If you asked a hundred people on the street if Labradors love water, their responses would probably equal a unanimous, “Yes!” But it is exactly this assumption that leaves many Lab owners scratching their heads when their “water dog’s” first response is to run away from water.
But don’t all Labradors Like Water? The truth is that every Labrador has a different disposition toward water. While many Labs will instinctively take to water, others can be fearful around it and will need to be trained to maneuver in it safely.
Why Don’t All Labs Like to Swim?
Labradors are often afraid of water due to a negative experience with it when they were puppies. They may not have been introduced to water in a safe and fitting way. Many times dogs are introduced to water too quickly and in ways that startle them, leaving negative experiences imprinted on their memory. Some examples are: throwing them into the water before properly introducing them to it, or splashing them with a bucket full of water or with a garden hose. These kinds of negative experience can create a fear of water in a puppy that can persist in his adult life.
Even if a dog didn’t go through any traumatic experiences with water they may still demonstrate an aversion to water simply because of their particular personality. Labradors, like all dogs, have personalities that are unique to them. Some Labradors are just born with an innate fear of water. This fear will often manifest itself when the dog goes near puddles, wading pools, and running garden hoses.
If you notice this behavior in your Labrador puppy (or even your adult dog), do not force him into the water. Later in this article, we will give some tips on how to train your Lab to not be afraid of the water and to swim in it safely.
Can Labradors Swim Naturally?
Apart from the question of whether any particular Labrador likes to swim, there is the question of whether the breed has the natural ability to swim.
Individual temperaments aside, the Labrador’s DNA makes it perfectly suited for water. They have a 2-layered, water-resistant coat, a sturdy, otter-like tail, and webbed feet!
The Labrador comes from a breed called the Lesser Newfoundland dog or St. John’s Dog, which had lived in Newfoundland as early as before the 18th century. This breed demonstrated a natural proclivity toward the water, which made the dog a desired asset with the local fisherman who had been plying their trade in that area as early as the 1500s.
Lesser Newfoundland dogs were enthusiastic and tireless about their work. They sought to please their masters and were naturals at fetching stray fish for the fishermen. They also had the innate ability to haul fishing nets in from the water.
These dogs were also reported to have the energy to spend the evening playing with the fishermen’s children even after an entire day working in the cold, harsh conditions.
This breed eventually became renowned hunting dogs who could retrieve birds and small game both on land and in aquatic environments. Their masters would watch them break through the frozen surface of a lake or pond to retrieve a fallen bird, only to return to their master ready to do it again! Their reputation for retrieving anything, both within the water and on land, reached international fame.
The reality is that most any Lab (whether he is averse to the water or not) will not sink and will naturally dog-paddle when put in the water, but they may not be very adept at maneuvering well. Your dog will most likely never sink while they are paddling. It usually only when they try to put their back legs down to touch the ground that they put themselves into a more vertical position and begin to sink.
My Dog Loves to Swim but Hates Baths, Why?
Many Lab owners have experienced first-hand the battle that takes place when they try to get their so-called, “water dog” into the bathtub. So why do these dogs that are so well known for their love of water tuck tail and run at the first sign of a bath? Here are some insights into why our Labs (who usually take to water like fish) hate baths.
1. Too Much Constraint and Manhandling
While swimming for many Labradors is an exercise in freedom, a typical bathtub experience can often feel confining to them. They are physically forced into the bathtub right after the bathroom door is closed shut, letting them know there is no escape.
The rest of the bath experience usually consists of their being grabbed, pushed, manhandled, poked, and prodded. Dogs typically don’t like to be physically constrained. This is also why (contrary to what many owners might think) dogs usually don’t like to be hugged. Physical constraint is not a sign of affection to them. They see it as an oppressive experience that makes them feel dominated and controlled.
2. Fear of Running Water
Many dogs dread the experience of a large amount of running water near their head. It is usually loud and can overwhelm their senses leaving them feeling insecure and afraid.
You can make your dog’s bath experience a little more calming by filling the tub before you place him in it. You shouldn’t need to add a large amount before you have enough water to bathe your dog effectively.
