Summer is the time to get out with your dog for fun, socialization, and swimming! Not all Labradors love the water and that is likely from having a bad first experience at the lake or in the pool. You can show your dog that the water is a fun and safe place to cool off and relax. My tips will show you how to easily accustom your dog to enjoy swimming with you for a lifetime!
First experiences are critical! The proper terminology is behavioral imprint and what we mean is the first time the dog experiences something he is ‘imprinted’ with that first memory. If that first memory is pleasant he will repeat the behavior in the future with ease. If he was scared at the time or something bad happened to him, hesitation to repeat that behavior will be even greater the next time he is presented with that opportunity.
Second, set your dog up for success. Chose a slow-moving creek or quiet pond where you will be alone, or a lake large enough that you will have your own space. Lifejackets are not necessary but do add a sense of security for dogs used to wearing them by helping them float and by adding deep pressure sensation (ex. the anti-anxiety Thunder Shirt wrap). Use a long line of 15 feet and a harness so the lead stays behind the dog. You do not want your dog to become tangled and panicked! Chose his favorite floating toy to bring along.
Third, motivate your dog to enter the water, never ever force him. Even pulling on the leash towards the water will result in a not-so-positive first-time experience. Accept that the first trip to the water is most likely not going to end with him swimming laps and refusing to come out. Encourage your dog to move towards the water with happy talk, treats and play with his favorite toy. When your dog is readily approaching the water, you toss his toy along the shore so that he can grab it without going in.
Trainer’s Tip: Throw the toy parallel to the shore. Tossing the toy straight out creates a barrier (the water) whereas going parallel the dog maintains the security of being close to land.
Lastly, make sure your dog has confidence in you. Show him that you will never force, tug or pull him to the water. Build trust by tossing his toy only the distance he is willing to go in, increasing the distance very slowly over many different swimming trips. Never suggest or allow your dog to enter fast moving water. If you can, bring a friend and go to a swimming spot that you can both enjoy! Your dog is even more likely to want to swim if you are in there with him!
Make going home a breeze by bringing a few extra dog towels and allowing 30 minutes of drying time before leaving. If the dog is crated, even less mess in the car! Go, get out, and have an amazing summer with your best pal!
Katie Weibel, Master Dog Trainer. Providing training for companion, service and working dogs, sharing knowledge and expertise.