My Doberman is the sweetest, friendliest dog, and loves being outdoors and active. The only issue I’m having trouble with is that she absolutely hates water with a passion. She will go to the beach, but won’t get in the water.
When we go to the groomer, though, she does fine — the groomer told me that when the water gets on her she freaks out for a second, but then she’s good. What do you recommend?
– Chimo’s Mom
Hi Chimo’s Mom,
Thank you for your question. I’m going to offer you some steps to get Chimo used to the water, but first I want to explore why you feel it’s necessary for Chimo to love the water.
Dobermans can certainly love the water, but they are not your typical water breed, like Labrador Retrievers or Poodles. I grew up with Dobies and none of them liked the water all that much, and that was all right with us. As long as Chimo is not truly phobic – like, losing her mind with morbid fear when she sees water – then I’m not concerned with her not liking water as a behavioral issue, but more as a personal preference.
There are a lot of people who don’t like the water, and I know people who won’t go to the beach because they hate sand, and there’s no reason they should force themselves to like it. Dogs are allowed to have personal preferences, just as we are, and forcing them to change their preferences, even if you think it will enhance the dog’s life, is not necessarily the route to take.
On the other paw, perhaps romping in the ocean would enhance Chimo’s life – salt water is good for the skin (but you have to rinse it off after the beach!), and playing in the water expends lots of energy and calories. So, let’s try to get Chimo used to beach life.
Some trainers would use a method called “flooding” to get a dog used to something it doesn’t like. It’s akin to throwing a kid into the deep end of the pool, where it’s sink or swim. This is an outdated method and I consider it cruel; it can actually create phobias, rather than conquer a minor fear. Please don’t just toss Chimo into the water, or drag her into the sea. There’s no reason to create panic in any dog.
Here’s what I’d suggest:
- Find some treats that Chimo goes bananas over, like cut-up hot dogs (the healthy kind) or stinky soft treats.
- Lure Chimo to the water with the treats, giving her treats for every few feet that she takes toward the water, praising her the entire time.
- When you get to the edge of the water, try to get Chimo to put one paw into the water, and give her tons of treats when she does. You’re done with your first lesson.
- A while later (half an hour to an hour), repeat steps 2 and 3. Remember, you’re just looking for one paw to touch the water, then treat and praise.
- The next time you go to the beach, repeat steps 2 and 3, treating and praising Chimo for one paw in the water. Then, repeat the steps again, this time looking for two paws in the water.
- On the third beach day, you will try to get half of her front legs in the water – treat and praise.
Day after day, lure her farther into the water, treating and praising. Don’t get frustrated if she goes into the water on one day, but then refuses the next time. Go back to step 1.
Using this gentle process desensitizes the dog to the water and her fear. I can almost guarantee that if you have patience with this process you will eventually get Chimo into the water, and perhaps even get her to enjoy it. Just make sure that your training sessions are short, fun and rewarding for her.
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