The next concept of the second tier of our Training Pyramid Program is the Introduction to Water. There is no question that adding water to the mix is necessary in many recipes but it must be done correctly. Work on water is about 5 times harder than work on land. One reason it is harder is that in many cases you cannot physically go out to assist the dog. Good training involves tennis shoe training. Go out and get personal with the dog. If you really want to make an impression go out into the water yourself to show him you really do mean what you say. I wish I had a nickel for each time the statement was made “Oh he just loves water, he is the best water dog”. That may be true in ideal conditions but now try angling into the water on a cold day with the line 150 yards from the water and let’s see if he really is a water dog.
Again this portion of teaching must be fun. The first experience in water makes a lasting impression. Under ideal conditions it would be a warm day, warm water and a firm or sandy bottom. Walk out into the water yourself while encouraging the pup to follow. Stay in shallow water so the pup is walking on firm ground. If the dog is shy about water or hesitates, use an experienced dog to go out with you to encourage the pup. You can also go out into the water with several dogs while you throw short retrieves for the experienced dogs. Your pup will want to join in on the fun.
Once the pup is walking on firm ground in shallow water slowly go out into deeper and deeper water until the pup is swimming. Some pups will do the vertical swim, splashing like crazy in a vertical position. If you can have them pick up a small bumper their swimming will level out.
There is no such thing as a dog that cheats water. He is simply using the land to get to the mark the fastest way possible. Dogs cannot cheat. I use to play cards with a collie and every time he got a good hand his tail would wag. The better the hand, the faster the wag. So it is with dogs when they begin to retrieve in water. Always throw the mark so the dog goes straight out. Make sure there are no peninsulas or other shortcuts the dog may take to run the bank to make the retrieve. Golden Retrievers are the master of the shoreline mambo. Dancing up and down the shore in an effort to find the easier way to the bumper.
Once your dog is retrieving short marks you can gradually add distance and begin the process of teaching them not to run the bank as their natural instincts would dictate.
Throw the bumper out into the middle of the channel. Send the dog. Really get on the whistle so he comes straight back to you. The thrower must not move while the dog is going out or coming in. Now have the thrower move further down the road and repeat the throw to the middle of the channel.
Again as soon as the pup grabs the bumper get on the whistle and have him come straight back to you. The thrower must not move. If the pup goes to shore, simplify, go back to the point where the pup had success and then advance.
This drill is teaching him two very important points about water. First go straight to the mark and not seek land or easier ways to make the retrieve. Second, it is the beginning of teaching a pup how to run a channel blind.
John Schulte DVM