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How to keep your dog safe around fast-flowing rivers

Avoiding the risks of a dog drowning

Cocker spaniel

Q: I will be picking-up this season on a new shoot, where there is a fast-flowing river. On two drives it can be necessary to put dogs over the river. I know that dogs have drowned in this river in the past, and while my dogs are good swimmers I would not want them
 to take any risks. Should I pull out, 
or make my concerns known?

Keeping dogs safe by rivers

A: Any situation that may endanger the life of a working gundog should be avoided, but there are certainly situations that crop up on shoot days in which dogs go the extra yard — of their own volition — in order 
to retrieve their bird.

If you have concerns, talk candidly to the other members of the picking-up team. I am sure that no one wants their dog to be put at risk, so ask them how they feel and judge what is reasonably expected of you on a shoot day.

You also need to speak to the shoot captain and see what he has to say. Your concerns should be dealt with professionally, but if you are made 
to feel as though you are making a fuss for no good reason, you might wish to reconsider your involvement with the shoot in question.

However, if everyone recognises the risks and has a sensible and responsible attitude to what situations might occur on a shoot day, it will be up to you to decide whether you feel you have enough control of your dogs to prevent them from attempting to cross the river. A few birds left unpicked is far better than a dead dog, so you need to be on the ball on the drives that could present a risk and be ready to assess precisely where birds have fallen, before deciding whether it is safe to work your dogs and avoid a risky river crossing.

Of course, we have all seen birds appear dead on a riverbank and then, just as the dog approaches, suddenly take off. What you don’t want is for that situation to occur and a dog to pursue it, if it could be in danger as a consequence. The emphasis is on your decision about whether or not to send a dog but probably more importantly to make sure that your dog will respond immediately, should you need to abort the retrieve for safety reasons.