How Do I Stop My Dog From Drinking Saltwater?
I’ve had the fortune of spending the last week living in a Costa Rican beach town with my dog Barley. We’re running on the beach in the morning, surfing in the afternoon, and doing yoga in the evenings. It’s absolutely amazing.
Barley loves the beach, and thanks to our off-leash training, he generally gets to enjoy the beach without a leash on.
There’s one hitch in our perfect world: Barley loves to drink saltwater.
Most dogs think that saltwater tastes disgusting, but not my dog. If you and your pup enjoy stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, or otherwise enjoying the ocean, you might want to learn how to deter your dog from drinking saltwater.
Drinking saltwater is potentially quite dangerous for your dog. Drinking the sea can lead to diarrhea and vomiting in even moderate amounts. Drinking too much saltwater can even kill your dog!
That’s because the high salt content in the saltwater dehydrates your dog. Basically, the kidneys need to draw water from elsewhere in the body in order to process and expel saltwater. So your dog gets thirstier, drinks more saltwater, and gets more dehydrated.
Unlike with inedible things around your house, you can’t simply spray some bitter apple on the ocean and expect that to stop your dog from drinking it. Many dogs also don’t generalize “leave it” cues to water or other liquids for whatever reason – my own dog certainly doesn’t! If I tell him to “leave it” when he’s drinking the ocean, he comes out of the water entirely. That sure fixes the drinking problem, but it makes being at the beach a lot less fun!
In order to stop Barley from drinking saltwater, I employed a multi-pronged training approach:
- We had Barley drag a long line. We use TerrainDog’s 24 foot lead.
- We started out holding the long line. Barley was allowed to do whatever he wanted – except for drinking the ocean.
- If Barley started to lap up the sea, we called him away and gently reeled him in. He learned that drinking saltwater made swimming time end – which is sad for him. This is called a negative punishment.
- We then offered Barley water that was flavored with just a little bit of chicken broth. This was key! He learned that we had water for him (so he didn’t need to drink the ocean). Even better, the water we had was actually tastier than the water in the ocean!
- Over time, we started telling Barley to “leave it” with the ocean water. If he didn’t stop drinking it, then we pulled him back to us and, again, offered him our tasty water.
- After just a few days of practice like this, we started to let him drag his leash. If he started to drink, we could call him away without the leash. We also had the leash as a back-up option.
- After about a week of all of this training, Barley is back to being fully off-leash in the water.
We also continually monitor Barley to make sure he’s not getting too hot. If he needs time in the shade, we give him that! Many enthusiastic, athletic dogs really don’t know how to self-regulate. You have to help your dog by enforcing rest time!
This approach works well for several key reasons. We’re addressing Barley’s basic needs – he is thirsty! That’s important. Punishing your dog for drinking when he’s thirsty just isn’t helpful. We also were being kind, consistent, and fair in our approach to his saltwater drinking.
Whenever you’re trying to change a behavior in your dog, you’ve got to ask yourself: what’s the function? In this case, your dog is thirsty, and the ocean tastes good. Giving your dog another option (drinking chicken broth water) helps fulfill that original function! The interrupt-and-redirect approach is one of my favorite ways to solve dog behavior problems.