Will my dog ever swim?
August 30, 2013 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever changed a non-swimming dog into one who likes to swim?

My cattle dog, about 1-2 years old, our dog for about 6 months, had little interest in swimming. On one of the hottest days of the summer I carried her into the pond and she swam about 6 feet to shore and refused to even go near the pond again. Is there any hope to change her mind? Did I do exactly the wrong thing? It isn't a huge deal but she is a fetching machine and in the heat of the summer it would be nice to combine it with swimming to prevent over heating.
posted by InkaLomax to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Best answer: My cattle dog mix Judah didn't like to swim for the first couple years of his life. Terrified of water, even. I tried the pick-him-up-and-take-him-in approach too, but with no success.

Ultimately it's best to let your dog decide on his own that he likes water. My wife and I found a toy he really liked, then took it to a place where very calm water was accessible and threw it in just far enough away from the shore that he couldn't reach it. He strained mightily at first to avoid going in the water, but eventually got frustrated and put a paw in so he reach far enough to grab his toy in his mouth. We threw it out incrementally farther until one day he was eventually swimming to get it. Now he jumps in water just for the fun of it, toy or no toy.

That's the thing though - patience. Don't rush the process, even if it takes months. It took about two months of weekly 'swimming lessons' for us - YMMV.

Good luck, and have fun! Oh, and your dog is incredibly cute, BTW.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

My Boston Terrier only started to go in the water voluntarily at the age of two and half after befriending a Labrador puppy. We think the puppy "taught" him how to enjoy the water. He's not exactly a water dog, but he likes to get in and splash around now.
posted by greasy_skillet at 11:24 AM on August 30, 2013

I second the patient approach using toys that your dog loves or standing in the water yourself with treats. Use a SUPER EXCITED voice and say *GOOD DOG! WHAT A BRAVE DOG! Isnt swimming fun?! * or something similar after each time your dog gets in. The happier and more excited you sound the more the dog will think of water as a super fun game. Make sure you do your lessons in a place were the shore is gently sloped allowing easy in and easy out and that allows your dog to see the bottom. I am teaching my Pyrenees this summer and that what has helped us most (he's still only in up to his elbows but he likes it).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:28 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Jack Russell Terrier had no interest in getting wet. Then my son visited. The dog loves my son and wants to be next to him at all times, so my son kept taking the dog into the water, and the dog learned to swim competently. The dog loves to play fetch in a typically terrier obsessive way. Now when I go swimming in the lake, I bring a toy, throw it out into the lake and the dog fetches. Repeat. Often, when I stop playing the game, he will decide to swim out to me, though it gets hilarious, as he swims towards me, then turns back to shore, then swims towards me a bit more, etc. Because swimming isn't his best sport, I put a swim vest on him for safety.

I would love to train him to jump off a dock into the water (as seen on Letterman), but there's no amount of SUPER EXCITED GOOD DOG! WHAT A BRAVE DOG! combined with FETCHING THE TOY IS MY FAVORITE THING! THROW IT AGAIN! will persuade him to do this, so our odds of getting on Letterman are still slender, although he'd probably do it for my son.
posted by Mom at 12:10 PM on August 30, 2013

Sorry but I'll be the debbie downer: My dog is a 6 year old lab mix with webbed paws. She loves playing in water (ever since she was a puppy) but hates to swim. We tried toys, we tried using doggy life vests, we even went nuclear and I stored cheese in a bag in my bikini top to give to her to get her to swim to me, we used excited/encouraging voices, other doggie friends... all were no go's and we've been trying for years in pools, oceans, ponds, streams, lakes, and deep puddles. We have concluded that our dog is just a precious little flower who doesn't want to get her hair wet. Your dog is plenty young so maybe the ideas above will work but perhaps swimming may not be your dog's thing. I'll keep my fingers crossed for ya'.
posted by adorap0621 at 12:18 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have one crazyswimmingdog (Kenda) and one non-swimming dog (Maeby). Kenda slowly grew to enjoy the water. She always liked stomping around in creeks so I encouraged her and got in the creeks with her and she figured out swimming and voila! Now I can't keep her out of the water. She even enjoys baths!

Maeby can swim but does not enjoy it (the day I rescued her, lost in the woods, she had to swim a biggish creek two or three times to come with me.) She'll stomp around the shallows like Godzilla in Tokyo all day long. If I'm in the water with Kenda, Maeby will bark at us from the shore. Once in a while she will, with apparent disgust, join us in the water, paddle around for a few minutes then go back to barking from the shore. I hope that she will grow to enjoy swimming like Kenda did but don't know yet if she will. I've only had Maeby since January.

