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5 Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Love Water

Updated: May 16, 2022

Unfortunately not all dogs love water. If you have a spaniel or labrador this may come as a shock to you! But many breeds just aren’t born loving getting wet.

A lot of this comes down to what they were originally bred to do. In the cases of Spaniels, they would often have to retrieve shot water fowl from rivers. As a result, some spaniels have water resistant coats and webbed feet so they are naturally going to be much more inclined to jump in water than say a sighthound with very thin fur and very little fat layering.

Therefore, we shouldn’t just assume that our dog is going to be fine with being washed and it is important that we teach them to love being cleaned off from the beginning. (Even if you have a spaniel or labrador!)

There are a few ways in which we can ensure that we build positive associations with water and being cleaned.

1. If you have a puppy, or even if your adult dog is already averse to water, using a paddling pool with a small amount of warm water in the bottom and filled with new toys and treats is a great way of introducing them to water in a gentle and fun way.

2. Don’t just put them in the bath and turn the shower on without any prior introduction. They need introducing very gradually and at their pace. Let them investigate the shower-head first without any water coming out, and then give them a treat when they approach. The more you pair the equipment with positive rewards the more they are going to love it!

3. Turn the water on and then off after a couple of seconds to avoid ‘flooding them’ (excuse the pun!) Flooding is overwhelming a dog by exposing them to an experience at too high an intensity in one go. So turning the water on and then off several times is a simple way of preventing this.

4. Keep them busy when they are being cleaned. A licki mat with suckers on the back which allows it to be stuck somewhere is perfect for this. Cover the licki mat in some very high value food such as dog peanut butter or cream cheese. Then stick it to the tiles at the side of the bath, and wait a few seconds for your dog to get stuck in before turning the water on.

5. If they are worried, stop! If your dog is backing away from the water give them a minute to gather themselves before starting again. Forcing them to tolerate being washed when they are clearly unhappy is a sure-fire way of making bathing much more difficult in the future. Sometimes a little break is enough for them to feel ready to go again.

Signs that a dog is uncomfortable with a situation include:

- Licking their lips

- Yawning

- Raising a paw off the ground

- Turning their head away

- Showing the whites of their eyes

- Flattening their ears

- Lip twitches or curls

- Vocalising in some way

When your dog displays any of these body language signals they are trying their best to communicate with us that they are uncomfortable. As they can’t talk to us it is really important that we don’t ignore them and actually listen and respond to their requests.

If you take your time with desensitisating it really does pay off in the long run for you and your dog. Slow and steady wins the race every time!


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