How to Introduce Your Dog to Water and Water Retrieves
The best methods for getting your dog used to the water and becoming an expert at water retrieves!
As an avid hunter, the last thing you want is for your dog to be afraid of or uncomfortable with water. If you have a retriever dog, then water is going to be a huge part of his life! It's important that you introduce your dog to water in a correct, positive way. Let's look at some effective methods to help you train your dog to become comfortable and confident with water and water retrieves!
How to Get Your Dog Used to Water
It's best to introduce dogs to water at a very young age. The earlier you can get your dog exposed to and used to a specific environment, the better; this helps dogs build confidence in it at a young age. The perfect time to introduce puppies to a new environment is before they are 16 weeks old.
Let your dog smell around the bank and get used to this new environment. He may not want to get in the water the first time he's around it, and that's okay. The key to successfully getting him confident and building a positive association with water is going at his pace and training consistently. Also, keep in mind water safety; you never want to put your dog in an unsafe environment, so let your dog get used to swimming in shallow water before taking him out to deeper water!
You also want to make sure that you have the right equipment. You can use just a regular leash in the beginning, or we recommend using a check cord to help you easily keep your dog close by.
While it's ideal to introduce puppies to water before they're 16 weeks old, the timeline may vary for each dog. Your puppy may have been born in the winter months, and by the time he's at that 16-week mark, the water could be freezing cold! In that case, it's best to wait until spring and warmer weather.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d get into the water at the current temperature. If the answer is yes, then it’s probably good for the puppy, too. It's best to patiently wait for warmer weather rather than introduce him too soon to cold water. This will cause him to build a negative association with it, and that takes a lot of time and effort to erase.
Just like every other training methodology, you want to ensure a positive association! Taking your time and slowly going at your dog's pace really helps build that positive association. The best way to get your dog introduced to water is actually not to start off immediately doing retrieving work. If you attempt to do a water retrieval the first time and your dog has a bad association with water for some reason, then he's going to have a bad association with retrieving.
So, give him plenty of time to be around the water before you start to do water retrievals. It's best if he confidently learns how to swim before you ever throw a bumper in the water. Actually, one of the best ways to build a positive association is to lead by example! Go ahead and put on some waders and walk into the water first. This shows your dog that it’s safe.
Allow your dog to follow you, and you can even call his name, but never put any pressure on your dog to get in. It helps if you put your dog in a scenario where the water is an attractive feature, like a nice warm day when you know the water is going to feel good to your dog!
Patience is Key
Introducing your dog to water is a process. Your dog probably isn't going to get perfectly comfortable on the first day, and that's okay! As he gets used to it and becomes more comfortable, go ahead and move a little deeper. Each time you go deeper and your dog follows, make sure to give him positive reinforcement by giving him a lot of praise and encouragement!
If your dog wants to get a drink, that's great. And if you need to take some time and call a friend and talk for a while as you let your dog get used to the idea, that's okay too! Just move at your dog's pace. Give him many exposures to get used to the water before attempting to get him to swim or do a retrieval.
Introduce Water Retrieves
A prerequisite to training your dog with water retrieves is ensuring that he is already well-trained on land retrieves! He will also need to know basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, and come. Make sure you introduce water retrieves in shallow water; even if your dog is comfortable going out deeper, it's still best to use calm, safe, and shallow water for this part.
While you want your dog to be calm in the water, you also want him to be excited about the bumper! So play around with it first to get him interested and enthusiastic about it. Then, go ahead and send out some bumpers! In the beginning, do short throws to help your dog gain confidence. As he becomes more comfortable, you can start throwing the bumper further out into the water.
While doing water training, make sure to minimize distractions. While you can't control everything, make sure that it's a calm, nice day and that you aren't using a pond near a busy road or making loud noises. This helps him focus and become more confident!
Lastly, make sure that you practice water retrieves regularly until he becomes very consistent and skilled with them. Your dog may need a while to become comfortable in the water, let alone doing water retrieves. Just take your time, encourage your dog, and practice consistently!