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Thursday, 16 July 2009

In deep water

My three-year-old Labrador, Daisy, is obsessed with swimming. I know it is a natural trait of her breed, but it has got so extreme that I can't walk her anywhere off-lead. Daisy can smell water wherever we are and will run until she finds it - nothing will distract her attention. She has even charged across a busy road to get to a pond on the other side, which has now made me afraid to let her run free.
Can anyone suggest a solution? I don't want to rid her of her natural instincts, but I need to have more control over my water baby.
Jo Richards, by email

Amy Hatcher, behaviourist and obedience trainer, says...
All breeds have their natural traits and with Labradors the number one thing seems to be swimming (and eating of course). My Border Collies are trained sheepdogs but I can still walk through a field of sheep and they won't go near unless I say so. You can achieve this by training your Labrador to go in the water on command to fetch something and then when she comes out with the article walk on and do some other training with her such as sit stays, down stays etc. Return to the pond and send her back in for a retrieve again. Don't just approach the pond and let her go in, actually encourage her by throwing something. This makes swimming 'work' rather than just a free for all. The next time she needs to be on the lead. Tell her to stay and throw the retrieve article - keep hold of the lead as she is likely to break her stay to rush in. When she relaxes and stops trying to pull you in give her the retrieve command and send her in. You need to repeat this step a few times in quick succession and then each day in various locations.

June Williams, COAPE Association of Behaviourists and Trainers, says…
Instead of scenting and chasing deer, rabbits or squirrels, your Labrador is scenting and chasing water. It is therefore, essentially a recall problem together with finding something that she will find more rewarding to do out on a walk with you. The difficulty is that, the finding and enjoying of the water is so irresistibly and intrinsically rewarding. I would work on an emergency recall and/or whistle train her. Get some professional help from an APDT member. Put her on a long line, the end of which always stays within reach. It will get you fit! Try and get her more interested in playing with a special toy that only goes out on walks. It will take time and hard work.


  1. I am seeing a client with this very problem tomorrow. Obviously there is no 'one size fits all' but I always recommend this is worked on in the same way as I would deal with a recall problem. If the dog is not motivated by anything but the ultimate reward (in this case, water) you should work on this in context, ie: a one-to-one session with a qualified, accredited and experienced trainer who will teach you how to motivate your dog under safe but relevant (i.e. watery!) conditions.
    A dog needs to earn the right to run free so I would use the water itself as the ultimate reward during training. Take your dog somewhere where you can allow it in and out of shallow water, under control (use a long line if necessary). Reward each recall/instant stop or other control exercise with a short play in the water. Repeat until your dog realises that the only way they will be allowed in the water is to look to you first for 'permission please'!
    Also, how about taking your dog somewhere where they may enjoy swimming safely? There are even dog sports involving water retrieve work. As this also involves teaching control, you could both have fun!

  2. One thing I can say definatly can help in this situation,literally becoming a lifesaver is Whistle feeding. Usually I would start this at the puppy stage, I wean my puppies in this manner.
    Firstly go back to basics, at feeding times make Daisy sit and wait for her meal, when she has her full attention on you and not her bowl blow a whistle twice as a release, do this every time you feed her,
    As things progress and you are out walking keep a very high reward (somthing that she will do anything for,ie livercake, primula prawn paste in a tube)in your treat pocket, Blow your whistle twice and on her return reward her, This can take time but as I said it is a fantastic way to teach recall, goodluck.