DCathy’s ear: We have an inground pool in our back yard. Our daughter and her family live two hours away, so they aren’t there often. She has a sweet and well behaved Goldendoodle. When visiting during the summer, the dog becomes very restless/excited when people are bathing. She runs around barking and tries to jump into the pool above the kids. Once she’s in the pool, she swims well, but she tries to paw if she gets near anyone. You have to push her back gently because her nails are scratching. Sometimes someone keeps her on a leash on the terrace, but we would like to find a way to let her swim safely. —Tom, West Hartford, Connecticut
Dear Tom: When children play in the pool, they sometimes look distressed. A dog, whose instinct is to protect his family, may feel anxious and helpless or over-excited in this environment. Since your little dog eventually gets into the pool (assuming it’s all on his own and he’s never forced into it), he’s either stressed out about being in the water or by the exuberant activities that surround it. Her pawing at everyone once in the pool is a sign of her continued anxiety.
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You can solve this problem in several ways. First of all, don’t let her run and jump in the pool alone. Keep her on a leash, so she doesn’t jump in the water and hurt anyone in the pool.
Second, put a life jacket on him. Make sure it fits snugly as this will mimic an anxious wrap, which can calm an anxious dog. At the same time, the life jacket also keeps her in the water. She may be kicking you because she doesn’t feel stable. A life jacket removes that fear.
Next, teach him how to get in the pool (not jump) using encouragement and positive reinforcement. Make sure everyone is out of the pool when you do this. I don’t expect you to tell your grandkids to stop playing loudly in the pool. But you could institute a policy that the kids can swim for 45-50 minutes, then they have to take a break (and eat popsicles) while the dog comes in for his practice/water time.
Once he’s in the water, let him know he’s doing a good job with positive language and tone. You could even put a floating toy in the pool to try and get her attention. If he’s overexcited or anxious and paws at you, take him out of the pool and try again the next hour.
Finally, your daughter should teach her to “sit” and “stay.” I’m sure she did, but most dogs only learn to sit and stay in one or two environments (i.e. around the house or in the back yard) . Dogs should be trained to listen to your commands in different environments with increasing levels of distraction.
Another way to reinforce “stay” is to train a dog to stay on a small rug or towel, then ask your daughter to always bring that rug or towel to your house. Dogs will sometimes learn to “stay” faster if instructed to stay on the same square of fabric each time.
Dogs are always alert, so it’s important to teach and train them to relax as well. Train the dog to “stay” and then wait for what I call the “roll and sigh”. When a dog first comes into a stop position, it usually gets on all fours. It’s not a relaxed position, but one that allows them to pop up at the first opportunity, which they always do when there’s a distraction.
It is only when the dog rolls over on one hip and lets out a sigh that your dog shows a relaxed state. Reward a relaxed state with praise or treats, whether you asked the dog to stay or not. If the dog feels responsible for life in the pool, helping him relax and letting him know you understand will help make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
If those things don’t help, put her on a tether or carriage system, so she can stay outside and doesn’t need someone holding a leash all the time. Make sure she is in the shade and only outdoors when you go outside. If she continues to be anxious, you may need to keep her home until she receives more training.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist, and companion animal expert with over 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to [email protected] Please include your name, city and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.