How to Help Your Dog Overcome a Fear of Water

July 15, 2010

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.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Nathalie Orozco says:

    My 9 month old puppy will go into water shoulder deep. He hesitates to go further but with some coaxing he’ll eventually jump in for toys. Should I have him “practice” more often, or will he have more confidence as he gets older? I usually take him to a near by dog rehabilitation pool for swimming or the beach.

  2. Jeff says:

    I adopted a 4 year old Rat Terrier. She is very scared of water. I live near the shore and I can’t get her to even walk on the sand. Rain she deals with when she has to go.

  3. Ann says:

    My dog is terrified of water. I thi k its because he’s a rescue from the flooding in Florida. I wanna try to get him to love water, so we can play.

  4. sherry says:

    I have had my pitbul since he was a baby, but he has always been scared of water. Also lightning and thunder and when he was a baby he liked playing in the water and something changed.will this method still work

  5. james says:

    my dog is not afraid of water anymore this was very helpful and by the way my dogs name is also Skye she is a Kelpie cross ridge back plus some unknown other breeds thankyou

  6. Lola says:

    My chihuahua is terrified of water whether it’s rain/snow or a bath. I’ve tried taking toy with her in the bath and treats but she’s still scared. She hasn’t had a previous experience as I’ve had her since she was 3 1/2 months old

    1. Kyler says:

      I have the same issue my chihuahua is terribly afraid of water and rain he won’t even go outside when he knows its raining.

  7. Sam says:

    I have a pit bull he is 11 months old. he is very afraid of water because my boyfriends ex used t throw him into the swimming pool when he didn’t listen to her. How can we get him used to water to give him a bath?

  8. Katie says:

    My 4 month old pup is scared of taking a bath i am going to try filing up the tub and geting in and just dipping paws in and slowly putting in more and more until he can stand in shallow water he goes outside in the rain and comes in soaked and dosent mind no bad expireriancein the tub that i know of

  9. john doe says:

    My Cocker Spaniel is afraid of water and I have put it down to him being sprayed with it as a pup by a dog trainer when he did the wrong thing. If the sprinkler is on he’s on the deck, and in the mornings he walks on the retaining walls so as not to get dew soaked feet. Whenever he is bathed he cry’s incessantly and you have to pin him down to stop him running away.

  10. Laurie Volkmann says:

    My Doxie goes crazy when anyone swimming in pool or even worse when pool cleaner comes and cleans pool. She gets so upset she makes coking sounds when trying to calm her down. We have had since baby and no bad experience with water ..baths well, not bothered with rain..just the pool water. Any suggestions?

    1. Anxious to hear any response, my lab has the same issue. He runs around the pool and gets so anxious I think he is going to collapse. No bad experience, have had since pup.

  11. Amy C says:

    My dog is so afraid of water, that even drinking from her bowl is a challenge. We have even tried different types of bowl. Any additional advice to overcome this fear? We have tried treats, praises and toys, with little success. Please help!

    1. Fabian W. says:

      Remain calm when around the water, praise her when she even thinks about drinking create an idea in her head that water equals fun.

  12. Jack says:

    We live near the beach and my two year old dog won’t go in. The past two summers we have tried and still nothing. Next time we go I’m going to bring his favorit toy! Hope it works that’s for the great into 🙂

  13. Nice post! i like it , so interesting