Introducing your Pup to Water

How to make sure your Pup learns to love the water:

ADA's first swim


Introducing your pup to water is one of the easiest things to do with a dog.  That is if it is done properly.  I have introduced dogs to water since I was twelve or so.  I wish I had the knowledge then that I have now. When I was a kid, the belief was, if it was a hunting dog, it could swim automatically. My parents bought for me a pure-bred Chesapeake Bay Retriever when I was 14. I had lost a wonderful Lab-Weimaraner “Coco” to cancer the year before. She could swim like an Otter. So I expected the new pup to do likewise.

Unfortunately, the new pup didn’t work out so well.  She would panic if her rear legs didn’t touch the bottom. This dog wasn’t introduced to deep water until well after 6 Mo’s of age.  Her parents were both excellent water dogs.  So, looking back I can be pretty sure that her introduction to water was bungled, due to overconfidence and ignorance in training knowledge.

I believe that pups should be introduced to water at the earliest possible age.  However, you will have to use common sense if you live in a cold winter area, and your pup is young.    8-week-old puppies can’t handle cold water.      If the pup is young when the season has brought very cold water, wait until there is a few warm days to warm the water.  I prefer introducing water as early as possible but that isn’t always pragmatic.

I wouldn’t expect a very young pup to start swimming right away.  The idea is to let the puppy get comfortable wading around in the water.  Let it have some fun and make some positive associations with being in water.  Don’t push the pup to go into deeper water.  If it is a real young pup say 8 to 10 weeks that could frighten it.  You don’t want any negative associations to be formed.

I should mention that you will need to find a lake or a pond with a shallow area that goes out at least three feet.   Farther than three feet before the water starts getting deep is even better.

Shed your shoes and wade out into the water with the pup.   Encourage the puppy with a cheerful voice.   We’re having fun! If the pup is a little, older and larger, wade out into slightly deeper water.  I like to see the pup wade around in water deep enough that it almost covers it’s back.  Once it is comfortable and has had some fun for a while we will quit.

The next time out, take a small throw dummy.  When the pup had gotten used to the water again and has had some fun, I will toss the dummy out a short distance.  I’m back out in the water at this stage.   The Pups I have worked with lately have all went for the dummy.   This makes things a lot easier.  You can use the retrieve instinct to encourage the Pups to start swimming.

What often happens is the pup will go after the dummy. Swim like it’s no big deal, have trouble getting the dummy, then decide it’s scary.   Not to worry.  Encourage the pup and if it decides it’s had enough, don’t push it.   It has already formed positive associations with water so be patient.

I usually wait a few days and go back to the water with the pup and the dummy and go through the process again.   If you have a dog that loves the water already, bring it along.  It can serve as your pups’ role model.  Throw the older dog the dummy a few times with the pup watching.  It won’t be long, and the pup will be convinced it can swim.

If you don’t have an older dog, just ease the pup into deeper water when it is showing confidence again.  It usually takes a younger pup a while to get the coordination down for smooth swimming.  I don’t push my dogs to go into deep water until the swim strokes smooth out.

Rango wasn’t comfortable with swimming until he was 9 or 10 mo’s old.    Now he loves it so much he will swim around for up to 11 minutes straight, if I let him.   Since we live in Iowa, winter and cold water interrupted my efforts to get him going.  So patience is important as not every pup will take to water the same.   Doree was only three months old when she became very comfortable in the water.  At five months she was making 20-yard water retrieves in deep water.

Sometimes you just have to back off and let the pup mature some.  Then try to get it swimming in deeper water.  Always be patient and encouraging.  Let the pup have fun in the water.   If things aren’t going well and you’re getting frustrated call it a day.  Don’t ever let negative associations form during a trip to the lake.   Make as many trips to the lake as necessary.

If you follow this advice, I’m confident your pup will form a lifelong love of the water.