Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | May 22, 2006

Dogs & Rivers

Dear Pet Column,

 Last winter I adopted a young male dog from the animal shelter.  I know little of his history but he has quickly adapted to our family and does well during most of our outdoor activities.  However, he appears to be fearful of water and as I love fishing I am wondering whether I should just toss him in the water to get him past his apprehension?

 Sincerely, To Toss or Not to Toss

 Dear To Toss or Not to Toss, my name is Telly and as a beautiful young male Rottweiller who has overcome some of my own fear responses, here is my answer in a nutshell: would you like to be tossed from an airplane to get over your “apprehension” of heights?  Similarly, not to toss is certainly the best means of introducing your dog to water.  That being clear, I will offer you some more gentle alternatives that will enhance the trust between you and your dog rather than drown it.

 Dogs have a natural tendency (a.k.a. survival instinct) to avoid the unknown and the threatening.  Thus, to help your dog work through any fear reaction you should act as you would with a child exploring a new environment – gently with encouragement.  Letting your dog overcome it’s fears at his/her own pace rather than attempted force will typically yield the best results.  Submerging a dog against it’s will can often times increase the dog’s aversion to water, just as you may tend to avoid airplanes after being tossed from one.

 We dogs like to maintain a relatively singular focus, thus, we aren’t often simultaneously happy and fearful.  One emotion has to make room for another, therefore, distracting a dogs attention from fear to fun is a very effective way of getting that dog to accept foreign elements such as running water.   For example, playing with sticks and balls at the edge of the water is good trickery.  Tossing the object a bit further into the water each time while providing ample praise and encouragement can rapidly get a pooch past fear and into play mode. 

 For dogs that are not fetchers and turn their nose up at a ball or stick, try walking into the water yourself and playfully calling your dog – rather than teetering on the edge keeping your feet dry and asking your dog to go in.  Why should your dog go where you, it’s leader, fears to tread? (we aren’t stupid you know…) 

 Games of chase on the water’s edge and rewards of yummy treats while playing in the water are other good ideas.  In fact I have seen these methods work with some of my Second Chance sheltermates that go to the river with our volunteer people-friends and myself.  A final suggestion is to take your dog out with your friend’s and their dogs who are water lovers.  This activity can be used to model the behavior you would like your dog to mimic.

 In closing, I would like to briefly tell you about myself, as I am the Second Chance Pet of the Week.  As a Rottie I can look intimidating but my favorite thing is to lick and lean on people that I trust (note the vicinity of my tongue to the face of this nice man in the attached photo).  I have been fostered at a great home with other dogs and horses and have done splendidly and am now ready for a forever home. 

 I am also a proud member of the Dirt Gang at the Second Chance shelter – a group of canines that romp, play, and slobber all over each other in the back yard of the shelter so that we come in as dirty as possible at the end of playtime.  Being a Dirt Gang Member reflects my playful and non-aggressive spirit.  So please come meet me and take me for a walk to the river – I will show you what a great fishing dog I can be, among other things.,.

 Pet Questions for next week’s column can be sent to: or to Pet Column, c/o Second Chance Humane Society, PO Box 2096, Ridgway, CO 81432.  Second Chance Humane Society (SCHS) offers animal humane services to San Miguel and Ouray Counties.  Contact Kelly at 626-2273 x4 for more information on volunteer and community education  programs.  For information about adopting, reporting a lost pet, or other pet questions, contact Kim at 626-2273 x1 (SCHS Animal Hotline).


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