Once the water level has reached high enough so that it comes about to the bend in the dog’s legs, turn it off and then bring him into the bath. Wash your dog by using a small bucket to pour water onto him as you bathe and rinse him.
Washing him outside with a garden hose and bucket is an alternative method. While this involves a little bit of running water, an outside garden hose is not nearly as noisy and frightening as a bathtub faucet inside an enclosed bathroom.
3. Hates the Feel of the Bathtub Floor
When dogs do not feel steady on their feet they feel unsafe and fearful. The bathtub floor is usually a very slick surface on which their paws slip and which does not give them much friction. This has a negative impact on their sense of security.
You can help remedy this fear by providing your dog with a non-stick mat to stand on during his baths. Another solution is the above-mentioned method of bathing him outside on a hard surface using a garden hose and bucket with soap and water.
4. Overpowering Scents and Odors
Compared to a human’s, a Labrador’s sensitivity to smell is off the charts. Many shampoos and soaps present smells that are overpowering to the senses of a dog. You can help remedy this by buying bath products that are made especially for dogs. Shampoos and soaps made for humans often have chemicals that are too aggressive for dogs. A dog’s skin and fur are more sensitive than a human’s and require gentler bathing products.
Shop your local pet store or ask your vet about dog shampoos that have no scent or a mild one.
5. How to Keep Your Lab Calm During Bath Time
The above-mentioned methods are a great start to making bath time a more enjoyable experience for your dog. If he correlates bath time with pleasure and reward, he will be much more cooperative. Do not be aggressive when bathing your dog. Avoid forcing him into different positions and directions.
Speak to him in a soft, soothing, affirming tone of voice. Pet him and tell him what good boy he is. When the bath is done, show him affection as you dry him off and tell him how proud you were of him. You can even reward him with a treat so that he equates bath time with reward rather than punishment.
6 Important Tips When You Take Your Labrador Swimming
If you are a Lab owner who was blessed with a dog that loves the water, this does not mean that your job is done. You still have a crucial role to play in keeping your dog safe as he swims. Although Labradors are intelligent animals, they are sometimes not as aware of their surroundings as they should be. Here are 6 important tips for keeping your Labrador out of harm’s way while in the water.
1. Don’t Assume Your Lab Is a Strong Swimmer
Not all labs are created equal. Some Labs, although swimmers, may have a more difficult time in the water than others. Keep a close eye on them when they are in the water. Watch for signs of labored breathing while paddling, lack of maneuverability, struggle while paddling, whining or whimpering, or signs of panic.
Labradors also have different levels of stamina. Some labs are not able to swim for as long a duration as others. Become familiar with your Lab’s strength and longevity in the water.
2. Bring a Life Jacket
The idea of a life jacket for a dog may seem a bit ridiculous to some but it’s actually an important accessory for any Lab owner whose dog enjoys the water on a regular basis. While a life vest for your Lab may not be necessary for small, controlled swimming environments, like a pool, it is of utmost importance in places like the ocean, lakes, rivers, etc.
Life jackets are especially needed for those dogs that suffer from any kind of hindered mobility or handicap. Dogs that are especially young or old in years, as well as dogs that have longer torsos, shorter legs, or who are overweight, should use life jackets whenever they swim.
When choosing a life jacket for your Labrador, be sure to choose one that fits him well, does not obstruct his vision, and that keeps him properly buoyant. Choose a life vest that is easily visible from a distance, preferably in a hi-vis color and with reflective material.
3. Always Supervise Your Lab
No Lab should be allowed to swim without constant supervision. This is especially true in bodies of water that have currents, such as the ocean or a river. Although Labradors tend to be strong swimmers, they may lack the ability to pull themselves out of a dangerous situation if they have to fight against a strong current.
An ocean or river current may not be immediately visible on the surface of the water. Another effective way to protect your Lab from getting into a dangerous swimming situation is to keep your dog on a rope of 20 to 30 feet in length. This will enable you to pull him to safety.
