It may seem an odd topic for an article, since Weims are supposed to be versatile dogs, right? Don’t they come with a natural “swimming gene”?
Well, it’s not that simple, and there are plenty of Weim owners who have taken their precocious pup to the beach or lake, throwing a ball in, expecting their Weim to jump on in, only to be surprised, and maybe even a little disappointed, that their little genius trots into the water up to their chest, and then — stops.
If this has happened to you, your Weim may have done several things at this point. Perhaps he stared expectantly at the ball, or maybe he pawed at the water, or barked in frustration a few times before turning around and returning to you. For a new Weim owner, this may be your first real reminder that Weims are not Labs. Same size, same basic shape, and yes they are both sporting dogs — but the similarities really stop there.
Most people agree that swimming in Weimaraners has genetic component, although we don’t really understand how it is inherited. One thing seems to hold true: your chances of getting a puppy that swims early and easily are increased if the parents of your puppy swam early and easily.
All is not lost if you’ve already brought Junior home and he’s a non-swimmer! Over the years, I have seen puppies that take to water like a fish, and I have seen some that simply refuse to get their feet off the comfort of the shore. I’ve seen dogs that glide easily in the water, and I’ve seen some that slap, paddle and splash their way around.
Depending on your Weim, swimming may be more natural to your dog, or you may need to spend a bit of time teaching him to be comfortable in the water. Every dog is different, but all dogs are capable of swimming, and almost all Weims can be taught to swim. And they almost always learn to enjoy it!
If your breeder socialized your puppy to water from an early age you may have an edge, but depending on the time of year your puppy was born, he may not have had this exposure as a baby puppy. That’s okay because I have a bunch of suggestions to get your puppy started with swimming!
If you are lucky enough to start your puppy swimming very young, it’s important that you imprint the sensation of water under their legs. The younger the puppy, the better, but even older puppies can benefit from this exercise.
First, make sure you start your swimming lessons on a hot day so that there is positive reinforcement when your dog is in the water. Or, if it’s not too hot out, make sure that the water isn’t cold. Do not start teaching your pup to swim if the water temperature isn’t comfortable!
Hold your puppy securely and go into the water. Oh! I forgot to tell you that you’re going in too. Believe me, as Weimaraners, your being in the water will make an impression on him too. So hold him securely and let him paddle his legs. If he seems comfortable, start releasing him a little bit but still remain cradling his chest and belly, and when he is relaxed, turn towards the shore and let him paddle on his own.
Instinct tells him to go towards the shore, and he will. Pay attention to how he is reacting. Is he swimming back to the shore in fear or is he just swimming? Some Weims do not like getting water in their ears so be careful about any negative associations with what is going on.
Success at this point should be measured by your dog’s level of comfort and confidence in the situation; this is not about whether he made it back to the shore, or how fast he swims, or how good his mechanics are. (Many new swimmers learn on their own to level out and quit splashing with their front legs.)
After your pup is swimming well and can swim about ten feet into the shore, up the ante a bit. Wade into the water and tease him with a really cool toy. See if he’ll swim out to you. The natural swimmers will do it, but most Weims won’t. If he does, praise him like he’s the best pup in the world (which of course he is!) and move on to something else for awhile before trying it again. Don’t overdo it, don’t force it, and praise like crazy!
The next step is getting your pup to be comfortable going into the water without you. You can use any kind of snack or treat that floats, is edible and visible. Popular choices are cheese puff/cheese ball type snacks or popcorn.
Toss a cheese ball just far enough out to where your pup has to really reach to grab it. Then toss a few more past that point. If there is a current, you may have to play with the distance a bit because your dog will learn quickly that he just has to stand and wait for his prize to float in. Why work when he doesn’t have to?
Once he is going for the cheeseballs, you can build on his momentum and toss them in rapid sequence to keep him going after them. Sometimes you can even trick him into swimming.
Depending on your Weim and how he operates, you can either offer encouragement or keep your mouth shut while he works this out. Always praise a lot once he’s swimming!
Once your dog seems reasonably comfortable in the water, it’s time to start training him to retrieve from the water. This is assuming that your dog has a solid retrieve. If not—that’s a whole ‘nother article.
If your dog has a special toy that they love to retrieve, try tossing that in. You may have to start the sequence over again to get him comfortable in the water. If that works-great! If not, we have some other ideas that may get your pup retrieving:
- Hard salami zip tied or rubber-banded to a bumper
- Bird wings zip tied to a bumper
- Bumper on a string so you can make it move (adds visual interest and also allows you to “reel it in”)
- Soft bumper with bird scent on it (bird scent is available at many sporting goods stores)
- Frozen bird, either thawed or frozen
- Live bird, with one wing taped down, allowed to flap to add interest
- Dead freshly killed bird
- Squeaky toy, teasing dog and having a helper hold the dog’s collar to build drive
- Tie your dog up, make him watch another dog play fetch for a while to build interest
- Cross a pond and “leave him behind” if he doesn’t follow
- Life vest
Remember that once you have your dog swimming reliably in one place, you may need to start this process over in another place. Dogs don’t generalize well and just because they can swim well at a sandy beach doesn’t mean that they will eagerly go into a mucky pond the first time they see one.
Now that your Weim understands that he can swim in various places, it’s time to put a command to it!
You will need some treats, a handful of small rocks, a toy that your Weim loves and minimal distractions to start.
- Near the water’s edge, and facing the water, hold your dog by the collar with your left hand. Hold a rock and your dog’s toy in your right hand.
- Get your dog excited about going towards the water and release him.
- Your dog will take a step or two towards the water, and it is during those first two steps while your dog is still facing the water and still moving forward towards the water, that you will throw a small rock out into the water.
- The rock needs to be thrown straight out ahead of the dog about 6’ into the water.
- The rock will act as a bridge to encourage your dog to keep moving forward and looking forward even though you haven’t yet thrown the toy.
- Before your dog gets to where the rock landed in the water, throw your dog’s toy directly out, just ahead of your dog. NOTE: If your dog stops or looks back you have waited too long to throw either the rock or the toy.
- After a few practice sessions your dog will begin to trust that the toy will be thrown out ahead and so will be moving with confidence into the water, and you can begin to throw the toy out further ahead of your dog.
- At this point add the swim command to start the drill.
- If the water depth increases very gradually, this may require tossing a second or even a third rock out to continue to encourage your dog — with the toy only being tossed out when the dog’s feet have left the ground and he is swimming.
- After a few more practice sessions wait to throw the toy until the dogs feet have left the ground.
- After a few more sessions you will be able to dispense with the rock throwing.
This is what the finished product looks like.
Swim Command training instructions and video courtesy and © Trax Weimaraners.
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