Tag Archives: water dog training

It’s test time!

I was so happy after our last practice, it was the first time all summer that we executed everything we attempted perfectly and I felt like we were in the best shape possible for the test.

Later that night I got a phone call with devastating news about a family member and I quickly made a plane reservation on the first flight possible. I had no idea what the future would hold and was slapped once again with the realization that life can change in an instant and we have no control when it does.

I returned home at the end of the week, forever changed and feeling completely out of it. The last thing on my mind was going up to the water test, but then when I thought about it, that was something that made me really happy so I decided to go and I’m so glad I did. When Winn and I are working together I don’t think about anything else and that is exactly what I needed so I packed the car and headed up there and was able to push all of my other emotions out of my mind.

It was such a relief to be somewhere so familiar. Our training partners were there along with several other people who I had gotten to know over the summer. The mood was one of excitement and it was great to be a part of it. This time was different for me because we got to be part of the “main camp” since Winn had finished her heat which also meant that I got to watch and cheer on all of the other entrants.32DCED58-2A85-4E84-9379-D2BBF3983869.jpegThis was a two-day test, we had entered both days and had two chances to make it happen. Saturday morning was incredibly foggy and we were delayed getting started but then it turned out to be a beautiful weekend. Each day was considered its own test but I’ll recap each exercise including both days.

On both days we had several dogs ahead of us before it would be our turn so I took Winn further down the beach to practice heeling and fetching to get her worked up and ready to go. We got a treat bag when we checked in that had dried chicken hearts in it and Winn thought that was about the best thing she had ever had in her life. By the time our number was called, I had her full attention and I was feeling pretty good about our chances for success.

Basic Control has always been something that we’ve done well but on the first day she started veering away from me and I had to alter my path to keep her in the required 4 foot radius. While doing that, I tripped over one of the cones and was sure that we didn’t pass. To my surprise, when I asked the judge she said we passed, but on Sunday we performed it perfectly which made me feel much better.

The Single Retrieve (bumper throw) and Drop Retrieve (life jacket off of the boat) didn’t give us any trouble either day, although Winn did stop for a drink on the first day on her way to her life jacket which almost caused her to time out. She finally got swimming with 5 seconds to spare and my heart going double time.IMG_6014.jpgIMG_6029.jpgOn Saturday, Winn surprised me with Take A Line. She grabbed it from my hand and then turned and started to march out of the ring with it. Fortunately, I was able to grab her and steer her back to the water, but that was a fail.  Our training partners offered to stay late with us and put a long line on her to practice it at the end of the day and I took them up on their offer. They wanted to stay and practice jumping off of the boat with their boy so once everybody was packing up and leaving for the day, the three of us were back in the water and I’m so glad we stayed. Winn tried to do the same thing two more times but with a gentle tug from the line she got right in the water and then seemed to forget about trying to leave the beach. The next 3 attempts went exactly as they should. On Sunday, her Take A Line was perfect and she passed that exercise!205742BA-6A0E-4298-8337-DAF6F90451E0.jpegTow A Boat was next and this was the moment we had been training for. I knew she could do it, I just wasn’t sure that she would do it. On Saturday she came close but the boat drifted in and she dropped the bumper right on the edge of the water. When I tried to get her to pick her bumper back up she just stared at me like I was asking too much. She had worked so hard and when she got the boat up on shore she turned to go say hello to the steward that was in the front of the boat. On Sunday, she took her time going out to the boat. Sometimes she stops to eat seaweed or look at a dead bug, whatever it was I think she forgot what she was doing and she started to come back to shore. I don’t usually use a firm voice with her but I wasn’t messing around when I pointed my arm to the boat and said “Winn, go out” and fortunately she turned back around and went to the boat. She did the most beautiful pull all the way in but at the last second she let the boat drift in and she dropped the bumper on the grass and once again looked at me like “I did it, are we done now?”.  She just stared at me when I tried to get her to pick her bumper up again and then our time was up and the judge blew the whistle. It was the best she had ever done in a test and that was good enough for me. We had come so far, it wasn’t a pass in the judges eyes, but it was to me.D606161B-D347-4F39-971C-84E38609004E.jpegSwim With Handler was our big finish both days. We didn’t get a new Water Dog title this year but we came as close as I could have hoped for. Next year we will reinforce everything we learned this summer and train for the senior test as well. I loved being in the water with Winn and she continues to amaze me with her abilities.IMG_6256

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Saturday’s results, Ivey is a new Water Dog!
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Sunday’s results, Chuck is a new Water Dog!