4. Avoid Unfamiliar Bodies of Water
Bodies of water that neither you nor your Labrador are familiar with could harbor unforeseen danger. Snakes are common to many rivers and lakes. They tend to hide in all of those areas that curious dogs love to explore – under rocks, inside holes in the ground, etc.
Unfamiliar terrain, such as that which may have broken sea shells or sharp rocks, could also be a danger to your Labs’ feet.
Dogs will unavoidably ingest some of the water as they swim and play. Organisms in the water, such as blue-green algae, can cause complications with your dog’s intestinal system and can create ear, throat, eye, or skin problems.
5. Don’t Let Your Lab Get Over-Tired
Dogs can easily overestimate their own physical stamina and endurance while swimming. It’s a fun and exciting activity for them and they can easily get themselves into a situation where they don’t have the energy to get back to safety. The “constant supervision” rule applies here. Use the before-mentioned 20 to 30-foot rope method in order to pull him back to safety.
If your dog is in a pool, make sure you train him through repetition where the exits are and where he can get out safely. If he is swimming in a natural body of water, remember that swimming in a current will tire your dog out more quickly than if he were in a man-made lake or a pool.
Try to build up his stamina over time by regulating and gradually increasing his swim time durations.
6. Be Mindful of Cold Water
Unfortunately, your Dog is not able to tell you when he is too cold or too hot. Letting your dog swim in water that is too cold can put his body at risk of hypothermia. In instances of hypothermia, blood is diverted to vital organs like the heart, brain, and lungs, and away from his skin and extremities. As his legs work hard to swim, they experience a lack of necessary blood flow and become tired, increasing the risk of drowning.
The best rule of thumb is to use yourself as the guide. If the weather or water temperature is too cold for you to be in, it probably is for your dog as well.
How Do I Teach My Puppy to Like Water?
Beginning water training for a Labrador is best when done early. With gentleness, patience, and persistence, your Lab will become the water dog you always hoped he would be. Here are 5 tips for effectively and safely training your Labrador puppy to love water.
1. Start with Basic Commands
It’s important that a good foundation is laid for training your Lab to be comfortable around water. Teaching him basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, heel, etc., will establish you as the pack alpha, will lay the proper foundation of basic obedience, and will pave the way for more advanced training concepts.
Practice these basic commands throughout the day and give positive reinforcement through rewards like dog treats.
2. Introduce Your Puppy to Water
It’s best to do this while the puppy is still young and playing on his own. Allow him to get his paws and legs wet in puddles. A garden hose can help create an area on the lawn where he can wade and splash. Fill a kiddie pool with water so that it is no more than chest-deep, and entice him into the water by encouraging him to fetch small toys.
3. Walk with Him near Bodies of Water
A beach near a lake, river, or ocean is a great place to introduce your puppy to larger bodies of water. Secure your Lab with a short leash and walk with him in the shallow water. Walking barefoot with him in the water will put him at ease and help him understand that the water is nothing to be afraid of.
Play fetch with him by tossing chew toys into the shallowest parts of the water. Then gradually toss the toy farther away from the shore, but where his feet can still touch the bottom. After he’s comfortable with deeper water, and If he’ll allow it, toss the toy where he has to swim just a little to retrieve it.
4. Swim in the Water with Him
Getting right in the water with your Lab and swimming with him is a great way to give him a sense of security and confidence in the water. Start by wading into the water with him and staying close to him as you swim together. It sometimes helps to place your hand under his torso as he learns to maneuver in the water.
If there is an opportunity to dive into the water from a structure like a pool deck, diving board, or dock, demonstrate that for him and then call him to you.
5. Let Him Swim with Other Dogs
Socialization is a great learning catalyst for dogs. Creating situations where he can watch other dogs play and swim in the water will help eliminate his fear and improve his enjoyment in the water.
Waterproof collars with polyurethane or nylon webbing are the best choice when your lab is in the water. They’re durable and won’t disintegrate like other natural materials. We hope we’ve given you some truly helpful tips in the article. With patience, persistence and lots of love, your Labrador will be enjoying the water happily and safely.
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