Helping a Dog Stay Calm While People Swim in the Pool

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 3, 2022

stay calm while people swim in the pool

For this Santa Monica dog behavior session we helped Chow Cocker Spaniel mix Hunter learn to stay calm while people swim in the pool.

Usually when I’m called in to work with dogs, there are a litany of dog behavior problems that the humans want to address. Not in Hunter’s case. He is a beautifully behaved, mid-energy dog who really doesn’t have any bad habits other than becoming distressed when he sees people get into the pool.

I have actually worked with more than a few dogs who get upset when they see people swimming or getting into a pool / body of water. This is usually the case for dogs who dont swim and its believed that many of the dogs act this way becasue they think the people are in danger as they dont understand the concept of swimming.

We spent the first part of the session going over some tips on feeding, hand targeting, mential exercises like Cookie in the Corner and a few other fundamentals. It was great to see how devoted the dog was to his family and vice versa. It was very distressing for the humans to see their dog get so anxious up when they get into the pool because of their empathy and love for him.

Training a dog to stay calm while his family swims in the pool

It’s not unusual to have a dog that gets upset when humans get into a pool, especially if the dog is not accustomed to a pool or body of water like a lake or pond in the first place. Hunter and his family only recently moved into this beautiful home with a pool, so this is a new experience that he is adjusting to

As we discussed the activities that got the dog upset with the pool, it became clear that there were a number of things that took place before the people actually got in the pool that caused Hunter to get anxious. The sound of the pool cover being opened, the splashing sound the humans make as they get into the pool, the suction sound of the pool filter and the bubbling of the hot tub are all examples of what we like to refer to as “triggers.”

When a dog hears a trigger that is followed by an activity that it is uncomfortable with or doesn’t like, this can create instant anxiety and the dog which has an obvious emotional response. This was the case with hunter and why the dog got so animated when people got into the pool.

I decided to use the concept of desensitization and counter conditioning to help the dog learn that people getting into the pool is OK. I set up my camera and then had the guardians position themselves at the edge of the pool so that I could share some tips on how to help a dog feel comfortable about humans getting into a pool. If you have a dog that does not like people swimming in a pool or other body of water, you should definitely check out the free positive dog behavior training video below.

As you could see at the beginning of the video, when we pushed a little bit past Hunter‘s limit, he got up and started to pace. This will be an important factor for the guardians to watch out for. When you’re using counter conditioning to stop a dog behavior problem you don’t want to practice past a level the dog can handle without getting upset. This is a difficult thing for many humans, as we have a tendency to push too far too fast, and can easily get impatient.

Fortunately for Hunter, his guardians are supremely dedicated towards his well-being and picked up on the dog pool tips that I detailed for them. By practicing a couple of times a day in short, successful practice sessions, Hunter should start to feel more relaxed with the sounds that are associated with people getting into the pool. It will be a process, but if his guardians go at his pace, he should learn that people getting into the pool is nothing he needs to be upset about.

I strongly recommended that they try to avoid situaitons where Hunter sees people getting into the pool as this will allow practice of the dog getting scared when people get into the pool.

One thing I regret not including in the above training video is to use a lick mat or high-value chew item like a bully stick or cow kneecap while they are playing the recordings to the trigger sounds or later when they are progressibly getting into the pool. Although food is a high value reinforcer, licking and chewing both release endorphins in dogs. If they can play the recording of the pool cover opening on a loop at a low volume while Hunter licks peanut butter off of a lick mat in the house, this can really help create a positive association.

I’d like to see the practice sessions work up to going outside in the pool. By practicing using a recording of the sounds in the home, they are going to set Hunter up for success. They can also help him by getting him a little bit of exercise that ends about 20 minutes before they’re going to practice any of these counter conditioning tips to help a dog feel comfortable with people in the pool. I also recommended that they try to avoid having Hunter near the pool with any of these trigger sounds are taking place. Having someone take Hunter out for a walk while his guardians actually use the pool while they are practicing the secrets to stopping a dog from getting upset when people get into the pool is very wise. This will help Hunter avoid practicing getting upset when people get into the pool.

We wrapped up the session by chatting about Hunter, his background and the potential of adding a partner to the equation sometime down the road. This is a really enjoyable session for me as Hunter‘s family is a very agreeable lot. I hope I don’t need to work with him in the future for Hunter sake, but I would jump at the opportunity just because they are some really fun clients to work with.

To help them remember all of the dog behavior tips we shared in this in-home Santa Monica dog training session, I pulled up my camera and record of the roadmap to success summary that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr