call it a day. You know your dog best, so look for the usual cues, like a wagging tail for a happy dog, or slicked back ears for an anxious dog. Respect whatever your dog is feeling.
Lead by Example
Grab your swimsuit: it’s time to get wet. Seeing you comfortable in the water might make your dog more amenable to the idea of getting in herself. Just remember to keep your cool: it’s too soon for splashing and yelling around.