Lately I've spoken with a number of Retriever owners whose dogs do not enjoy the water. After a few questions, the problem becomes clear. Given that these dogs, bred to collect the hunter's kill from the water, are natural water dogs, they probably just need a little instruction. Perhaps an easy acclimation to the water will work for them, as it did for Tanner. Here's how it went for us with Tanner, with photos from Oliver's experience. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Tanner's turn. :(
At about 9 months of age, the water was an inviting temperature, and Tanner's interest in new things was peaking. Perfect timing for an introduction to swimming. After a long walk to tire him out, we enjoyed a cool-down on the pool deck. He likes being wiped down with a few splashes of water, so I used this to my advantage, and got him more wet than usual.
Then, taking my arms under his belly, we sat slowly down on the edge of the pool, danging his toes in the water. This felt good and he quickly found it pleasurable. I dropped to the first step. Now his legs were in the water and his tummy was feeling a surge of cool water. That did it. He wriggled and tried to escape, being confused by this chilly surprise. Holding him close, tightly to my body, I did not speak. I just waited for him to calm himself and acclimate.
When Tanner's breathing slowed and he loosened in my grip, I gave him a few minutes to enjoy the relaxed feeling and then dropped another step. Water rose up to his shoulders and his eyes became like marbles. He looked at me as if to say, "We're not going to keep going into this giant water bowl, are we?"
Again, I simply sat quietly, holding him snugly against my body. And again he calmed after realizing, from my body language, that all was okay. I lifted Tanner out of the pool and allowed him to enjoy a good tail chasing and then dried him off. He loves being massaged with a thick towel, having his ears rubbed and his chest dried with a circular motion. This pleasurable end to Swimming Lesson 101 was perfect. He left his lesson with the pure enjoyment of a good massage. My hope was that his next lesson would go more easily.
It did. Without surprise, he awaited the move to each step. When we sat covered in the water up to his shoulders, his anticipation was palpable. Yet I waited. When he relaxed, once again, suspecting that we would go no further, I took this as my cue and stepped into the pool, continuing to hold him securely to me, as we moved around at a steady speed.
I turned him back toward the shallow step--his goal--and once again said "Swim, Tanner!" Once again, Tanner turned and headed back for me. This was going to be a challenge. He couldn't see the solid white step under the water; he simply knew that I was right behind him. This time I caught him and took him to the step. I put him securely on it and allowed him to stand there, realizing that it was good purchase, and he did not need me to hold him there.
It took a few more lessons before Tanner would get in alone, and a few more before he would jump into the water, and, well...you get it.