This winter we will go back to rally and obedience and I’d like to introduce her to draft work. That’s the next thing for us to figure out together and I’ve got a new book to read!

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Winn’s mama Arleen earning her Draft Dog title. photo taken by Mary Broderick

 

Back to training for round 2

Once we returned home from our first water test, I was antsy to get back in the water and train with Winn but we would need to wait for at least another week.

Reflecting on what we did well and what we needed to work on, I was most concerned that Winn would have a newly developed fear of water because of the run-in she had with the horsefly.  A couple of days before our next practice, I snuck up to the lake with Winn on a weekday when I knew there wouldn’t be anyone else around, brought her favorite toys and planned to just have play time in the water.IMG_7958When we arrived, she went right down to our regular spot, waded right in and was ready to go after her toys. What a relief!

IMG_5662We played with different toys for a while and I mixed in her bumper and life jacket just for fun. She wasn’t reluctant at all to go after anything I threw out for her so I was pretty confident the horsefly fear had been tucked away and as long as another one didn’t show up while we were testing, we should be fine.

The exercise that I knew we still would have trouble with was Tow A Boat.  After her reluctance to go to the steward at the last test, I knew I wanted to have different people give her treats from the boat to reinforce her approach.  The biggest issue for her has been dropping the bumper before she gets the boat up on the beach. I understand why she does this, if she’s able to walk, the people in the boat can walk too and are no longer needing to be saved. Now I had to figure out how to get her to take it further so I pulled out my training book and re-read all of the different suggestions on how to get her to pull the boat until I say stop.IMG_8390If I couldn’t get her to pull the boat all the way in before dropping the bumper, we would still have a chance if she picked the bumper back up and pulled some more. It’s not a very efficient way of doing it, but I would be allowed to keep directing her to pick it up and pull as many times as necessary until the boat was beached.  The telling sign is that the boat comes to a stop and the line is still taught.  If the boat drifts in and the line is slack, she needs to keep pulling until there is tension in the line, then the exercise is finished. I decided to focus on that. My first choice was to have her keep coming toward me in one smooth motion, but I wanted to have a back up plan so that we would still have a chance of passing.

Every night before dinner I placed her bumper on the ground and told her to “get it” and “come”. We would do this three times and then she got her food.  When she was doing this well, I tied her jug filled with water to the end of her bumper line. I would tell her “get it” and “come” and she would pull the line tight and then keep walking until I told her to “halt” and “give”.  Winn will do most anything for food so after doing this for several days successfully before dinner I started randomly calling out “get it” at different times of the day until I was sure that she really knew what to do and that she was willing to do it.img_8178Finally we were ready to get back to practice with our training group and we met up on Labor Day. Technically Winn still wouldn’t be cleared to mix with other dogs for another three days but I would keep her away while the boys practiced and then bring her down after they had done everything they wanted to do.  We always set up crates and keep the dogs separated when we practice since we act as each others’ stewards but I didn’t want her to be a distraction.  This was an important practice for all of us and we all wanted to do our best. Our next test was scheduled for that Saturday and this was our first practice with the boat in over a month (she was completely confused during the test in Indiana which was the last time she had tried the exercise).

