If you want your retriever to charge into the drink like his tail is on fire to fetch your ducks, make sure their first time in deep water is a fun time.
Never force your dog into the water or toss him off the dock. All dogs can swim if they have to, but if you force them, you risk turning him into a land lover, making it harder to train them for water retrieves.
Begin in the summer, when water is warm. Pups don’t have a thick coat of fur like the adults and will really feel the cold in frigid water. Get wet yourself in shallow water and let the young dog enjoy playing there with you and their toys. Gradually move deeper, but if the dog shows hesitation, go back into the shallows. It may take three or four trips to the lake for the pup to begin swimming on their own.
Deep-water dog pointers
- If the dog wants to be near you, they may follow you into deep water and swim to be with you.
- If the dog has a strong retrieving instinct, they may swim out to their toy or dummy. In this case, we should gradually toss the toy out into deeper water.
- If the dog is motivated by food treats, they can also be enticed into deeper water by floating treats, like cheese puff snacks, until they will swim for them.
- Pups with a strong prey drive will chase a surface splash. Drop a pebble in the water, a foot in front of the dog, and they will try to catch the splash in their mouth. Take a handful of pebbles and toss them one at a time in front of your dog to get them moving in the water. Gradually move deeper until the dog will swim to try and catch the splash.
Help your retriever discover the joy of swimming without force and they will begin to churn water like a paddle wheeler to fetch your ducks.
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.