By Ruthie Bently
Why are some dogs afraid of water? I have read that some breeds are predisposed to a fear of water, but I don’t agree with that. If a dog is afraid of water, many experts feel it is because they had a bad experience when they were younger. Another reason a dog may be afraid of water is because they don’t know what it is. Water comes in several forms and is found in many places and situations.
A dog growing up in a kennel situation, going outside to go potty in a cement run covered from the weather will have no experience with wet grass on their paws or feeling snow or raindrops on their skin. It makes sense that a dog in that situation would not have any experience with water and may not understand it. I think instinct may have to do with the initial fear of water some dogs have. If a dog is wary of something they don’t understand and keeps their distance, it is less apt to harm them.
Wolves are not afraid of water and they have to hunt to feed their families whether it is raining or snowing. They cover long distances and depending on the season have to cross water, ice and snow to get from one place to another. Our domestic dogs haven’t had to live outdoors for hundreds of years and are no longer as in tune to the changes in weather that their wild counterparts are. Don’t get me wrong, dogs do feel the barometric pressure change when a storm is moving in. However, most are inside where the temperature is constant and they don’t feel the cold or heat of the day; and they don’t sit watching the weather outside change.
How do you get your dog used to water? You can train your dog to be accepting of water gradually, using understanding, patience, praise and dog treats as bait (if you need them). It may take several tries if they have gotten scared by water in the past. Try not to become frustrated if it doesn’t happen the way you want the first time you try it. If your dog is afraid of rain, take their favorite toy outside and play a game with them while it is raining. You can use this method when it is snowing too; just make sure you can see the toy in the snow. Praise them and offer a treat when they bring the toy back. If they have a problem with dewy grass, take them for a walk in the early morning or invite one of their dog friends over for an early morning play session while the grass is still wet. They will be interested in playing and forget about the wet grass.
Maybe your dog is fearful of taking a bath because they fell in the bathtub when they were young, went under and got a mouth full of water. Try getting them used to shallow water using a kiddie pool with a piece of non-skid shelf liner in the bottom so they won’t fall. Fill it with a few inches of water, get in and coax them in with you using a treat. Gently apply water to them and show them it isn’t as scary as they think. If you have a small dog, use a dishpan filled with warm water instead.
If your dog is afraid of water in general, try taking them to a lake with a beach or a gentle sloping bank that allows them to walk in on their own. Plan your trip on a day when the wind is calm, so there will be less wave action that may make them nervous. Attach a six foot lead to their collar and use praise and a treat to coax them into the water. If they don’t want to enter the water don’t force the issue. Return another day and repeat the exercise.
Skye is one of those dogs that isn’t entirely sure about water. She’s not afraid of a bath, though she is glad when it is over. She doesn’t like rain but she loves playing in the snow and has to be cajoled to come back inside. I had to teach Skye about the water in her kiddie pool but she goes charging into the river when we take a walk there. She wasn’t always so accepting of water, but over time she discovered that it isn’t the demon she thought it was. By understand your dog and using patience, praise and treats, you can help a dog who is fearful of water, learn to enjoy getting wet.
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