Does your dog think you are in danger or drowning when you go swimming? So why does your dog act so crazy when you go in the water, and more importantly, what can you do to calm them down…
Why dogs might freak out when people are in the water
It’s hard to say for certain why some dogs freak out or go crazy when their owners go for a swim in the pool or the lake. Are they excited or scared?
Some dogs may just be super excited and don’t know how to express that emotion without barking, whining, or jumping continuously.
If your dog is just super excited about playing with you and is barking like crazy, it can still be frustrating. Especially if you have neighbors or other swimmers around!
On the other end of the spectrum, some dogs may be legitimately fearful or worried about their person’s safety and well-being. Your dog might start whining, barking like crazy, pacing/running around the edge of the pool or along the beach.
Or they may even jump in after you as your rescuer!
Does your dog think you’re drowning?
Your dog’s body language will tell you if they are excited, or if they are scared that you are in danger.
A playful, excited dog will have a loose body, a wagging tail, ears up straight, and forepaws bent and bum in the air. They will also jump around and likely bark. They could also take off in bursts of zoomies!
A dog who thinks you’re drowning will likely have a stiff tail and body language. Ears may be drawn back. They will likely also whine more than bark.
If your dog is baring their teeth, snapping their jaws, with a stiff body language, then they are very stressed and in a state of aggression towards the water. They may be seeing it as a threat towards their owner.
If your dog is showing either over-excitement or fear and aggression, then it’s best they are removed from the situation and time is spent training them in this situation – addressed further down in this article.
If you think your puppy has an unhealthy obsession with water, then we have the perfect post for you to read here.
How to stop your dog from freaking out when you are swimming
First, you have to determine if your dog is being playful or is legitimately worried about you.
You know your dog best and will probably be able to determine if your pup is excited or worried. Determining this will help you find the best way to train your dog to calm down or for you to reassure your dog that you are in no danger.
Also use the above body language cues to determine which behavior they are showing.
If you have an excited dog on your hands, you’ll want to keep calm and quiet and not get them overly excited. If your dog is worried or scared, however, you will need to provide comfort and reassurance, while also ensuring that your dog doesn’t feel the need to protect you.
One step in the process is desensitizing your dog to water activities. If they really just want to get into the water with you, can you do this? There are some excellent dog life jackets on the market, like this Outward Hound jacket.
If you don’t have a pool and your dog only acts crazy around the water when you visit the lake, or a friend’s pool, get a small kiddie pool and fill that up at home.
Positively reinforce good behavior involving the kiddie pool. For example, splash around like you would in the lake.
If that is what gets your dog going and all worked up, you can work on getting your pup more used to the water first. Reward the good, calmer behaviors and ignore the bad out-of-control behaviors.
Steps to calm your dog when you go swimming
- Get a kiddie pool or use your own pool if you have one.
- Start with being outside with the water.
- Praise calm behavior with a kind word, a soft pat, or treats.
- If they are over-excited by being in the vicinity of water, then get a good book and spend some time around the area with your dog, praising calmness.
- Ignore bad behaviors or distract them with a positive activity.
- Instead of saying ‘no’ when they are barking, wait until your dog stops barking momentarily and reward them with lots of praise and a treat.
- As they learn to remain calm in the area, you can progress closer to the water.
- Move your hand through the water and splash a little.
- You are gradually moving up the level of interaction with the water as your dog learns to be calm.
- Continue progressing slowly with the training, and don’t push your dog too far. You don’t want the dog to experience any of those same heightened emotions again and have to start the process over.
If your dog is afraid of the water, then be sure to watch this video on training your dog to love water:
Focus on training
When you want to use the pool, but your dog won’t let you swim, you will want to keep the dog in the house.
It’s important to establish the above steps before jumping into the deep end, excuse the pun!
Make sure to put the dog away from the backyard and the pool before they get over excited or stressed. Better that than to feel like they’re being sent away as punishment.
Another tip for training a dog to behave better around water is employing family and friends’ help. If your dog is only upset when you get into the pool, ask a family member or a friend to keep the dog on a leash while you slowly work on moving closer towards the pool and more into the pool, and so on.
If your dog gets upset or hyper when anyone is in the pool, practice with everyone that is willing to help out!
Start with just a handler and one swimmer at a time, so you don’t overwhelm the dog too much. Then slowly introduce more people and see how the dog handles that.
Eventually, just getting in and out of the pool will be a breeze for everyone, and your pup won’t have a problem with it at all.
The next step is to add in some distractions that might commonly occur at a pool party, like laughing, yelling, splashing, or just general fun chaos.
Getting your dog used to these distractions will take practice and time, but eventually, your dog will get used to everyone being in the pool and having fun and will learn some better poolside manners!
Dogs as lifeguards
It is not altogether surprising that dogs show some concern when humans are splashing about in the water. Some breeds have been specifically bred to act as lifeguards!
In the south of Italy, over 300 dogs with their trainers patrol 30 different beaches and help swimmers in need. In the summer of 2021, three dogs named Eros, Mya, and Mira saved the lives of 14 people who had been struggling to get back to shore in Sperlonga safely!
These dogs and trainers helped lifeguards rescue all 14 people who were struggling against the currents and the waves, and they did so in less than 15 minutes.
These courageous pups were Labrador retrievers, but Italy and other European countries use Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands as lifeguards, too.
Newfoundlands are actually believed to have been bred to be powerful swimmers. They used to be considered part of the required “equipment” expected to be kept in all lifeguard stations in England. And they have webbed feet, too.
The 300 dogs employed in Italy are able to help save over 3,000 people every year. These amazing dogs have to train for at least three years before they can join the K9 lifeguard unit of the Italian Coast Guard. But how exactly does a dog rescue a person from the water?
How a lifeguard dog rescues a swimmer in distress
Lifeguard dogs are always outfitted with a special harness, and then they grab hold of rescue gear like a rescue tube and swim out to the person in distress.
If able, the person in need of help grabs onto the rescue tube, and the dog begins paddling back to shore with the person in tow behind them. A dog can pull as many as three people behind them!
If a person is unconscious or facing down in the water, the dog will grab the person’s upper arm or shoulder area, flip the person back over to get their face out of the water, and will tug the person back to shore by gently biting on to the person’s arm, shirt, or bathing suit.
Sound familiar at all? Yep! Sometimes our dogs, without any special training, want to grab us by the arm and get us out of the water, too.
Does your dog scratch on the door? You might like to read our post, 11 Easy Ways to Stop Your Dog Scratching the Door.
Whether your dog is just having a little bit too much fun and making too much noise at the pool party, or your pup is genuinely freaked out that you may be drowning, don’t worry because there are ways to help your dog calm down.
With patience, training, and practice, we can teach our dogs that swimming is perfectly safe and fun and not worth all the fuss they have been making.
And someone better tell these dogs that they have to go to school for three years before they can start being lifeguards.
No biting at our arms or our swimsuits to pull us out of the water until then!