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Discussion Starter #1
Hoping to get some opinions on this.

Out 14 month old, in-tact male, is obsessed with water and we can't tell if he likes it or is just obsessing over it. To introduce him to swimming we took him to an indoor pool where he was taught by a trainer. He quickly left the trainer to swim on his own. He went back and forth and back and forth...we had to drag him out of the pool because he just kept going back out.

Since then, he has swam in a small lake, entering on his own. This weekend he had a chance to go in a pool and was completely obsessed with going in. Since Day 1, once in the water he just swims so intensely, it seems like he is totally stressed out but then he won't get out. He's hacking and panting and biting at the splashes he makes. He seems like he aspirates water or something and then we stop him till he is breathing normally but then he goes right back out. Once he swims back to the steps he just turns around and goes right back out. He has a floaty vest that he uses too that we hoped would limit the stress.

Does anyone have any experience with this? We literally can't tell if he likes it or if he thinks he is "defending us from the water' or some other silly Shepherd thing. It seems very hectic and intense.
 

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Have you tried tossing him a ball or a water toy so he has something to do in the water then bring it back to you.
 

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Yup...that helped a bit. I toss a ball, he swims to it, grabs it, brings it back to the stairs and then launches back out.

Once I was out with him when he grabbed the ball and he bit my hand by mistake going for the ball...it was an intense chomp for the ball, lacking in any semblance of his normal control, which has also given me the indication that he is stressed while swimming.
 

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Swimming should be fun and the dog should enjoy it if not then no really need to swim if he is stressed. Maybe if there is not pressure for him to go in the water he can relax and enjoy it more. My friends lab was obsessed everytime my friend would go in the pool/ the dog tried to bite anyone who went down the slide just from excitement and concern for them- they just put her away during swim time or leashed with a family member where the dog can settle down near the pool.
 

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Does he know how to get out of the pool on his own? Maybe in his mind he is trying to survive? Did you try the lake in the shallows? Your description reminded me instantly about the time when my 4 year old son needed to learn to brake on his bike without training wheels. He was too afraid to stop and kept biking when he reached us.
Have you tried a long line and harness? watch the long line to prevent tangling.
How does he do with a kiddie pool, a garden hose, sprinkler, his water bowl?
I think the suggestion of the retrieve is a good one.
I assume he has been vaccinated for Rabies? Seems infected animals can obsess over water.
 

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I've seen this behavior with all of my shepherds (less so with my current one). Mine have always seemed to obsess over water, especially the pool and that description of attacking the splashes sounds oh so familiar. We noticed the obsessive behavior MOST when we were in the pool however, i've never heard of one that wouldn't stop and take a break. Can you post a video? With my first shepherd if anyone was in the pool you had to watch yourself because he would claw you up. We always thought it was because he was trying to "save us". Gandalf will also freak out if someone ducks under water, he goes from calm to immediately panic mode and swims over to also "save you". Mine never aspirated water like you said, that would seriously concern me. I wouldn't let him in the pool if he is taking on large amounts of water because this could result quickly in a life threatening condition. The condition is called hyponatremia, where the sodium levels in the blood drop to fatal levels resulting in nearly instant death before the owner realizes what is going on. Its hard to say without seeing it in person... my first shepherd liked to chase splashes a lot, and he was obsessed with the pool, but it was his favorite thing to do in the world, we let him swim often but made sure he took breaks and didn't over do it.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
When I get home today I'll look for a video to post.

A couple clarifying details based on some past posts:

- We tried to take everything slowly but he just barrels right in. He's fine with a hose (chases and bites at the water but seems like its play), good with his water bowl, was standing in a kiddy pool and just kind of running around in there. He also has always entered with the water of his own volition, through the beach or steps.
- He definitely knows the steps are the way out...I have gotten him to the point where he will come and rest on the steps for a bit between fetching the ball.
- I'm not sure that he is exactly aspirating water. He definitely is swallowing some and sometimes "hacks" a few times while he is swimming back. Whenever this starts happening we force him to take a breather even if he wants to swim immediately.
 

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Have you ever swam him without the floating/buoyant vest?

While I can see value in them for some boating safety purposes, I don't think they allow natural full range of swimming motion/movement.

Both of my GSDs swim a lot, almost daily in the summer. Years back when we owned a ski boat, I bought a life jacket to put on my adult GSD. She was a very confident, very strong swimmer, but I thought it was a good safety precaution until I was confident in her boat manners when the boat was running full throttle. The first time she jumped into deep water wearing the life jacket, she acted like you described..... flailing, awkward, circling. The jacket didn't keep her body in a natural, horizontal, swimming position, and I don't think it allowed full range of motion on her legs. The way dog jackets "lift" in deep water changes the dog's posture.

I tried it again a few times (same result - made my dog clumsy and "splashy") and then gave up and stashed it away. Besides safety measures and rehab/orthopedic work, I don't think they're necessarily all that great. JMO.

If you have not yet, I'd allow your dog to swim naturally, increasing duration as your dog builds swimming stamina. They can get sudden muscle cramps just like humans. And I would do as recommended above - play fetch, so there's a purpose/focus.
 
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