If you’ve been following us for a while you’ll know that when I first adopted Woody he hated water! For a working cocker spaniel, this is completely out of character and I was determined to show Woody how fun swimming, paddling and exploring by the sea can be. It’s taken nearly a year but I’m so proud of my little buddy. Today I thought I’d share with you some of our tips for building your dog’s confidence in water.
First, a little backstory. I adopted Woody in September 2017 from a local family who lived a 10 minute drive up the road. He was being rehomed for a number of reasons, which I’ll go into in another post. When I went to see Woody for the first time, I asked his previous owners whether he liked water. I was told he enjoyed their paddling pool in summer but nothing was mentioned about how he acted when out on a walk.
A few days later I brought Woody home and was excited to explore the local walks and beaches with him as soon as possible. I was surprised that Woody seemed disinterested in water, barely even paddling in the sea. For a Cornish dog born and bred, I thought this was very strange behaviour! I made it my mission these past 12 months to find Woody’s water wings and I’m delighted to say he’s well on the way to becoming a fully fledged surf pup!
How to Build Your Dog’s Confidence in Water
Spend Time Together Near Water
The first thing I did to build Woody’s confidence was to spend as much time around water together as we could. I’m very passionate about creating positive experiences for Woody, particularly when I’m trying to teach him something new. It was important to take things slowly at this stage, I had very few expectations and just wanted to make sure he was having fun.
For the first few months we’d visit Maenporth beach in Falmouth at least once a day. I’d play fetch with Woody by the shoreline and occasionally drop the ball into the sea. Waves can be a confusing concept to dogs, particularly when they’re choppy. They’re unpredictable, loud and break with quite a force. After Woody got used to tip toeing in the sea to fetch his ball, I donned my wetsuit and started sea swimming with him. Bearing in mind it was the middle of November, Woody did extremely well! We’d only spend a few minutes in the water together, never going deeper than my knees. Gradually, I was able to increase the depth and time we spent in the water and this continues to be an ongoing process!
Consider a Buoyancy Aid or Life Jacket
One of the first things I bought Woody when I adopted him was this Baltic Pets Buoyancy Aid*. Living in Cornwall, it’s hard to escape the sea – we’re surrounded by it after all! I also own a small fibreglass rowing dinghy and wanted to make sure Woody was safe while we’re out exploring. The handle on the back of the buoyancy aid is great for lifting Woody from boat to boat and the bright orange colour and reflective strip ensure he’ll be seen if he accidentally falls overboard.
It’s also been really useful for building Woody’s confidence in water. I essentially had to teach Woody how to swim, it didn’t come naturally to him at all! He used to panic and splash so much whenever the water rose above his tummy. In the beginning he’d always wear his buoyancy aid when paddling in the sea. Now he’s found his water wings, we use it less often but it still comes in handy when I know we’re taking a trip by paddle board, kayak or boat!
Surround Yourself with Surf Pups
One thing I noticed quite early on, was that Woody was far more intrigued by water when surrounded by his friends. We all know my parents’ spaniel Millie is a real water baby and she’s done wonders in boosting Woody’s confidence around the wet stuff. Surrounding Woody with dogs that love swimming has really helped show him how fun the sea can be!
Do you know a friend whose dog is an excellent swimmer? If you’re looking to build your dog’s confidence in water I’d highly recommend going for a walk together. Not only is it great to have company while out exploring, it’s a fantastic way for your dog to learn through his friends. It’s also reassuring to hear stories from owners about their experiences when it comes to teaching their dogs how to swim!
Bring Plenty of Tasty Treats
As I previously mentioned, I wanted to make sure Woody’s experiences in and around water were positive. I’m sure many dog owners will agree, the way to a spaniel’s heart is often through his/her stomach! Alongside plenty of verbal praise (I continue to look and sound like a loon whenever Woody swims!) I was sure to reward him with plenty of tasty treats.
I’ve been using a variety of treats over the past few months. From Eat Play Bark’s peanut butter bones, to pieces of cooked chicken and the occasional cube of cheese. We were sent some Guru Reel FishSkin treats to try a few months ago and you can read my in depth review on their website. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. I’m secretly hoping Woody finds his inner fish while eating these treats!
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s important to remember that building your dog’s confidence in water will take time. I’m so proud of how far Woody’s swimming has come over the past year but there is still so far to go. At the time of writing this, Woody is still wary of entering water at first. However, with enough encouragement and me swimming or wading by his side, he’s happy to come out to join me. I will continue to swim with Woody through the winter, sharing plenty of positive water based experiences with him.
Teaching Woody to swim is so rewarding. The other week he swam the furthest he’s ever gone and I was ecstatic! I regularly send pupdates to friends and family about Woody’s progress whenever he reaches a new milestone. Overcoming his hurdles together has definitely brought us closer. I can’t wait for next summer when he’ll hopefully be a confident sea spaniel, happy to join me for wild swims, boat trips and more. It’s a huge goal but one I’m excited to work towards with him, wish us luck!
Is your dog a surf pup, or did it take time to build their confidence in water? Let us know in the comments!
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