Getting Dogs Used To Water
Getting dogs used to water requires patience
Read on to learn how getting dogs used to water can help you to lead your dog happily into the bathtub, onto the grooming table or even into a floating dinghy!
Dogs can easily develop negative associations with certain places and objects that have caused them discomfort in the past. This can make it difficult for them to relax and cooperate when, for example, we want to to bath or groom them.
I was reminded of this recently when my Schnoodle Sydney and I were invited to go on an 8 day boating trip later this year. Sydney had never set paw on a boat before and she’s definitely not a water dog so I knew we had some work to do as it can be difficult getting dogs used to water.
In order for us both to enjoy our boating adventure, Sydney would need to get used to being out on the water before the trip.There would be no turning back if she freaked out on the boat putting herself and others in danger! Here’s what we did:
- First I purchased the smallest, most inexpensive dinghy I could find and inflated it in my lounge room. (Yes, you read that correctly, in the middle of my lounge room…)
- For the next few days, I only put her treats in the dinghy so she had to jump in to get them. She was pretty suspicious at first but soon got the hang of it.
- At least once a day, I sat with her in the dinghy and petted her whilst I checked my emails or read a book.
- After 4 days I felt she had developed enough positive associations with the dinghy to move on to the next step. (And besides, I wanted to get the boat out of my lounge!)
- We’ve now had our first river outing and this training technique has worked a treat! We launched from the shore and Sydney jumped straight into the floating dinghy. I gave her heaps of positive reinforcement, petting and treats. Although she remained vigilant throughout our maiden voyage, she made no attempts to jump out of the boat even when we were close to shore.
- We will continue to go out on the river in the dinghy once or twice a week until it’s time for our big boating adventure. I suspect she’ll settle down a little bit more each time we go out.
You can also use this technique with the bathtub or the grooming table to create new positive associations, making grooming so much more enjoyable for you both, although I don’t recommend putting a bathtub in the middle of your lounge!
Because both your dog and your situation are unique, it’s best for you to devise your own individual training plan. The most important elements are to:
- Gradually change a negative association into a positive one
- During the reconditioning period, only do things that your dog enjoys in the area where change is taking place
- Use plenty of positive reinforcement, petting and treats during the reconditioning sessions
- Wait until you sense that your dog is very comfortable and happy in the setting before gradually reintroducing the bath water, clippers, etc.
- Take your time and don’t try to rush the process
- Continue with positive reinforcement even after the baths, etc. resume
If your dog has developed strong negative associations with the bathtub, you may have to spend quite a bit of time in the reconditioning phase. Begin when your dog has recently had a bath and that will give you more time.
Smaller dogs will need to be lifted into the tub to get their treats and you can speak to them in a reassuring voice whilst doing this. A towel or bath mat placed in the bottom of the tub will make it more comfortable on his paws. You may or may not wish to spend some quality time in the empty bathtub with him – it’s up to you!
Be patient and over time, your dog will become more relaxed and cooperative in these (formerly) stressful situations. Just make sure the whole process is a happy bonding experience for you both.
Jeanne & Sydney