Beginning Water Games for Fearful Dogs

enrichment fearful dogs Jul 18, 2022
Dogs in a pool

Does your dog avoid water? Or maybe your dog is happy to splash through puddles, but if the water is clean, forget it.  In this week's video I discuss strategies for introducing water-based activities to dogs who don't like water. 


Why Encourage Fun With Water? 

If your dog hates water, you might wonder why you would go to the trouble to encourage them to play in water.  Although it can take slow, careful training to get a water-hating dog to start enjoying water play, there are plenty of reasons to tackle this issue. For one, having safe and fun enrichment activities for hot weather is important for those of us living in areas where summer temperatures make many daytime outdoor activities unsafe for our dogs. Second, comfort with water is necessary for low-stress bathing. Finally, there are lots of outdoor activities in which your dog might encounter water- hiking, camping, trips to the beach, etc.  Wouldn't it be nice if your dog could enjoy a quick dip in a stream, rather than having to be carried over it? 


Getting Started: Positive Introductions To Water

Your plan for introducing your dog to water games should be personalized to meet their preferences, but here are a few important guidelines and suggestions:

  • No forcing your dog into the water:  Don't pick up your dog and put them in the water, or spray your dog with a hose, shower head, etc. When introducing your dog to water play, it's critical that your dog be able to choose if and when to enter the water. If you force your dog into water, there's a risk that they might end up fearing it- and avoiding you when around water as well.
  • Start training with very little or NO water:  If you'll be using a kiddie pool or similar, get your dog happy going in and out of it when it's dry, at first.  When you add water to the pool, add the bare minimum- it could be just a few splashes of water that doesn't even cover the floor of the pool. Or, check out the option of treat ice cubes in the video. As these melt they add just a tiny bit of water to your training. 
  • Incorporate favorite toys and activities:  Does your dog have a favorite ball or food toy? Maybe they love training tricks, playing tug, or doing scent work? Whatever their favorite activities, try to incorporate them into your water play.  In the video you can watch Pancake play with his very favorite food toys in the pool, and do some of his favorite training tricks like hand touch. 
  • Train in a conducive environment: I recommend doing water game training on hot days, when the water is more likely to feel pleasant to your dog. You can also experiment with warmer water, if your dog avoids cold water even on hot days. If you're using an outdoor kiddie pool, you can let the water sit in the sun for a while, or add some hot water you warm up in your water kettle. 


Example Water Games

There are so many activities your dog might enjoy playing in the water! Here are some that my dogs enjoy: 

  • Food-dispensing toys:  If you're working in very shallow water, almost any food toy can be used for water games. We used a couple of our dog Pancake's favorites, his Bob-a-Lot and his Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball, as well as a puzzle feeder. 
  • Treat ice cubes:  All of my dogs enjoyed fishing ice cubes containing treats out of the pool. You can freeze a kibble or two into each ice cube, or include higher value treats. 
  • Bobbing for treats:  Any food that floats can be scattered across them water, and then your dog can "bob" for them. I used kibble, and sometimes other dog treats. It took some trial and error to figure out what would float at least for a while, and what immediately sank. If the water is really shallow, your dog might be willing to grab treats off the bottom of the pool, but many dogs don't like to stick their noses in water. 
  • Floating treat cups: I placed treats, or smeared peanut butter, on plastic items that floated on the surface of the pool.  I used plastic lids from food containers, small plastic food containers, and sometimes parts of plastic food toys. Check out the video to see what this looks like. 
  • Easy training tricks: For my dogs, this included hand touches, jumping in and out of the pool, and sitting and lying down.  They enjoyed it most when the training pace (and therefore treat frequency) was high. 

If you try any of these water games, we'd love to hear from you! Shoot us a message or email ([email protected]) and tell us what worked, and what didn't. 



If you're looking for more training support for your fearful pup, check out our monthly training membership, or our one-on-one training program