The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

My dog is water-shy. What can I do?

Mark Whitehouse advises a reader who is concerned about a spaniel who dislikes water

water-shy spaniel

Q: My two year-old spaniel dog refuses to enter water. How can I help my water-shy dog and give him more confidence? (Read more on how to train your dog for water-work.)

Helping water-shy dogs

Water work can be a major stumbling block for all breeds of dogs, and I would recommend it be introduced at an early age, ideally between six and nine months. Here’s a step-by-step guide to training water-shy dogs.

  1. Locate a shallow entry point along the banking sides of a pond where you can enter the water yourself. This is so you can encourage your dog to wade in alongside you.
  2. Remember, plenty of praise and encouragement should be given to your dog at all times during this exercise.
  3. As your dog’s confidence grows introduce short retrieves by throwing a small canvas dummy along the water’s edge.
  4. Repeat this exercise several times increasing the distance at every throw.
  5. If your dog at any time refuses to retrieve the dummy or become stressed with the situation, shorten the distances you are throwing the dummy.
  6. Try to ensure your dog never fails to retrieve the dummy, you can always increase the distance of the throw at a later stage once his confidence returns.
  7. To move this exercise forward I would encourage young dogs to chase and follow more experienced and confident dogs into deeper areas of the water where they would have to start and learn to swim.
  8. This type of play training is another way of developing your dog’s confidence in water without causing any undue stresses, and I find this works for me every time.

Finally, don’t start early water training if the weather is icy and cold, which will be a sure way to put the dog off and make it more likely to become water-shy. Do your water training in the warmer weather.

You might also like to read: My labrador doesn’t like going into water, what can I do about it?

This article was originally published in 2007 and has been updated.