Fearful dog, how i handled dog fear of water
Let’s face it. Some dog breeds we just automatically expect to love the water, especially a Labrador Retriever. That was my general expectation for the beautiful, black Labrador retriever puppy a close friend gave me for my twenty-first birthday. Although a rescued dog, her assertive dog behavior was already evident by nine and ten weeks of age, not at all like a fearful dog. Who would have suspected dog fear of water?
Of course, as an experienced obedience dog trainer and dog owner, I know better than to assume that just because I have a certain dog breed, it is going to be or not be a certain way. Each and every dog has its own personality, wonderful points, and quirks. You have to feel each dog out and take the time to see what are the best training techniques for your specific pet so that your dog can have the best life possible for him … and for you.
My Labrador retriever puppy was beautiful but high strung and fiercely determined. In all things, she was absolutely one hundred percent one way or the other. There was never an in-between with her. If she didn’t like it, she was going to show teeth, buck, the whole bit! She was not at all like the mellow Labs with which my friend grew up, the gentle ones who eagerly went duck hunting with her father and retrieved Frisbees from the lake… the personality expectation my friend had of this gift. My pup was uniquely individual.
My pup seemed absolutely fascinated by the running water in my shower. I introduced her slowly. I took my time putting drops on her to help her get used to the idea that the water would not hurt her, and to make it fun. This kind of slow, patient, systematic introduction is very important and usually highly successful.
Pups need baths, though. So I repeated the slow process, easing into the pleasure of the water … when without warning, she went into a complete panic mode! I quickly held her up by the scruff of the neck to calm her down.
Dog behavior tip in handling panic or tantrum — Remember, mama dog says “stop” or “cool it!” She does not coo, “It’s okay, baby.” Mimicking mama dog’s way of taking control makes the pup feel more secure and calms her down. The soft approach does not provide leadership, and confident leadership is what a scared dog or child needs to snap out of a panic state.
The bath took a very long time. The pup had several panic attacks. However, I had to follow through. Unless you want your dog to fear water forever, you have to stay there until you accomplish your goal. If they leave a situation in a fearful state, they will revisit it with that same level of fear.
Your mental state is very important, too. You must stay calm, authoritative, and fully in control. It all gets back to the calming effect of confident leadership. You must step up to the plate and provide that for your dog.
Three months later, my Labrador retriever puppy had learned to accept her monthly bath. She was not happy about it, but she acquiesced and was no longer terrified. She respected water, but no longer displayed strong dog fear of water.