The weather that day was terrible. Winn and I had gotten there early so that we could practice on our own before everyone got there. I had brought Winn’s jug and attached it to a blow up donut ring so that we could practice beaching on our own before it was our turn with the boat.  After all of the work in the house she did it perfectly! She kept pulling until I said stop and she even was willing to pick up her bumper from the ground and pull again.  Thank goodness our work at home was paying off!  Soon after that a storm came rolling through.  We all stayed in our cars watching the weather maps, hoping it would blow past so that we could get on with a practice. Normally we probably would have gone home but we all had things we wanted to work on before the test and the boat was there so we waited and eventually the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day.IMG_8431After the other dogs had all practiced I brought her back down for her turn with the boat. Our normally calm lake was pretty churned up with the wind and the storm and she wasn’t as confident as usual.  She swam out short distances and did everything really well but when we moved out further to the test distance she didn’t want to swim out. I decided that we wouldn’t go to the test in Michigan on Saturday, our friends hadn’t signed up for that one and would be practicing that day instead. Our club’s test was the following weekend (at the same location where we have been practicing) and I really wanted us to be our best for that one since it was our last chance.  It would be better for us to have a fun practice with our friends than try and do everything perfectly in a new location with the added nerves of being in a test.IMG_7618I was glad I made that decision because when we went back on Saturday she did have a couple of issues that we worked through and by the end of practice she was doing Take A Line and Tow A Boat perfectly. I wasn’t concerned about the other exercises so we didn’t practice them, I just mixed in her favorite retrievals to break up “the work”, which for Winn isn’t work at all.  She really loves being in the water and her energy level was great. She was swimming without her life jacket and was still really strong at the end of practice.  We were as ready as we were going to be.  She had mastered all six exercises in our first summer of training and I was so happy with all that she had learned.  If we could pull it off in the test, that would be the cherry on top.IMG_8460next post: test time once again!

Summer fun in the water

I knew that Winn was something special when she spotted the newspaper on the sidewalk, made her way down the porch steps and brought the paper into the kitchen for a reward. She was only 4 months old! I had tried to show her how to do that two or three times a couple of weeks before but I didn’t think she was getting it and figured she was too young and we would try again when she was older. That was the first time that she showed me she really was absorbing what I was trying to teach her to do and could put it together at a later time.  I was instantly aware that I had a true working dog on my hands and we could explore all kinds fun activities together.

Last summer I observed some friends water training their Newfies and then I volunteered at our local Newfoundland Club’s annual water test. I had never been to a test before and was just beginning to learn about water work with Newfoundlands but after that experience I was hooked!

When I got home from that test, I knew it was something that I wanted to do with Winn so I purchased a recommended book that was dedicated to training for the three different levels of the water test.  We played retrieval games with bumpers and a life jacket.  I filled her wading pool with water so that she could dunk her face for carrots and hot dogs as well as diving rings. We went swimming in a doggie pool during the winter months, throwing in different articles for her to retrieve and even doing a little jumping off of the pool deck to encourage her playfulness in the water.

When spring rolled around, I was excited to actually start training for the test. We have good friends who have enjoyed doing water and draft work with Newfies for many years.  They were teaching a water work seminar for the Central Ontario Newfoundland Club over Memorial Day Weekend and I decided that would be a great way to spend the weekend with our friends, learning new skills and being surrounded by fellow Newfie lovers.

They went through each of the different exercises and showed us how to break them into small segments.  We learned tips and tricks to practice on land as well as in the water, and each exercise was introduced to each team individually in a gentle and fun way.

Land work: practicing going out and around and revving her up by having fun with her fetching articles.

Learning Take A Line, one of the most difficult exercises:

Introducing the boat, taking treats and pulling it in:

Swim With Handler, our favorite exercise that we had been doing all winter at the indoor doggie pool:

When we returned home, we had to wait a few more weeks for the weather to cooperate but we were invited to train with two other families at a nearby lake.  We spent almost every Saturday or Sunday with them and Winn took to it amazingly well.  We each took turns with our dogs, helping each other out with exercises by acting like a drowning victim, dropping articles in the water or rowing the boat. IMG_8075.jpgAs the weeks passed, Winn was executing everything really well.  When she was first learning Take A Line, we put a long line on her to help guide to the caller, then swim around them and back to shore.  After only 2 or 3 times with the long line, she understood what she was supposed to do and after that I didn’t put the long line on again. She was great at retrieval, was starting to understand Tow A Boat and was perfect with the Basic Control exercises.  I even found myself giving tips to others on heeling and recall!IMG_7773Once I was pretty confident with our skills, I started getting more excited about entering a water test.  There were several tests planned in our area, all on different weekends so I started filling out the paperwork and entered 4 different tests with the hope of getting into and competing in 2 or 3.  In addition to our own club’s test which would be the last one of the summer, we got into one in Indiana and one in Michigan.  I really hoped that we would have success in at least one of them.

