I went into this weekend not knowing what to expect. I had volunteered to steward, stating that I would be happy to do whatever was needed. I was there to learn, and I thought the best way to do that was to be involved.
I’ve always loved being near water, but I get a little nervous about what may wrap itself around my legs. When I found out I would be in the water, I smiled and said to myself “buck up, nothing is going to bite you”. It was the best experience I could hope for! To be in the water, and see these dogs swimming out to save and rescue a “drowning” victim were among the best moments of the day for me.
Newfoundlands LOVE the water, and even though I suspected some of their owners were not keen on getting wet, they were willing to do it for their dogs. This proved to be an activity of incredible bonding and the stimulation of their working dog instincts.
As the day went on, one thing became clear. Everyone here was doing it to have fun with their dogs and the titles were secondary. I think these pictures show that beautifully.
At the end of day 1 I was exhausted. I had gone out and treaded water in a really strong current 9 times. At this point, I was feeling cold and clammy, my muscles were wobbly and I wrapped myself in a towel to wait for the final WRD entrant.
The last two dogs were both in season, one for WD and one for WRD. The WD would go first so I needed to wait until she was done before I would do my final exercise as a steward.
I had seen the owner much earlier in the day for check in and early morning meetings and then she disappeared to wait off site with her dog until it was time for them to compete. I had heard her say it was their first water test and she seemed very nervous. As I watched her do a quick pre-swim with her dog, I must admit, I assumed they would not pass. 9 dogs had already tried with just 1 able to get their Water Dog title.
I was feeling weary, and had put my camera away for the day. This would be the first one I actually would watch all the way through without being behind my lens and I’m so glad I did. When I’m taking pictures, I don’t notice what else might be going on outside my viewfinder. This time, I was able to watch not only the dog and handler, but also the judges and the other spectators around me and it was a very special experience.
When they started with Basic Control, they went through it together as a perfect example of what controlled walking should be. Luna was close to her hip the entire time and automatically sat when her handler came to halt. Prior to the stay and recall exercise, I heard the judge ask her if she was ok. She said she just needed to catch her breath, her heart was racing. She seemed like a picture of complete control, but was still so nervous!
Single Retrieve was quick and efficient, the first two exercises were easily passed. While they waited for the canoe to clear the area after they placed the boat cushion, I watched her kneel by her dog, whispering in her ear, giving constant hand signals until they were given the start signal. Luna charged out, grabbed the cushion and returned it to her handler on shore. Later I heard her say she was nervous about that one. She had to borrow a boat cushion from Ashley and Cass because they had only practiced with a life jacket.
Now it was time for the Take A Line. This had been a tricky one for most dogs, and everyone on the beach was watching. I heard one of the event organizers pacing behind me, whispering that she was so nervous for her.
After quick introductions to the steward and waiting patiently for their signal, Luna struck out with the line just as she should. When she was almost to the steward she turned back, and her handler became louder and more animated as she redirected her to go back and go around the steward. Luna turned around, headed toward the steward and then once again turned too soon to go back to shore. One more time she was quickly redirected and this time followed the steward’s calls and splashes as she worked her way around and then headed to shore. The cheers on the beach erupted, we were all invested in the success of this young team!
Only 2 exercises left, Tow A Boat and Swim With Handler. For Tow A Boat, Luna swam straight out, grabbed her bumper and turned to pull the boat back to the beach. Her handler was exciting to watch. She was making pulling motions with both of her arms screaming “pull, girlfriend, pull” “you got this” “almost there” “pull, pull, pull”. I think we all assumed if she could do this, we were looking at a new Water Dog!
Swim With Handler seemed like formality and as Luna towed her handler back to shore, the joy on beach was electric. As they climbed out of the water, her handler burst into tears of joy, and I have to say, so did many of us. We had just watched something truly special.
I don’t even remember my final time in the water for the Life Ring exercise. I was so energized and preoccupied by what I had just seen. This was the most perfectly photogenic moment and team, and while I don’t have any photos I know that I will be able to visualize it clearly for a very long time.
On my way to my car, I stopped by to congratulate her and told her what it joy it was to watch her and Luna master their first water test. I wish I had told her that she was an inspiration. She and her husband had worked with Luna on their own and hadn’t trained with a water group. They focused on obedience and land work because they were only able to get in the water 6 or 7 times this summer. I had wondered if it was possible to train alone and she had just proven that it was.
Winn is young so I didn’t try to find a training group this summer, and I have met people to train with next year, but I tend to be a loner so until we join a group, we will keep doing our work together with the plan of entering the Water Dog test next year.