Jump in the river and learn to swim!
When I got a labrador puppy I didn't envisage spending any time convincing it to love water, given you'd struggle to keep every other lab i'd known out of it! The breed is known for their affinity to water having descended from the St John's water dog that accompanied and aided fishermen in Newfoundland in the 18th century. It's in their blood, and to top this off my pup was out of a bitch trained in water rescue; her father a keen gundog I'd watched execute impressive water retrieves. But, being the nervous pup she is she took an instant disliking.
Her introduction wasn't the best, I'll admit to not having overly thought it through. As a puppy she was enthusiastically taken to the beach in Aberystwyth. Though she thoroughly enjoyed scampering about in the sand and carrying seaweed around in her little mouth, she was immediately fearful of the water even when it was relatively calm. Being a heatwave in the summer of 2018 we were all rather glad to paddle and cool off in the water but Halle just stood on the shoreline, barking and whining at being separated from us but not wanting to go in. When she did venture in to the shallows, she would try and clamber up your leg and cling to you. She then visited a swimming lake on a trip with me and my sister which she also disliked. From then on she avoided any body of water as best she could. Not a good start!
Determined to have a dog that would go in the water, I started small. Using her naturally present love of fetch (at least my puppy behaved like a retriever if not a labrador!) I started to get her in puddles after the ball. We started walking in locations with small streams that were less scary than the waves of the sea. We spent short sessions with a toy or stick, setting her up to succeed and watched her confidence grow. The difficulty at this point when she was doing well was not suddenly 'throwing her in the deep end' and progressing too quickly, it had to be at her pace not mine. I was especially keen not to create an unwillingness to retrieve by chucking the toy into a deep or fast moving bit of water and have her ignore it out of fear. With this approach she steadily became more confident and started to seek out the water because she knew she got to play games and be rewarded for it. She was comfortable trotting through shallows and eventually walking through still deep sections but the locations we walked had no deeper pools for swimming.
The next stage was simply to keep up the positive experiences in a wider range of water, some slow some faster moving, some shallow and some deep, some with nice easy access to the water and some with steeper banks. On our first trip to a new location with a larger river, Halle was automatically interested in the water and kept trying to find ways in. She was only hesitant because the bank was reasonably steep and there was no shallow entrance to the water. My partner took a chance and threw a stick in not far from the bank. To our surprise Halle jumped in, swam out to the stick, grabbed it and swam back, clambered up the bank and happily presented us with her retrieve. Without having ever swum she took it in her stride and from that moment on was repeatedly going in the water. It is still early days in my larador's water-loving career but hopefully with continued patience and confidence building she will soon be unstoppable. We just have to see what she thinks of the sea next time!