We continued practicing, fine tuning each exercise so that we were doing what was needed to pass and building her strength and stamina.  She wore a life jacket during practice and I was planning on taking it off and doing a full practice run of the test the week before our first water test in Indiana. I wrote a post a while back explaining why Newfies wear life jackets when they train and you can read that here. Everything was going according to plan until the night before that designated practice and Winn went into heat!  I knew it was coming sometime soon but I didn’t expect it that night.  We would have to stay home and wouldn’t have any more time in the water until we showed up for our first test.  I would just have to cross my fingers and go for it. That would add an extra layer of difficulty, she would most likely be more distracted and would have a harder time focusing on me.  I had also severely sprained my ankle the week before and had skipped practice.  By the time we tested, it was 3 weeks since we had been in the water and she wouldn’t be cleared to practice again until 2 weeks after we got back and that was the weekend of the Michigan test.  It was time to have faith in our skills and go out and have a good time no matter how it may end up!IMG_8091next post: our first water test!

So what have you been up to?

I saw a funny post the other day about how we talk to our dog friends vs. our non-dog friends.

My answer to the question ” what have you been up to?” varies based on the audience.

For my non-dog friends, I’ll say I’ve gone on a couple of weekend get-aways to visit friends. I’ve also been going to the beach a lot, trying to get back into a workout routine and researching organizations to start volunteering with in the fall. I try to sound like a normal person that isn’t doing “weird” stuff.

For my dog friends, depending on what I know of their dog activities, I will be more forth coming with my answers i.e. I’ve been training Maisie to be a Therapy Dog and have found an organization that I’m pretty excited about. I’ve gone through my own training with them and I’ll be tagging along this week to observe their program in action.  Hopefully we will pass their dog team test so that we can volunteer with them in the fall. We’ve been going on a lot of training walks, in and out of stores and mixing up our destination to expose her to lots of different situations and people.IMG_6995For dog enthusiasts, I might elaborate a little more. Winn and I have been doing all kinds of advanced training over the last several months and have entered several different types of trials and have earned five titles.  Right now we are focusing on Water Rescue training and are having a blast!

I’ve been around water my entire life and for about 10 years I worked at my local YMCA teaching 3-5 year olds pool safety and how to swim.  I loved working with that age and I really felt like I was teaching them something that could save their lives. Now I’m exploring a different form of water safety by working with Winn and her natural instincts. It’s just for fun, she’s not going to be a lifeguard or a search and rescue dog, but I love swimming with her and having a reason to be in the water again.IMG_3514I’ve taken a couple of trips with her to learn the skills needed to enter and pass the junior level Newfoundland Water Dog (WD) test and have been working on a few of the skills included in the senior level Water Rescue Dog (WRD) test. (Last year I volunteered to help at the water tests in my area and wrote about those skills here and here.) She loves the water and has amazing instincts.  We work really well together but being in the water is exhausting and I’m reminded that even though she’s a big dog, she’s still young and she tires easily. I’m also getting used to being in the water again so we are both working on building our stamina in the water and knowing when to call it quits.IMG_4455This week, I’ve been filling out entry forms for water tests put on by different regional Newfoundland clubs.  Two are close by, about an hour’s drive and two are further away and would require a hotel stay.  I hope to get into at least two, maybe three.  My friend who has been doing this a long time and teaches water skills clinics would like me to go to Canada with her so Winn could also try for her Canadian Water Rescue Dog title.  I think this year, we will just focus on her American title and consider that in the future. I’ll be thrilled if we get the title this summer, but I’m loving the bond we’ve formed and the fun we have learning new skills.  I have high hopes for us as a working team and there are so many possibilities for us to explore!

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Winn and her training buddies Clarence and Cass–both featured in last year’s Water Weekend posts

 

Why do Newfoundland dogs wear life jackets while water training?

IMG_7246This is a valid question. Newfoundlands are known as water rescue dogs.  This story was published in the New York Times in 1919 and is one of the oft-repeated Newfoundland Dog legends:

DOG LANDS LIFELINE, SAVES 92 ON WRECK

Swims from the Ethie, Aground Off Newfoundland, After Shot Fell Short.

