Helping Your Dog Overcome His Fear of Water

Can your dog swim? If not, here are some tips to slowly introduce him/her to the concept.
Tips & Advice → Helping Your Dog Overcome His Fear of Water


Depending on where you live, Memorial Day can mean the beginning of pool openings and boating activities. Please remember that not all dogs can swim. Although most dogs will start to paddle if they accidentally fall into water, many breeds can't keep their heads above water.

Certain breeds (especially Brachycephalic dogs) are not known to be great swimmers. These include boxers, bull dogs, and pugs. Also, most dogs with large heads that are densely muscled can have problems in the water. Other dogs that are not known to be great swimmers are the Pekingese, Staffordshire bull terrier, Bassett hounds and Dachshunds.

Understand that there are exceptions in every breed, so if your dog knows how to swim, that's great! However, there are many dogs that do not like water and are afraid at the sight of a kiddie pool. Don't fret! Here's how to help your pup overcome his fear of water:

Consult a dog trainer

As silly as it may seem, many dog owners call Bark Busters dog trainers to help coach their dog to swim. We may start with a kiddie pool and then progress to a bigger, dog friendly pool. As important as getting in is how to get out safely! Most dogs get out from the point at which they get in.

Start slowly

Never throw your dog into the water by surprise or you may unwittingly give him a phobia of the water. Your dog may panic and never feel confident in the water if you do this. Instead, start by offering treats from the water's edge, luring your dog closer to the water (via a ramp so your dog doesn't have to enter the water suddenly) until he's ready to get his paws wet. In a kiddie pool, you can do this until your dog is happy to stand in a few inches of water, then you can add water at each subsequent session until the water is as deep as you need it to be.

Don't force it

Never push a dog into the water or drop them in. Chances are, your dog will panic and sink. You need to make the experience fun so water does not act like a 'trigger' in future encounters. Use treats and toys to lure your pet into the water. If your pet goes to the edge of the ramp but isn't ready to get in the water, try calling him into your arms or simply pick him up and bring him into the water with you. If he is tense, do not proceed. He may panic and scratch or bite to get away. If he is calm, walk into the water while keeping his head above the water and speak in a soothing voice to help keep him calm.

Use a floatation device

Lifejackets aren't just for people--they can keep your pet safe while he's finding his ‘sea paws.' Use a vet-approved life preserver made for dogs when you are going to be out in deep, open waters. You can get your dog used to wearing it while he's in the pool so he'll know how to move while wearing the life preserver.

Be sure to watch for signs of exhaustion. Some dogs will chase a ball or a Frisbee again and again until they nearly collapse. 'Fetching' is a little less exhausting on land because there is always a place to rest.

With a little planning, patience and forethought, you can help your dog swim without incident whether it be a pool, lake or river. Just remember if you are taking your dog into a lake, rinse him off to avoid ear mites, eye infections and insects which can imbed themselves into his fur.

Most of all, be safe!


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