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My Labrador doesn’t like going into water. What can I do?

Contrary to expectations, not all Labradors love water

Labrador puppy training

A Labrador puppy's first experience with water

Q: I have a two-year-old Labrador bitch that is shy of going into water. What do you suggest I do to help her overcome this fear?

Labradors and water

A: It’s unusual for a Labrador to be reluctant to go into water, though it is not unheard of. Unless it is an inherent dislike of water, something must have triggered this situation.

I am still surprised at the ways many people introduce shooting dogs to water. Most puppies will splash about in water but not many will want to swim properly from the word go. Labradors and water aren’t always an instant match.

In fact, puppies that are allowed to splash and paddle soon make a hasty retreat to dry land when they feel they are out of their depth. And yet so many people throw items into water for youngsters to retrieve, assuming that they will automatically become adept at swimming. The sink or swim approach is not recommended.

Other people allow a youngster to follow an older dog into water, again assuming that it will learn from the situation. This isn’t always the case. While both methods may appear to be successful at the time, if a youngster has managed to get back to dry land but not enjoyed the experience, it will be reluctant to try it a second time. In that instance, a problem has been created.

Your bitch is probably now too old to be given the confidence she needs to overcome the occasion that scared her as a youngster (even though you may not have been aware of it at the time). If you persevere with her in shallow water, with short retrieves and at a time of year when the water is not going to be cold and uninviting, you should be able to bolster her confidence. One thing is for sure, you will achieve nothing if you try to force her to overcome her fear.

How to get young gundog puppies used to water

  1. Involve the puppies in water play at an early age – a child’s padding pool is ideal.
  2. Start out with the paddling pool completely dry and teach the puppies to jump in and out using food or perhaps a toy to pick up and play with.
  3. Once they are readily jumping in, then add an inch of tepid water and continue the play as before.
  4. Over several days, the depth of the water can be slowly increased so that they become accustomed to jumping in and getting very wet to get their reward.
  5. Once they are showing complete confidence in the paddling pool, you need to have access to a larger container or a pond with gently sloping sides so that the puppies can enter and then gently get into deep enough water to float and swim.
  6. By the time they are ready for formal obedience training, they will be so confident in water that retrieving from it will never be a cause for concern.