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My gun dog is water-shy, what can I do?

water-shy spaniel

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy has been breeding labradors for over 25 years. He is a member of the Kennel Club and lives in Lancashire and is well known as a writer on country sports and rural issues.

Mark Whitehouse
Mark is an ‘A’ panel Kennel Club judge for spaniels and has represented England six times in international gundog events. He trains and breeds labradors and spaniels at the Cheweky Gundog Kennels in Yorkshire.


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.

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.

Remember, plenty of praise and encouragement should be given to your dog at all times during this exercise.

As your dog’s confidence grows introduce short retrieves by throwing a small canvas dummy along the water’s edge.

Repeat this exercise several times increasing the distance at every throw.

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.

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.

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.
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.
I also ensure my early water training is done in the warmer weather months, and I never train young/novice dogs in water if the weather is icy and cold.

If you have have any gundog related questions/queries then please send them in to:
Gundog Questions, Shooting Gazette, PO Box 225, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 2HS.