Teaching Reluctant Dogs to Love Swimming (or Anything, Really)

IMG_4800Neither of my dogs loved water at first. In fact they both hated it. My Taiwanese street dog wouldn’t even step onto the darker patch of concrete on the sidewalk when I first picked her up from the YVR airport, its obvious dampness was not going to press against her immaculate paws.

My low-content wolf mutt puppy would wade into puddles and shallows half-heartedly, but would refuse to take the plunge in a deeper situation when the bottom disappeared. He was the pup sitting in a puddle crying his heart out because you were swimming ten feet away.

You might think it would be impossible to get two dogs such as these happily into the water, I sure thought it would be. It’s taken almost 6 years to get my Formosan Mountain Dog street mutt to the point where she will casually swim across a fast moving river just to check out possible bunny or chipmunk infestations on the other side.

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Two watery pooches

I realize now I had the wrong attitude towards teaching my dogs to accept the water without fear.

Cooing and baby talk wasn’t effective and even turned them further off of it. Suspicious dogs will never fall for these kinds of tactics. The trick: wait until a really hot day, walk that dog like crazy, then take them to a location with no distractions and a shallow, safe, comforting, secluded, warm water feature. Then ignore your dog and enjoy the water. Odds are your dog will turn up beside you before long!

This summer we also converted the wolf mutt. We basically just threw him right into the situation by going on half-day long, leisurely kayaking trips along the ocean shoreline for almost a week straight. The dogs followed along on the shore and also felt compelled to swim to be closer to us in some cases, even though it was not entirely necessary except for a couple of very brief spurts.

We took them kayaking intensively all week while we rockhounded and then had them swim/ride out to a nearby ocean island with us. A major accomplishment. Subsequently we had them swim around the island and back. Sure we had a little bit of whining and some pseudo-terrified looks, but we made sure they were safe and had lots of water and rests. Did I mention swimming is a really great way to exercise your dog?

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Low-content wolf dog in the river

End result: now any normal swimming trip is considered laughably unimpressive to my dogs compared to swimming through a 400 foot deep ocean thoroughway for approximately a kilometer.

My two dogs now finally have what they were lacking in the water… Confidence. And it came about because I stopped coddling them and coaxing them and just got into my kayak and set off paddling away in the opposite direction of land on the hottest week of summer.

All this is a great reminder of how easily dogs can adjust to any lifestyle. I don’t approve of changing your life all around because of your dog. Dogs were bred as working animals, whether they were used for actual physical work or for being awesome companion animals, which is also work. I feel dogs with defined jobs are truly satisfied dogs. If I want their work to be to enjoy themselves in the water, then that is what they should learn. Dogs are very inspiring when it comes to rising to the occasion. Babying only leads to spoiled/neurotic dogs and degraded owners.

IMG_4781Young, healthy dogs can be prompted to experience any number of new situations they would normally shun, if you just get on with it and give the dog the impression he has little choice but to follow. This is, after all, how a mother dog would operate. It also gives a dog the respect they deserve to make their own decisions in a situation instead of making too many human assumptions about what the dog “wants” or does not “want”.

I guarantee this experiment, though it may sound harsh to some, will teach you a lot about yourself and your dog. I should stress that you should always observe your dog closely in new situations and don’t force them to overexert themselves. Not too much anyway…

Listen. Your dog doesn’t know that you don’t have a very-important-job-kayaking-along-the-ocean-shoreline-in-order-to-keep-the-earth’s-axis-from-spinning-out-of alignment and that he needs to keep up with you… He’ll just keep up with you because he’s your dog and he loves working for you and traveling beside you. When he confronts his fears and survives unscathed, he will gain true confidence. You can treat anything you want your dog to learn like your job and you might be surprised how well they rise to the challenge.

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Sopping wet, time to go home

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