Some dogs love jumping into the pool, some even seem to enjoy their baths. But some dogs fear any type of water, even to the point of anxiety at the water bowl. Help such dogs get over their fear by making water fun, not scary. It’ll take lots of one-on-one practice, but eventually they’ll be bathing or swimming without hesitation.
Get Yourself Wet
To start, sit next to the pool or tub with your pooch. Keep a handful of treats nearby. Praise her, pet her and let her sniff those smelly goodies. Dip your hand in the water, pull it out and let her sniff it while petting her with your dry hand. If she seems frightened, go ahead and give her a treat so she starts associating the experience with something happy. When she’s calm, get your hand wet again and pet her with your wet hand. It might take several short sessions over several weeks, but your goal is to get her to go near the water source.
Give Her a Sponge Bath
After you get your fur ball used to going near the water, start giving her sponge baths. Put her next to the bathtub or place a basin of lukewarm water near her, and let her sniff it. Dip the sponge into the water, being careful not to make a splash or too much noise. Show your four-legged chum the wet sponge by putting it down in front of her. You can wash your arms and hands with the wet sponge to show her it isn’t scary. The plan is to eventually wash her down with the wet sponge, although you’ll need to work gradually. It may take a few sessions to work up to her allowing you to touch her with the sponge. Of course you can always bribe her with treats along the way as well.
All Paws In
Add just a few inches of water to your tub, or take your pup out to the steps of your pool. Put your feet in, splash lightly and speak to her in upbeat tones. Toss a treat or two in the water or even a ball, if she likes toys. When she starts showing interest in the water, hold a treat out in front of her so she has to put a paw in the water to get it. If she’s smaller, you might want to gently place her into the shallow water to prevent falling. Continue praising her and offering rewards. You want her to know that her progress is making you happy.
Making the Plunge
If the bath is your challenge, after you’ve already spent time introducing her to water, fill up the tub a little, sit on the edge and bring her in. Fill up a cup with the bath water and carefully pour it over her legs. If she’s frightened, that might be as far as you’ll get for the day. The next time, try pouring water a little higher, like over her chest. Work your way up to bathing her entire body. Then, by the time you get her outdoors to swim, if that’s your plan, she shouldn’t be too scared of the water. Get in with her toy, show her how exciting the water is and encourage her to dip her paws in. Before long, she’ll be swimming alongside you.
By Melodie Anne
The Humane Society of the United States: Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training
PetWave: Dog Fear of Water
PetMD: Buddy System: How to Teach Your Dog to Swim
Today: Of Pooches and Pools: Teaching Your Dog to Swim
About the Author
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.