Are you interested in learning something new with your dog? Does your dog respond well to training? Do you enjoy being in the water? Do you trust your dog off leash?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, great! If not, no worries, if you are willing to put in the time for training, especially with obedience, this could be your favorite new thing.
Here’s a description of each of the exercises for the Junior Water Dog test: http://www.ncanewfs.org/working/water/pages/WD.html
Last year was the first time I tried water work with my Newfoundland and I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of what I learned when I was getting started. Consider this post tips for a beginner by a beginner!
1. A training book
The first thing I bought was the book Water Work Water Play by Judi Adler. This proved to be an indispensable training manual. It explains each of the exercises for the Junior, Senior and Excellent titles. Each exercise is broken down into trainable steps with land work as well as water work. There are chapters on equipment, puppy training and basic skills like take, hold and give that are the foundation for water work. You can purchase it here.
2. Life jackets: A Coast Guard approved jacket for you and a Canine Life Jacket for your Newfie.
You are required to wear a life jacket for the test and whenever you are on a boat. Do yourself a favor and get used to wearing it whenever you train. They come in many different styles so find one that is comfortable. The dogs are not allowed to wear a life jacket for the test, but they are a very good training tool. When you are just getting started, a life jacket will help reinforce an efficient swimming position, aide with endurance and will give you more control because there is a handle that is easy to grab. I wrote a post about canine life jackets last year and you can read it here.
3. A long line (a 20 ft. leash)
In addition to the handle on the life jacket, a long line is a great tool to help gently lead your dog where you want them to go. They can swim away from you, but you still have control and can bring them back toward shore if they swim too far away, start to chase a duck or get confused. Teaching Take A Line is easily done with a long line. I gave Winn the knotted rope and sent her to the caller. He gently led her towards him by pulling on the long line when needed and then guiding her around until she was facing me and I called her back to shore. I have two different lines, a 20 foot and a 50 foot, to build distance without getting tangled up with lots of line when we are working closely. I don’t use them much anymore, but they were very helpful when we were first starting. They are also good to use on land when you are training recall.
Bumpers come in an assortment of sizes and materials. I have bought several different types to see which one Winn likes best. Some are squishy, some are hard, some have nubs, some are smooth. Winn has one bumper that she retrieves and another one that she can get a good grip on for Tow A Boat. Try different styles, each dog has a favorite and what one dog may love, another won’t like at all. You can buy bumpers at sporting goods stores like Cabelas in the bird hunting section. Online retailers Amazon, Chewy, Gun Dog Supply or TBI also sell a variety of plastic and canvas bumpers (dummies) in their dog training/retriever training section. The 2” diameter is a great size, I’ve accidentally ordered 3” or jumbo size and they are too big and heavy for what we are doing.
5. An empty gallon jug
You don’t need a boat to start training Tow A Boat. A jug filled with water mimics the weight of a floating boat. Tying a bumper and rope to the jug is a great way to introduce pulling. Start with the empty jug and gradually fill with water to add weight. Pulling the jug around the yard is great training and when a boat isn’t available, I also use it in the water. Whenever we have trouble with an exercise, we do a lot of practice on land and break the skills down step by step. Our trusty jug is a big part of land work.
6. Submersible toys
I dug out the diving toys that we used to take with us while on family vacations when my kids were little. I figured the sooner the better for Winn to get comfortable getting her face wet, and she took to it immediately. She also likes to dive for carrots on a hot day. One of the exercises on the Senior test is an underwater retrieve. There are specific dimensions for the toy and water depth, but Winn thinks it’s all a game for now.
Items 4, 5, and 6 are all things you can start playing with in your backyard. No lake needed!
7. 100 feet of floating rope
Polypropylene rope floats and can be found at hardware stores as well as boating supply stores and online. Some are hollow braid and others are multifilament. Winn likes the rope that is filled, it’s a little softer in her mouth. Tow A Boat calls for a bumper with an 8 foot line attached, Take A Line and Take A Life Ring call for a knotted line. For Take A Line, you will need to make the knot and then have 75 feet of line attached. You can make the knot and 6-8 feet of line with a loop to practice with and later on add another section of rope to equal 75 feet for the test. (Our practice line is about 25 feet because I also wanted to get comfortable feeding the line out as she swims.) YouTube is a good source to learn how to make knots, and once you get them tied, you can keep using them all season.
8. A water absorbing car liner
The worst part about water training is getting back in the car with a wet dog. I towel Winn off as much as possible, a chamois works really well, but she’s still pretty wet and we drive about an hour to our practice site. I found this blanket completely by accident. It is made by a company that makes pee pads. It’s big enough to cover the cargo area, pulls most of moisture away from Winn and doesn’t soak through on the other side. You can learn more about it here: https://www.lennypads.com/washable-training-puppy-pads-designer/
We also have a plastic cargo liner, so if I’m not using the Lenny Pad, I’ll layer on a big fleece blanket that I can easily pull out and wash when we get home. This helps with clean up and my car doesn’t smell like wet dog and stinky lake water all summer long. There are lots of options online for back seat and trunk liners as well.
9. A leash to use in the water
Leather leashes get really slippery when they are wet and canvas leashes take a while to dry and can get stinky. A lot of people make a leash out of polypropylene rope because it floats and dries out quickly. I like this one made of quick drying neoprene because its softer on my hands, is antibacterial and has a matching collar. Last year at our first test, Winn got spooked by a dive bombing horsefly and tried to run off of the beach. I grabbed her collar and was thankful that the clasp was good and strong so she couldn’t get away from me. You can buy them here: https://www.doogusa.com/collections/collars-leashes This company also has great floating toys that Winn loves to retrieve.
10. Additional items to add as you advance in training: floating cushion and small PFD, a life ring and a paddle.
The Junior and Senior tests both have exercises that utilize a floating cushion and a life jacket (PFD). The Senior test switches Take A Line to Take A Life Ring and introduces jumping from the boat. The dogs jump for a dropped item (paddle) and again for their handler to rescue them.
Other items you may want for your own comfort (I know, this makes my list more than 10 items) are a pair of shoes to wear in the water and cold water wet gear. I started with an old pair of workout shoes but they got pretty stinky from the lake so I eventually bought a pair of water shoes. They are easy to hose out when I get home and they dry quickly. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses. I prefer pants and a separate top, other women I know like short wetsuits. Since I am very seaweed averse, I wear my pants even on hot days and I don’t get panicky when something brushes up against my legs. I have bought a lot of my gear including Winn’s life jacket at LL Bean. Most sporting and outdoor stores have a good selection with various price points.
Here’s a great article about swim training that I referred to when I brought Winn to the beach for the first time. It is written by an NCA member: https://hubpages.com/animals/swim-training
Dog Works sells a Water Test Kit with all of the items that you will need for the Junior and Senior tests. I didn’t want to spend the money all at once but you can buy the kit here: https://dogworks.com/product/water-test-kit/
If you’d like to learn more about water work and see Newfoundlands in action, consider volunteering as a steward at a Water Test. Here’s a list of the different Newfoundland Clubs around the country and the calendar of Water Tests in the late summer/early fall. Two years ago when Winn was just a puppy, I volunteered and learned so much. I wrote about that experience in two posts and you can read them here and here.