Dear Pet Column, last winter I adopted a young male dog. I know little of his history but he has quickly adapted to our family and does well during most of our outdoor activities. However, he appears to be fearful of water and as I love fishing I am wondering whether I should just toss him in the water to get him past his apprehension?
Hmmm, would you like to be tossed from an airplane to get over your “apprehension” of heights? Similarly, not to toss is certainly the best means of introducing your dog to water. That being clear, I will offer you some more gentle alternatives that will enhance the trust between you and your dog rather than drown it.
Dogs have a natural tendency (a.k.a. survival instinct) to avoid the unknown and the threatening. Thus, to help your dog work through any fear reaction you should act as you would with a child exploring a new environment – gently with encouragement. Letting your dog overcome its fears at his/her own pace rather than attempted force will typically yield the best results. Submerging a dog against its will can often times increase the dog’s aversion to water, just as you may tend to avoid airplanes after being tossed from one.
You can also think of it like this…we dogs like to maintain a relatively singular focus, thus, we aren’t often simultaneously happy and fearful. One emotion has to make room for another, therefore, distracting a dog’s attention from fear to fun is a very effective way of getting that dog to accept foreign elements such as running water. For example, playing with sticks and balls at the edge of the water is good trickery. Tossing the object a bit further into the water each time while providing ample praise and encouragement can rapidly get a pooch past fear and into play mode.
For dogs that are not fetchers and turn their nose up at a ball or stick, try walking into the water yourself and playfully calling your dog – rather than teetering on the edge keeping your feet dry and asking your dog to go in. Why should your dog go where you, its leader, fears to tread? (we aren’t stupid you know…)
Games of chase on the water’s edge and rewards of yummy treats while playing in the water are other good ideas A final suggestion is to take your dog out with your friend’s and their dogs who are water lovers. This activity can be used to model the behavior you would like your dog to mimic. I happen to love water so you may think about adopting me and I can be your dog’s sibling and teach him to really appreciate water.
So, with any kind of learning, keep it fun and rewarding and you should succeed. I should know as I am learning all sorts of fun new things here at Second Chance Humane Society. My name is Kayli and I am a beautiful 6 month young black lab. I need a good outlet, like swimming and playing fetch, to channel my abundance of energy. I love playing with other dogs and am very good natured and eager to please so I am picking up basic training very quickly. Come meet me today!