Not all dogs love the water but having raised three Labs myself, I know that Labradors are supposed to be the most comfortable dogs in water. I had one that wasn’t. There is a time as puppies when labs and other breeds can have anxiety that leads them to be scared of water and need to be slowly introduced to it. How do you get your Dog to Like Water?
- Start in a shallow kiddie pool with warm water
- Get in with the lab puppy in the shallow end of a pool, pond or lake
- Show them how to exit at the pool steps or lake bank
- Slowly hold them by the belly until they learn to keep afloat and use the doggy-paddle
- Teach them to retrieve a toy moving with confidence
Instinct may have to do with the initial fear of water some dogs have. If a puppy is wary of something they don’t understand they will keep their distance so it will be less apt to harm them. The idea slowly does just that.
How Old should Puppies Be Before They Go Swimming
We all see how any kind of puppy can be easily scared by certain sounds or things they haven’t seen before. Having grown up with Labs and swimming pools they tend to take to the water very fast and want to stay in forever once you get them in. Their webbed feet start to get the motion they get the idea and they’ll never want to get out.
Once they understand that whatever it is that they are wary at won’t hurt them they fine. I had a Lab that was petrified of getting into my inground pool and another Scotty that broke through my chain link fence and dove right in. I guess it’s a matter of their personality.
When it comes to swimming, dogs will fall into one of three categories. There are those that can swim, those that can be taught to swim, and those that should steer clear of all aqueous environments. Water spaniels, golden retrievers, Irish setters, English setters, and the water-loving Newfoundland fall into the first category these guys all swim all are born with the gift of being good swimmers.
This is mainly because of their strong limbs, but this ability may also be in their genes. Many were bred specifically to retrieve waterfowl or for water rescue. Each of these dogs has a strong tradition of swimming within the breed and generally enjoys being in the water.
Some people say 8 weeks, some say 12 weeks and some say 3 months. There are a lot of conflicting opinions regarding the age when your Labrador puppies can start swimming.
Many people consider swimming and fondness of water to be already present in the lab’s DNA itself. Anyone would think like this as these Labradors are historically linked with the fisherman and icy waters of Newfoundland. And many people think that lab puppies can swim at any young age.
The natural ability might be there especially in Labs and Golden Retrievers with webbed feet, the physical attributes, and the built inability to do the doggy paddle but puppies need the confidence or even these natural-born dogs with aquatic genes could get into trouble.
How to Teach a Puppy to Swim
Once your Lab gets through that initial fear and apprehension of water then there won’t be any way of stopping him. There are a few ways you can coax him/her into loving water and getting rid of the anxiety they have about it. You can start with the bathtub by wetting the Lab sown while you are holding them. This is what I did. Then I start with the garden hose and that took some time. Then a Kiddie pool the plastic kind. Put them in slowly and assure them by your voice that everything is right in a calming voice.
I used a ball in a few inches of water and played with him adding a few inches every day. After a few days, I carried the ball my dog and the same ball into the pool holding him up by his bell letting him do the doggy-paddle. I did this with none of my kids in the pool.
I learned a lesson with my dog Scotty who had no pool anxiety and took to the water so well that we thought about joining diving competitions that pretty popular during that time in the ’90s. One day with a pool full of kids my 120 pound Lab jumped in and starting joining the kids who had a ball and Scotty who would never hurt a fly, scratched a small girl, and pulled her down underwater. We never let the dog in the pool with the younger kids again.
- After the short time in the kiddie pool with their toy take him/her to the pool or a lake with a slow sloping shore for easy entry and exit.
- Make sure the water is warm
- Get in with them
- If you are using an inground pool stay with the dog and the toy
- let the puppy gain the necessary confidence in the shallow end of the pool or on the banks of a lake.
- In a inground pool, show the pup how to get up the stairs and out of the water. I think that this was a critical part of the dog gaining his confidence. He/she needs to know how to get out of the pool or the lake. The first couple of times you let them go in the shallow water, guide them to the steps of the inground pool.
- Lead them out so they have to swim back in to the shallow or the steps of the pool. Use the toy to coax them out into a littl deeper water
How To Teach Your Dog to Swim
The best place to train your pup to swim is in a pool or a pond somewhere where there is no current or tide and join the pup in the water. Lab pups mirror their owner’s actions to make them happy. If they see you are in the water and show no anxiety and are happy they will be more likely to join you.
Some dogs find the paddling action difficult to master at first, causing them to lift out the water at the front end whilst the rear end sinks there will be lots of splashing but no movement. This is one of those skills where practice does make perfect. Here is where your Lab will need some practice and some help.
If you go in the first try and coax them in with a treat and stay happy and upbeat to ensure that the situation is under control. If you make your intro to water slow and fun, you should end up with a dog that views swimming as a great reward. Never throw them off the edge of a pool or from a dock. They will learn to swim but they might regard it as a dramatic experience.
- The dog will need to keep their body flat on the surface of the water and will have to learn a paddling action with their feet.
- If your dog is having difficulty, then help them by supporting under their underbelly, slightly raising the back end until they are flat.
- Gradually reduce your involvement allowing them to move about. But stay close and talk to them in a reassuring fashion
- Toss a toy out towards the shore or shallows in a pool slowly giving them more freedom
- They will pick up the mechanics fast and will start leaving and returning to the water on their own.
Eventually, Labs will learn to dive by fetching the toy you brought in at the start. In an inground pool, my labs could really get some air when their confidence rose and they started to show off for me. It’s a beautiful sight to see your lab swimming with its head above the waterline with incredible speed.
Make your dog feel comfortable when introducing them to water. Dogs need to learn to swim just like humans do. Although your puppy will likely be doing laps in far less time than it took you, making your dog feel comfortable and confident in the water is an important step that you should not skip over.
Playfully tossing your dog into the water can be traumatizing and is never a safe or smart way to introduce a dog to the water. Tossing a stick or a ball in the water, progressively further from shore or shallow steps is an easy way to teach him to feel comfortable in the water. Its a process and if you have to be part off. Even though swimming is part of a lab’s DNA they might need a little coaching.
Out on the lake or the river, all dogs like people should wear a life jacket no matter how good they get at swimming.
Jim is a writer on Water Issues around the world and has raised three Labrador Retrievers over his lifetime. Scotty, Buddy, and Luke along with a Golden Retriever called Molson. They all dove and swam marvelously.