Aquaphobia by definition is the irrational fear of water. While it is typically connected to humans, it can also occur in our four-legged friends. When you do a simple online search, dog aquaphobia usually goes hand-in-hand with rabies. However, that is not always the case.
Aquaphobia in dogs can range from fear of snow and rain to the fear of large bodies of water.
I have a terrier-mix named Sophie. Ever since I brought her home from her foster family, she has had a terrible fear of water: baths, rivers, sprinklers, lakes, you name it. For some dogs, like toy breeds, it is common to find a fear of water. However, Sophie’s dominant breed, the Wire-Fox Terrier, doesn’t typically display aquaphobia. They are known to be curious and fearless. So, what gives?
After consulting with Sophie’s vet, he said that the most likely cause of her dog aquaphobia stems from a traumatic experience they had when they were younger. I brought Sophie home when she was about 9-weeks old. She was rescued as a feral puppy with her siblings and mom. It is definitely possible something water related also happened in those 9-weeks before I brought her home.
Bringing Sophie along on all my adventures is a must and it is not uncommon for me to be around some form of water most of the summer. It was a sad discovery that Sophie didn’t want to join me on my paddleboard or get a drink from a stream during a long hike, especially during our hot summers we get in Utah. So, I set out to find the best ways to help your dog overcome aquaphobia.
Train Your Dog to Accept Water
I said, “accept water” because it is entirely possible they will never truly love it. But, you can train your pup to be comfortable around water. The process is gradual and may take a treat or two for coaxing.
It’s important to understand the level of your dog’s aquaphobia. Are they fearful of all water, including rain and snow? Or does it start with a bath and go up from there? There are different techniques for different levels of fear.
Rain and Snow
Sophie isn’t sure about rain, but snow is one of her favorite things.
Let’s start with the highest level of the fear. If your dog is fearful of water to the point she won’t go out in the rain, start slow and preferably not during a downpour.
- Let your pup see that the weather is no reason to be scared of going outdoors. Grab her favorite toy or a few treats and step outside. Encourage her to come play with you.
- If she is a lover of walks, get her excited about the prospect of a walk before she realizes it is raining. The key here is not to force her out, but hopefully she will be too excited about the walk she won’t notice the drizzle. She may only make it a step or two off the porch or make it around the block, only take her as far as she is comfortable. You don’t want to make the fear worse.
- Another method is the buddy system. If she has a fur-friend that isn’t scared of the weather, bring him over to play or have him join in on your walk. Seeing that her friend isn’t harmed by the water or scared of it, might just be the coaxing she needs to take that step outside.
- Remember to have patience. If you can see her getting frustrated or anxious, take a break and try again another day.
Sophie absolutely hates baths. According to her vet, this most likely stems from a traumatic experience as a puppy.
If your dog is terrified of baths, there are a few things you can do to help her overcome this fear.
Sophie is terrified of baths. However, in the short time we have been with each other, I have found ways to make bath time less stressful for both of us.
- Whether you use a sink, tub, or kiddie pool outside, install non-slip bath stickers to provide her paws some traction. This truly made all the difference. She’s much calmer when she isn’t slipping and sliding all over the place.
- Try coaxing her in with a treat or toy. You may also get in with her to show her it isn’t as scary as she thinks it is. Keep the water shallow – no higher than her “knees.”
- Smear a little bit of peanut butter along the wall of the tub or use a suction-cup bath toy to keep her mind off the actual bath.
- Keep your voice soothing and provide constant praise.
- Also, check out this tip on “How to make bathtime fun.”
Rivers, Lakes, and Other Large Bodies of Water
Getting Sophie comfortable on a paddleboard has been no easy feat. Patience has been key..
Sophie’s main aquaphobia is large bodies of water. I had been told by a fellow dog owner that the best way to get Sophie used to something is to start them young. When Sophie was a puppy, I started taking her on the paddleboard and in a kayak. Initially, it seemed like she was going to be a natural. However, as the summer went on, she got more and more anxious about the prospect of being on a watercraft.
I never threw her in the water and she never fell in. I’m not sure when or how the fear developed. Her fear had gotten so bad that she would cry anytime I tried to take her out on the water.
After talking with her vet and a dog trainer, as well as some online research, I have found a few techniques that have helped Sophie become more used to the idea of water.
- Start small. Take her to a stream or the beach and let her test the waters. Let her dip her nose it, take a drink, or even walk in if she is brave enough. Repetition will help with this greatly.
- As you progress, make sure it is on calm weather days. The water should be relatively calm and the surroundings should be quiet. Anything to help calm the anxiety.
- Once she has explored the bank on her own, attach a lead and try having her follow you into the water. If she won’t follow, coax her in with her favorite treats or toy. Take it slow. If she really doesn’t want to follow you in, don’t get frustrated or forceful. This will only make the anxiety worse. It may take a few tries.
- If you have a smaller breed, get her a lifejacket. It may seem silly, but if it fits properly, it will be nice and snug which provides some comfort. I like the kind with a handle on the back. This easily allows me to grab Sophie if she was ever to fall in or if she starts to panic. It also allows me to help her test deeper waters since I can have a stronger grasp on her than with a lead.
Different breeds have different comfort levels with water. It is important to learn your pup’s level of comfort.
With all of this being said, there are some key takeaways:
- Continuous praise – you’ll need lots of yummy treats
- Train your pup to associate water with play and rewards/encouragement
- Be patient – you may need a few tries with each step before you see any progress
- Not all breeds are meant for water – your pup may never fully accept getting wet
I was surprised at how few tries it took for Sophie to love being on the bank. She loves getting a drink and dipping her feet in. We eventually got to the point that she will fetch a stick or toy, at least to the point where she can still touch. Shallow rivers and streams are now her favorite thing in the world.
We are still working on her going past her belly, but with each trip she seems more comfortable. We have discovered that she seems to like the kayak more than the paddleboard; possibly because she feels more cradled in it. I’m not sure Sophie will ever just dive right in, but with the progress we have made following the above steps, I’m confident she will grow to like being around water.
I hope these tips work for your pup’s dog aquaphobia too.