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Dog Training/GSD will not swim


Hi Cindy, we have a 4 year old German Shepherd that we got at 6 Months old, that was (alas) never introduced to water; we have an inground pool with a 5 foot section that is only a foot then it cliffs down to 3 feet and graduates to 5 feet. Mac will splash and even lay down in the 1 foot area to cool down (we are in South Florida) but the one time he fell in the deep section he panicked and just splashed and thrashed until I had to rescue him! this day he will not go for a swim, we even brought him to the salt water beach nearby and he will just run up and down the beach when we are in and bark incessantly, but will not venture over his head.....any hope for this big coward? Nick

Hi Nick,

Your dog has learned to dislike, even fear water. He may never like it. My Golden retriever, of all dogs who does not like water, and only ever wades and splashes around in it, recently at the age of 6 1/2 jumped into some water that was over her head. She panicked but dog paddled her way back to the edge and pulled herself out. I'm glad because I really didn't want to go diving for her! My other dog, who is a good swimmer came to her aid, sensing her distress. I do not know yet what the outcome of that experience will be.

You could try to desensitize and counter condition him to the water by making it appear super safe to him, never pushing him into it and preventing him from being surprised and scared again. You can pair the experience with something pleasant, such as food, and gradually he may learn to overcome his fear and like the water. If it was my dog, I would make sure he had a life jacket on at all times around water. You could take him out on the water boating or to picnics or whatever, and he could come to have a positive association with the water.

Just make sure you never push him in, like my swimming instructor's assistant did when I was a kid standing fearfully on the high diving board over a deep water quarry - or my diving instructor who held me down under the water and almost drowned me to make a point to never forget to exhale on ascent again! These are not effective teaching methods.

You could also play games with your dog in the water, like fetch. Just protect him from ever getting scared again, and allow him to progress at his own rate, reinforcing any progress with praise and food treats or games such as fetch - whatever he enjoys.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for asking, and good luck!


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Cindy Ludwig, M.A., R.N., KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA


My specialty is clicker training. I'm a Karen Pryor Academy graduate and Certified Training Partner (certified clicker trainer). Karen Pryor was a marine mammal trainer and one of the early proponents of force-free animal training who helped popularize clicker training in the early 90's. I also do behavior modification with dogs that have fear, anxiety and aggression. I work with service dogs and was a certified therapy dog evaluator with two other organizations before starting my own therapy dog program, the first of its kind requiring all dog candidates to be trained with force-free methods and all evaluators to demonstrate a commitment to force-free methods. I made weekly visits with my own therapy dog to a nursing center in Dubuque, Iowa for four and a half years. I have an undergraduate degree in science and am a registered nurse with a previous specialty and certification in critical care, so I can answer questions pertaining to biology, behavior and pharmacology but because I am not a licensed veterinarian I cannot legally or ethically answer questions requesting a diagnosis. I have done graduate work in animal learning and wolf ethology, and have also completed coursework in dog biology, behavior and pet nutrition at regionally accredited U.S. universities. I continue my study of applied behavior analysis with top experts in the field. For more information and to schedule a consultation or enroll in classes, see my Canine Connection website:


Prior to becoming a full time professional dog trainer in May 2009 and opening my business, Canine Connection LLC I worked part time as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and also volunteered at humane societies in several states over a period from 1992-2009. My previous full time occupation was in the medical profession. I have completed various continuing education programs including but not limited to the Purdue University Veterinary School Principles and Techniques of Behavior Modification course; Clicker Expo; undergraduate courses in dog biology, behavior, and pet nutrition; and graduate coursework in wolf ethology. I was a Field Representative for Paws with a Cause for 3 years and train service dogs. My Golden Retriever that accompanies me in my work as a Field Representative is a "career changed" dog from the Paws breeding program that I have clicker trained as a demonstration service dog. This same dog I trained to earn the first Dog Scout title in the State of Iowa. She and I were also members of the Badger Kennel Club Drill Team and performed with the group annually at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. My dog, Ginger and I provided weekly pet therapy visits to a local nursing center for the past three and a half years. I continue my education by participating in seminars and class offerings provided by such notable experts as Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Ray Coppinger, Michele Pouliot and others. My services include in-home private training and behavior modification, group classes and pet sitting. More information is available on my website:

Founder and owner, Canine Connection LLC; Founder, Canine Connection Positively Trained Certified Therapy Dogs; Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT); 2010 APDT Education Committee; Truly Dog-Friendly Trainer Coalition; Doggone Safe; American Kennel Club

Top Tips from Top Trainers: 1001 Practical Tips & Techniques for Successful Dog Care and Training (March 2010); The Golden View; Family Connections;; Animal info Publications; HubPages; Finding Fuzzybutt Four Blog; Petopia Newsletter, Galena, Illinois; Suite 101;;; Dubuque 365 Ink Magazine; Dubuque Telegraph Herald; Columbia Business Times; Columbia Senior Times; Columbia Missourian; Columbia Daily Tribune; Graphic Education Corporation; Belson-Hanwright; Critical Care Nurse; Journal of Emergency Nursing; Home Healthcare Nurse; Nursing; Journal of Emergency Medical Services; Shape; Houston Community College Egalitarian; Findlay College Obelisk

B.S., Science; M.A., Higher & Adult Education with graduate work in animal learning, canine biology and behavior, pet nutrition; Graduate, Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior; Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner; Diploma, professional nursing; licensed registered nurse (R.N.); Paramedic completion program; previously licensed paramedic in Texas and Missouri

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