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There is a reason Labrador Retrievers are the most popular breed in the world. They are intelligent, trusting, even-tempered, outgoing, and kind. Yours is probably no different. He’s everything you expected and more. One thing that quite surprised you though is how much energy he has. You take him out for a walk each day, but he still spends the rest of the day bounding around the house. However, you have an idea to drain his energy--you want to train him to swim. You have ponds and lakes around, so it’s a no-brainer.
Training him to swim will be good for both you and him. It will give you an effective way to tire him out before work, ensuring he spends his day napping, rather than chewing your carpets. It’s also fantastic exercise for him, keeping him lean and strong, plus potentially preventing injuries later on in life.
Training a Labrador Retriever to swim is relatively straightforward. They are brave and many naturally love water. However, your task is to gradually build up his confidence. To do that, you will need to start shallow and work your way up to diving into the sea. Training will also depend on finding the right incentive. Like most dogs, Labrador Retrievers go weak at the knees for anything they can eat. So, the right tasty motivator will play a crucial role.
If he’s a puppy, he should be reckless and keen to please. This means you could see results in just a week or so. If he’s older and more cautious, then you may need a while longer. It could take up to a month before he’s ready to fully brave the waves. Succeed and you’ll have the perfect foundation to teach him a number of water-related tricks.
Before you start working, you will need a few things. The first thing you will need is a pool or shallow pond to start training in. If your Labrador Retriever is a small puppy, you can even start training in the bathtub.
You will then need a generous supply of treats or his favorite food broken into small pieces. A tennis ball and a clicker will also be required for one of the methods.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and a swim suit, then work can begin!
The Fetch Method
Spend a few minutes each day playing around with a particular toy, such as tennis ball. Play fetch, tug of war and get him as excited as you possibly can. Talking in a high-pitched, animated voice will also help.
Now take him to a pool or a pond. Start playing fetch by the water. Then after a couple of throws, throw the toy onto the first step or right by the water’s edge.
If he doesn’t automatically dive for it, encourage him. To do that, point and talk in an up-beat voice. It may take him a little while to catch on, but he will eventually.
When he does finally retrieve the toy, make sure he gets plenty of verbal praise and a tasty treat. The happier he feels afterwards, the more eager he will be to play again.
Increase the depth
Now you simply need to gradually increase the depth. This must be done slowly or you may scare him. So, the next time throw it on the second step, then the third and so on. Practice this a few times a week and keep giving him rewards until he looks totally comfortable in the water.
The Diving Duo Method
Head to a bath, pool or local pond. However, make sure you have your swim suit on. Labrador Retrievers mirror their owner's behavior. So, if he sees you comfortable in the water, he’ll be much more likely to join you.
Hold a treat high
Gradually get into the water, but remain upbeat and jolly as you go. Now stay close to the edge or where it is shallow and hold up a tasty treat. Often, the smellier the treat the better. Now call his name in a high-pitched voice and encourage him to join you until he gives in.
To start with, give him a treat just for coming to the water’s edge. You want to reward any interest in the water at all. You can also give him some verbal praise to further reinforce the behavior.
Now hold up another treat, but this time make him get in the water to get it. Stay close to him so you can support him as he gets in. If he looks nervous, hold him with one hand.
Make it harder
Hold these swimming lessons several times each week. After a few visits, when he looks comfortable, you can start holding the treat underwater, so he gets confident diving and swimming under the waves too.
The Clicker Method
Get him clicker friendly
A clicker is a brilliant way to communicate with your Labrador Retriever. Simply click whenever he performs a behavior or command correctly around the house and immediately follow with a treat. This will be your way of signalling to him he is doing well in the water.
Start by getting him used to being around water in the bath. You can play with his favorite toys in there. Encourage him to play tug of war and talk in a high-pitched voice the whole time. This will help put him at ease.
Whenever he displays any interest in the water, click to let him know he’s doing the right thing. You can then swiftly hand over a tasty treat. You need to be as encouraging as you can, especially to start with.
Once he is comfortable in the bath, take him to some open water, outdoors. Use toys again to encourage him to play. Throw them in there and encourage him to play fetch, while clicking and rewarding him regularly to reinforce the behavior.
Once he is comfortable in the pond, you can then take him to practice swimming in lakes or the sea. Throw a toy or tennis ball in to play fetch. Then click whenever he returns and continue to reward him. Only when he is comfortable in all waters and doesn’t need encouragement to dive in should you stop using the clicker and handing over regular treats.
By James Barra
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021