In my experience work on water is about five times harder than work on land. Even if you have a very high powered dog that loves to leap and play in water, there are drills we must do to ensure good water work. This first of these drills is called the Bank Running Drill. I don’t use this term because every dog I have encountered is adept at running the bank. This is a natural penchant for the dog. He can get to a mark thrown down the shoreline far faster by running down the bank than by swimming. Again the dog is not defying you, he is doing the retrieve in most efficient manner. Dogs are devotees of “Occam’s Razor” which stipulates that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, in the dogs mind it makes perfect sense to bank run.
There are many variations on teaching the dog to correctly enter the water and return along the same line. First let’s change the name of the drill from Bank Running to Water Seeking Drill. After all that is what we hope to accomplish. Five minutes of working with a dog you have never seen will tell where he is in this process. We will test a dog who is running in Master Hunt Tests or in Qualifying Stakes. Place a bumper out in some tules so the true line to the bumper demands the dog take an angle into the water. Set your line so you are about 20 – 30 feet back from the shoreline. A dog who is untrained on water will run down the shore instead of entering. A dog who has had some training but needs refinement will go to the shore and enter the water too soon. That dog knows if he gets in the water life will be more pleasant. The well trained dog will take a fine diagonal line into the water and go straight to the bumper.
Now how do we begin the Water Seeking Drill? As in all our drills, we must a good foundation of our Training Pyramid. The dog is so good at the Baseball Drill, the San Francisco Giants have been scouting him. Stand right next to the water and throw a bumper straight out into open water about 20 feet in front of you. Send the dog. Give him the “Come in Whistle”. Make sure he is looking at you and comes directly back to you, exits the water and “Sits” at your side. Let’s imagine the area in front of you is like the face of a clock. Your first throw was to 12 o’clock. Throw the bumper again but this time throw it to the 1 o’clock position about 20 feet out. As soon as the dog grabs the bumper, whistle and put your left arm out in the left over position. Do not let the dog swim directly back to shore, he must come to you. To assist him in this endeavor move to your left while blowing on your whistle and saying “Here”. Keeping moving to your left so the dog exits the water to the left of where he entered it.
Return to your original position next to the shore and throw the bumper to the 1:30 o’clock position. When the dog grabs the bumper immediately begin to move to your left while blowing the “Come in Whistle” and saying “Here”. Be enthusiastic. Really make him come to you. By now you are about 20 feet to the left of where you started and the dog has angled through the water to you. Remember it is far easier to the train on dog on what to do when he is coming in rather than when he is going out. He wants to come to you.
Return to the original position and throw the bumper to the 2:00 o’clock position. When he grabs the bumper start moving to your left, whistling, giving the left over command both visually and verbally. By now a trainable dog is starting to get the idea. You know you are really getting the point across when you have moved to your left some distance and you can stand there and by giving the left over command he swims by you to your left. Keep saying “Over” as long as he is staying in the water. Then say “OK” and let him come to shore.
As in all our drills, if he fails, go back to where you had success and start again. SIMPLIFY. A dog who has learned the drill is easy to tell. Go to your original position, throw the bumper to the right so it lands just in the water. A trained dog will seize the bumper turn back towards the water and swim along the shoreline and keep swimming past you until you give him the command to come to land. This is sometimes called the “Swim by Drill”. You are teaching the dog to enter the water at an angle by working on his return.
Once you have the dog doing a perfect swim by to the left, it is time to teach him to go to his right. Just reverse the process. This drill should take half the time the first one did because your dog will understand what is expected of him.
John Schulte DVM