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I'm not quite sure how to phrase this, so I'll just give the background first and see if the question comes out during the telling...

We live at the beach and I'd love for Xena to get into swimming since it's such great exercise. (She's almost four now and doesn't have any joint problems, but I'm just thinking for when she's older.) She loves running along the shoreline and chasing after sticks and stuff I throw, but she won't go any deeper than about chest level.

A couple months ago, we were at a river and I wanted her to get in and try to swim. I had her on a leash and tried to get her to follow me into the river, but she dug in her heels and wouldn't budge. Then I took off the leash and started wading out alone, thinking when I got far enough away, she'd follow. Nope. She just ran along the bluff barking at me to come back.

So... how do I put it? How do you know when you're crossing the line between merely introducing your dog to something new to see if she likes it, and when you're forcing her to try something that she absolutely doesn't want to do? The last thing I want to do is traumatize her. And speaking of trauma, I should note that when she was around a year old, she was chasing after a heron one night, didn't see the end of the dock and flew right into the water. I wasn't with her at the time, but my mom told me she (my mom) had to figure out a way to get down to the water to get her out, and Xena was barking and crying the entire time, probably thinking my mom was leaving her to the sharks.

To be clear, I didn't force anything on that trip. She didn't want to come down on the lead, so I didn't force her. When she didn't follow me like I hoped she would, I didn't drag her down the bluff and throw her into the river or anything. I just don't know how far to push it, or whether to push it at all.
 

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I had the same thing this past weekend. It was hot out and I wanted my gal to play in the stream. My big-boy went in and enjoyed the cool water. Getting out of the stream was a bit of a struggle if the correct spot wasn't chosen. I resisted the urge to give my gal-dog a little shove because if she had a hard time scrambling back out of the water it would have convinced her that going in was a bad idea. Honestly, her biggest issue is that she simply doesn't know she can swim! She's not had the opportunity to learn. We go out on a bass boat with her and she wears a float coat. Someday we may take her to a beach and I'll bring her out in my arms a short way. Even if she never learns to love swimming I want her to know if she falls overboard she'll be ok.

My big boy, on the other hand. grew up a beach on the Chesapeake Bay. He knows all about swimming and I have to insist he NOT jump overboard when he gets hot.
 

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Sometimes seeing another dog enjoying the water playing fetch can help. A couple of my dogs learned by crossing creeks on hikes. The creeks varied in depth by location and time of year. They learn to confidently cross them walking through and on occassion will come across a deep enough hole they'll instinctively paddle through. Lakes with large shallow areas can work as well, just use a favorite toy for encouragement.
 
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