Why Does My Dog Freak Out When I Go in the Pool?

Does your dog freak out (barking, whining) when you go in the pool? If so, you may wonder what this is all about and how to prevent it. Here are some techniques.

Why Does My Dog Freak Out When I Go in the Pool?
Is your dog barking his head off when you or other people are in the pool?

Jaminwell via Getty Images

If your dog freaks out when you go in the pool, rest assured that you are not alone. Dogs may interpret us being in the pool in a different way than we do, and their instincts may take over and lead to a panicked state.

What does it really mean, though, for a dog to "freak out?" As humans, it's often tempting to ascribe human emotions to dogs, and we often use labels to describe their behaviors.

A dog "freaking out" may mean different things depending on who you ask. In this article, the term "freaking out" will therefore be used to describe the following:

  • Dogs who whine when people go in the pool
  • Dogs who bark when people go in the pool
  • Dogs who pace back and forth when you go in the pool (sometimes to the point of injuring their paws pads)
  • Dogs who pant when people are in the pool
  • Dogs who shake when people are in the pool
  • Dogs who have a general meltdown when you go in the pool (displaying a mix of the above behaviors)

If your dog barks, whines and paces the moment you, or other family members, enter the pool, you may be desperately looking for a solution.

These cases can be challenging because we would like to have our dogs out with us when we enjoy the pool, and even if we put them inside, our dogs will likely bark and act frustrated for being left alone. Nothing seems to help!

As with many things dogs, there are no quick fixes. The ultimate solution is to focus on management and/or investing in the tincture of time by working on your dog's emotional state and implementing some behavior modification.

If your dog freaks out when you're in the water, it's important getting to the root of the problem.

Why Does My Dog "Freak Out" When I Go in the Pool?

There may be several reasons why dogs may freak out when their owners go into the pool.

It's important to consider that every dog is an individual and every dog may react to people spending time in the pool for different reasons. What follows is a rundown of several potential reasons.

1. Your Dog Wants to Join You

If your dog loves water, there may be chances that when he sees you in the pool, he's dying to join you.

Perhaps, he really wants to dive in, but he is afraid of doing so, or he doesn't know if he is allowed to and is hoping for your permission.

The pool water is therefore perceived as a barrier between you and him, preventing him from joining in the fun.

Many dogs like being in the water, but they are tentative about jumping because of some underlying fear.

When it comes to a pool, they may not like jumping into deep water, or they may not feel safe if they don't know a quick way to get out.

You also need to factor in the slippery surfaces leading to insecure footing and steps that dogs cannot see, as the last ones are underwater.

When dogs may want to do something but are prevented from doing so, it can lead to feelings of frustration, which cause them to pace, whine and bark.

2. Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

Is your dog the type who follows you around, can't tolerate being left home alone, and whines and barks the moment you use the bathroom with the door closed?

If so, your dog may be showing signs of separation-related distress.

In some dogs, this distress can be so pronounced that they even struggle when their owners are in sight, but they can't be glued to them.

When the owners are in the pool, these dogs may therefore show signs of distress because they can't stick to their side.

3. Your Dog is Worried About You

If your dog dreads water or he struggles to understand what happens when you are in the pool, his behavior may be triggered by him being worried about you.

Some dogs struggle with understanding what is going on when we jump into a pool. If there are kids playing in the pool and screaming a lot, your dog may think they are in danger.

They may try to grab at our hands in an attempt to pull us out. This can lead to lacerations due to their teeth snagging on our skin.

4. Your Dog Doesn't Understand What's Happening

Some dogs become anxious when something unusual takes place, and they can't understand it.

My sweet Rottweiler, who loved my mom, once growled at her because she fell asleep with her mouth open. She must have thought it was very odd!

I have seen dogs become anxious upon seeing their owners ride a bike for the first time, dance, wear a hat, exercise at the gym, use an umbrella or push a stroller.

When dogs see us swimming, they don't grasp the idea that it's our way to stay afloat. What they see is us flapping our arms and legs in an odd way.

They may respond to our pool time with anxiety which prompts them to bark, whine and pace back and forth.

5. Herding Instincts at Play

Oftentimes, dogs who bark and pace are ones that belong to the herding group (corgis, Australian shepherds, German shepherds, border collies, Belgian Malinois).

These are dogs who were selectively bred for rounding up sheep or cattle. Their instincts tell them to have control over animals running amok and keeping a certain level of law and order.

When there are several people in the pool, especially children, these dogs may therefore feel inclined to do what they were bred to do: bark, run around and try to control movements. Intrigued? Discover more about herding behaviors in dogs.

This reaction is not really fear-based but triggered more by an over-aroused/excited state associated with people jumping in a pool.

Some dogs may truly think their owners are in danger, and may try to "rescue" them, while other may be anxious, confused or thinking about "herding."

How to Stop a Dog From Barking When Going in the Pool?

As we've seen, dogs freak out when people are in the pool for various reasons. Tackling the root cause is important if you want to reduce the behavior. What follows are several tips:

1. Prevent Rehearsal of the Problematic Behavior

One of the most important steps is to prevent your dog from engaging in the problematic behavior.

The more your dog engages in the barking, whining and pacing behaviors, the more these behaviors become established and form as habits.

