Water Dogs

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Buffy waits for waves to bring her ball to shore.

I love water dogs, the one’s that can’t stay out of the water. I’ve had several and have learned that there are swimmers, waders, and one’s that can’t stand to even get their paws wet. I’ve owned all three types. Some of it has to do with the breed, but it seems mostly it has to do with how the dog is introduced to water when it is a puppy. If you get an older dog, it may be a lost cause, although they may learn to tolerate it.

When I was a teenager, I had Skippy, a springer-border collie mix. He learned to swim in the flooded street after a major storm. He learned while he was on leash walking besides me in the street. He became a waterdog.

My first dog as an adult was Penny, a border collie-lab mix. I thought she would love the water, since labs are known as waterdogs, but she hated it. My dad picked her up and tossed her into a pond. She had to sink or swim, but hated us for it. I never did that again.

I took Penny canoeing with me and she jumped out of the boat onto dry land whenever she could, even rocks when I performed an eddy turn around them. Although she went whitewater paddling on dozens of rivers each year, but never learned to like it, she just tolerated water.

Then I got Kaylee, a purebred springer spaniel. At the time I was working on my master’s thesis and was collecting stream data several times a week. Kaylee followed me as I waded through puddles and into the creek when she was a young puppy. She followed me voluntarily, although with a lot of encouragement. She and learned to love water. She’d jump out of the canoe and swim alongside as I paddled down the river. Any pond or stream was a magnet for her. She’d swim around in circles for the sheer joy of swimming, even when it was cold. Sometimes she would get icicles forming on her fur as we walked back to the car.

Now I have Cassie, also a springer spaniel, but she is a wader, not a swimmer. She’ll go in about chest deep and turn around. If she has to, she’ll swim, but she’s a wader. I attribute this to her not being exposed to water until she was over six months old. She was born in October and due to the cold weather, she couldn’t learn to swim until the following May. She loves canoeing, but will not jump out of the boat until we are onshore, which is a good thing.

I recently inherited two cocker spaniels from my mom. Buffy is 5 and Chipper is 9. Neither of them had been exposed to water until this summer. Buffy is motivated to chase the ball, but only so far. She doesn’t like to swim. Neither does Chipper.

So, what have I learned from these dogs? If you want a water dog:
• Get a breed that is known to like water. Most of these are hunting dogs.
• Expose them to water early, preferably when they are between 2 – 6 months old.
• Make their first experience pleasant. Stand next to them and encourage them to walk into
the water to join you.
• Use a ball or stick if they like to retrieve. This helps them get over their fears.
• Praise, praise, praise.
• Never throw your dog into the water.
• Don’t have their first experience be in very cold water.

The more often you expose them to swimming and water, the better. Time and exposure helps alleviate their fears. Happy swimming!

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