Exceptional Canine: Teach Your Dog to Swim

Teach Your Dog to Swim

By Susan Sarracino-Deihl for Exceptional Canine

Teach Your Dog to Swim

With its smooth face, topknot of tight curls, liver-colored curly coat and signature “rat tail,” along with its quizzical nature, the Irish Water Spaniel has a reputation for being the clown of the spaniel family. But don’t let that fool you. Like most dogs of the sporting group, Irish Water Spaniels are smart, active, energetic, devoted companions, and they are very willing to please.

The Irish Water Spaniel makes a good family dog. The breed is also good for those with allergen sensitivities, since the Irish Water Spaniel’s tight double curly coat sheds very little. The coat requires some maintenance. These dogs also need daily exercise, preferably more than just a walk around the block. And like most dogs, they love a good dip in the water!

A Strong Swimmer and Lover of Water Sports
One of the rarer breeds of the American Kennel Club — with only about 27 breeders in the United States, the Irish Water Spaniel was bred to swim in the frigid waters of Ireland. These dogs have webbed feet, making them swift and powerful swimmers. And they are equally adept at retrieving game from both water and land.

Since Bob and I are hunters, our dogs get many opportunities to exercise their locating and retrieving skills. We run our dogs in hunt tests, where their ability is evaluated. Since not everybody hunts, we recommend using tough plastic water floats called bumpers — a training tool used in place of birds — for all retrievers. On land, our dogs love to catch Frisbees or tennis balls.

Train to Swim With Care
Even though the Irish Water Spaniel is naturally a water dog, we’re careful when we first introduce ours to water. It’s a step-by-step process that takes a few weeks. By that time, we have puppies leaping off 6-foot banks into the water.

Here’s what we do:

Take it easy. For the first few days, start out with small-to-large puddles to get your dog’s legs wet.

Walk into water.
Find a body of water with a gradual entry, like a beach or a boat ramp, so your dog can take its time walking into deeper water.

Provide short exposures. Let your dog experience the deeper water in short intervals, with easy access to shallow water.

Use retrieval games. Throw bumpers just far enough so that your dog has to swim to retrieve the toys, but close enough so that your dog can find its feet quickly.

Our gradual method can be used to help any dog grow accustomed to water, but be aware that some breeds will take to water more than others.

Susan Sarracino-Deihl and her husband, Bob, have owned Irish Water Spaniels for more than 30 years. They are also amateur field trial/hunt test handlers and AKC hunt test judges. Their dogs have excelled in all venues of competition — field, hunting, obedience, rally obedience, tracking, agility and conformation.