2. Give Your Dog Something Else to Do

If your dog's anxiety is mild, you can try to give him something super duper enticing to chew that will keep him busy for some time (like a bully stick or frozen Kong filled with canned dog food mixed with kibble) while people spend time in the pool.

Make sure the people stay calm and don't splash around or scream. Once your dog is close to being done with chewing, have the people come out of the pool and call it a day. Repeat several times to establish a new routine.

What if My Dog Won't Eat?

In many cases, dogs won't be able to eat or use a food puzzle when people are in the pool because they are so deeply distraught and anxious.

If your dog won't eat, take that as a sign of him being too "over threshold." When dogs are in this state, their appetite is gone and they can't cognitively function.

In this case, you will first need to identify what your dog is struggling with exactly, and then you can start implementing some behavior modification strategies.

3. Identify the Trigger

If your dog is freaking out when you or other people enter the pool, think carefully about what seems to evoke his problematic behaviors.

  • Does your dog start acting worried when people are splashing?
  • Does he struggle when children are screaming?
  • Does he start acting up the moment people enter the pool?
  • Is he OK with people in the pool as long as they act calm? Is your dog OK with people just using a floating device?

Once you have identified the trigger, you know what you may need to focus the most on. However, consider that in many cases, dogs may initially start freaking out just at the mere sight of people splashing or screaming, but then their anxiety generalizes, and they'll start freaking out with the mere fact of people entering the pool.

It's similar to what happens with separation anxiety. Initially, a dog may have a meltdown when their owners leave home and they realize they're alone. But then, day after day, rep after rep, they start panicking as early as when their owners start getting ready to go to work.

4. Desensitize and Countercondition Your Dog to His Triggers

Desensitization is a behavior modification method that aims to expose dogs to their triggers at lower levels of intensity.

Low-intensity exposures allow dogs to better cope with their triggers while always remaining under threshold.

Counterconditioning is a behavior modification method that aims to create positive associations with triggers.

These positive associations are often attained through the strategic use of treats. This method works best when used in conjunction with desensitization.

Examples of Behavior Modification

Following are some general examples of behavior modification.

Every dog, of course, may require an individualized plan that is different based on several factors (level of anxiety exhibited, type of triggers evoking the behavior).

For Dogs Struggling With Splashes

For example, if your dog struggles with people splashing, you would start by keeping your dog at a distance from the pool and have him watch a person place an arm in the water while he's fed tasty treats.

Once he's fine with that, you can then progress to the person moving the arm underwater just a bit while keeping on feeding treats.

Afterward, you can progress to the person splashing the water just a bit, then more (while always feeding treats).

Next, the person can start by placing a leg in the water and doing the same exercise. You get the idea.

The goal is to get the dog gradually and systematically used to seeing the person splashing and eventually swimming. If possible, aim for lovely, positive conditioned emotional response.

For Dogs Struggling With Seeing People in the Pool

If your dog freaks out just seeing somebody in the pool, start this exercise indoors if you have a window that overlooks the pool.

Have your dog observe the person swimming while your dog is on leash at a distance from the window, where he can see the person swimming.

Have him watch the person and feed treats every time he looks at him, using Leslie McDevitt's Look at That Game.

The goal is to get him calm enough to then watch the person outdoors (while still on leash) and then eventually off-leash while remaining calm and looking for his treats.

For Dogs Struggling With Children Screaming

Have your dog on leash at a distance from the pool (you can start indoors), and have a child enter the pool.

Feed your dog tasty treats for watching the child enter the pool, then for splashing in the pool (using the above exercise), and then for screaming at a low volume, then a higher volume.

Then, as your dog progresses, add more kids to the pool doing the same.

When To Take a Step Back, and When to Raise Criteria?

If the dog at any time struggles with any of these exposures, it's important to take a step back and work more on lower-level exposures making them less intense and ensuring the dog is fine with those before moving forward.

When your dog is reliably doing fine at a certain level of intensity, you can raise criteria and move on to the next levels, always watching your dog's body language for signs of stress carefully.

5. Train an Alternate Behavior

Once your dog is in a calmer state, you can train your dog to engage in an alternate behavior so as to keep him busy and happy.

For example, you can train him to fetch balls you toss at him and have him drop them in the pool so that you can toss them again.

Since play is incompatible with fear, this can help the dog understand that no one is drowning and that you're all actually having fun in the pool!

You can also train your dog to go lie on a mat to chew on something tasty and long-lasting, or if your dog is comfortable being in the water (and knows how to swim), you can train him to lie down quietly and ride on a durable pool float made for dogs.

Another option is to have your dog "fetch treats" from a remote treat dispenser or bubbles from a bubble machine made for dogs. I love to use this latter for dogs who love to herd! The bubbles are bacon-flavored for your dog's delight.

You can also train your dog to hand target a target stick randomly and toss treats for complying.

6. Manage When You Can't Work

When you don't have time to work on the issue or are afraid the situation may be too overwhelming for your dog (like a big pool party), it's best to manage the situation and prevent your dog from rehearsing the problem behavior.

You can do this by having a family member walk your dog or take him on a car ride when you plan to enjoy the pool or have guests over enjoying the pool with you.

Wouldn't it be lovely if instead of barking when people are in the pool, your dog learns to relax quietly?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA, Dip.CBST

(Excluding for the Headline, this article ("story") has not been edited by MiBiz News and is published from a web feed or sourced from the Internet.)