Ultimately, you can encourage your dog to go in and play in water but you can't make her enjoy swimming. I absolutely believe that carrying or throwing your dog into water is the wrong approach. Even Kenda, who loves the lake more than life itself, got wrathfully pissed off the one time I threw her in. Patience, toys, praise and treats is the ONLY way this will ever work.
posted by workerant at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2013

My dog did not like the water until we took him to visit my parents, who had a lab. When he saw the lab swimming in the pond, and fetching toys in the pond, he suddenly got the urge. He was never good at it... He craned his neck way above the surface, and just tucked up his back legs like they were useless. He definitely didnt look at home in the water like the lab. But he loved it, and from then on he wanted to swim any time he saw water.
posted by Kriesa at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2013

Yes, but it needs to be all positive and not too much from here on out. My suggestion would be, if possible, to take your dog to a dog park which has water, and when your dog has gotten an eyeful of all the other canines racing out to get toys and swimming back, toss her favorite toy just a little ways, maybe to ankle length. Reward for getting in that water! Very gradually increase the distance you toss the toy. Don't again take your dog into water by carrying her -- that is pretty scary.

Our lab mix got pretty happy about getting into water to retrieve her favorite stick when we used this approach. She was never a total Water Animal -- she'd not swim too far out, didn't like water on colder days, and tended to want to do something else, like sit on my foot, after 5 or 6 retrieves. But she did like it in the end. Just go slow and positive.
posted by bearwife at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2013

Our 9 year old mutt of unknown heritage, but which has some behavioral and physical characteristics of herding dogs, was afraid of everything when we got her. Is much better adjusted as a result of my wife's work with her. One thing we've pretty much given up on though is getting her to swim voluntarily. She is happy to romp in the water on her own, she'll stick her face in to pluck something out, she'll even wade in to pretty deep, but as soon as she starts to feel buoyant, she retreats. She's generally very eager to please and loves learning new things. We tried enticing her, ignoring her while we waded out into deeper water, we even tried making her swim, figuring that perhaps if she realized she could do it, we could work on the fear. Nothing has really worked. She's a strong swimmer when she has to do it, but DOES NOT LIKE.

Best of luck. I'd suggest putting aside the idea of swimming and seeing instead if you can get her to willingly romp around in the water. Just immersing their limbs and splashing water onto their undercarriage can cool them off quite a bit.
posted by Good Brain at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2013

Yes! My own Cattle Dog mix (who looks a lot like yours!) liked splashing in water and puddles but not swimming until he was about a year and a half. We got him used to the water bit by bit and let him go at his own pace. He was nervous about the the ocean until he saw that waves didn't hurt me and that he could venture in with me. He learned to enjoy ponds by swimming after balls I threw for him. He's seven now and loves swimming, though he still dislikes bodies of water where he can see the bottom (pools, shallow ponds, etc.) for whatever reason. Your dog may never learn to love it, but based on my dog's experience, maybe she just needs to see more evidence that water won't hurt her.
posted by pineappleheart at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2013

Our dog didn't even like to get his paws wet until we started taking him to a lakeside dog park and he realized that Hey, those other dogs are having fun! He's still not a huge swimmer, but happy to wade around belly-deep, which cools him off enough.
posted by bunji at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2013

Swimming or in the water? Water is fairly easy and swimming is possible.

Don't make a big deal and don't expect much progress on any given day. Just baby steps. Start by walking at the edge, in the edge a bit, and just let your dog slowly and gradually go into water. And let your dog see you relaxing in deeper water: dog has barely got paws in the water, you are happily waking around in knee-deep water. Dog eventually joins you. Next time, you try mid-thigh water, and so on.

This is easiest if you have a gradual drop-off and a firm bottom. If you are working with a muddy shore that has a steep drop-off, you'll need to finesse.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:08 AM on August 31, 2013

My pit bull (not know for being water dogs) was afraid of water at first. We put her in a kiddy pool, and she freaked out when the water ripped around her and wouldn't move. Same thing happened when we took her to a lake. Got her to stand in the water, wouldn't move. Then another dog came along, its owner threw its ball and it went after it. As soon as my dog saw another dog swimming it's like something clicked in her head "Hey, I can swim!" So don't underestimate the power of modeling as a teaching tool. Now she loves water retrieving more than anything.
posted by catatethebird at 9:44 AM on September 1, 2013

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