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CREW FEARED TO VENTURE

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Fishermen Ashore Pull Wreck Victims Over the Surf —Baby Rides in Mail Bag.

CURLING, N.F. Dec. 16. – The passengers and crew of the coastal steamer Ethie, numbering ninety-two persons, were brought ashore on a lifeline which was run out from the ship by a Newfoundland dog after their vessel grounded upon Martin’s Point.

Boats could not make the hazardous passage from the stranded steamer. An effort to shoot the line ashore failed when the line became caught. Men did not dare attempt the trip through the waters and so the dog was put overboard. Directed by officers of the Ethie the intelligent animal succeeded in releasing the rope and, holding it tightly in his teeth, fought his way through the breakers to the shore.

With block and tackle the Ethie’s crew, aided by fishermen on the shore, rigged a life-saving device, using a boatswain’s chair for a carriage. One by one, in this chair, ninety-one of the ninety-two persons aboard were hauled to safety. A baby, 18 months old, was pulled ashore in a mail bag.

The Ethie, which had been engaged in the coastal service between Curling and Labrador ports, went ashore last Wednesday during a gale while bound south. The wreck was not reported here until the shipwrecked passengers and crew arrived from Bonne Bay, all wires having gone down in the storm.

The New York Times
Published: December 17, 1919
Copyright The New York Times

After reading this, it does seem silly to put a life jacket on a rescue dog, but those training for Newfoundland Dog water rescue tests do wear them for several reasons.

  • Control. Canine life jackets have a handle on top which is an easy way to grab a dog while training.  They will also slow down an over-exuberant or anxious dog, allowing them to swim more calmly and focus on their handler while learning new skills in the water.
  • Wearing a canine life jacket helps to build strength and endurance.   A canine life jacket creates resistance in the water when they are swimming.  Swimming with resistance builds stamina, allowing them to swim faster and longer once it is removed.  The extra buoyancy also helps fight fatigue so that as they train, they can swim for longer periods of time, keep good focus and build strength.
  • A canine life jacket keeps them buoyant when they have slowed down. While training, we may slow down to repeat exercises or reward with treats and the life jacket keeps them floating so they can focus on their handler during these times.IMG_3547
  • A canine life jacket reinforces an efficient swimming position in the water.  Most dogs swim with their backs in line with the water but some dogs swim with their back ends in a lower position.  A canine life jacket keeps their bodies in a horizontal position and also helps create awareness of their back legs making them more efficient swimmers as they use all four legs to propel themselves through the water.IMG_3746
  • It helps build confidence. Not all dogs are naturally good swimmers, even some Newfoundlands, and wearing a canine life jacket will help a nervous dog enjoy his time in the water while learning to swim in a proper position as well as building strength and stamina.
  • It helps them recover quickly when jumping into the water. One of the skills on the test is jumping from a boat.  When they jump in, their head will likely submerge which can be startling for a dog learning this skill.  The life jacket helps keep their head higher in the water and they pop up more quickly.  It doesn’t usually take long for a Newfie to get comfortable with the sensation of going under the water and coming back up, but the first few attempts forms their opinion and if they decide they don’t like it, they may never do it again.IMG_3859

Since Newfoundlands are in the XL category, there are fewer canine life jackets to choose from.  I purchased two different models to use and compare after reading many reviews and talking to other Newfoundland owners.

The first one is by NRS (Northwest River Supplies). They make top rated PFD’s (personal flotation device) for humans and use the same technology and products to make their CFD (canine flotation device).  I liked that it has wide bands that go under the belly rather than flaps with velcro that their long hair can get stuck in.  It buckles at the top of their back and is adjustable on both ends. It also has a handy, zipper pocket to store a leash or ball if desired. I purchased it at L.L. Bean. I grew up in New England and I still have fond memories of our annual trip to Freeport.  I have trusted L.L. Bean to provide the very best products and have always been happy with my purchases.IMG_2927The second one is by Ruffwear and is the most popular with Newfoundland owners because it fits their bodies well and is very durable.  We have used this brand at the swimming pool they train at. My only complaint is that the buckles are very low on their side and I have to straddle them and reach under their belly to get it secured. I purchased it from Amazon.IMG_6633I plan to write a more detailed review on both of them at the end of the summer. Time will tell which one I like better.