JEREMY HUNT SAYS: A lack of confidence in his own ability in water, and a doubt that the retrieve he has been sent for will produce a bird, may be contributing to your gun dog’s hesitancy in the water.
Your gun dog may have had an experience in water that has unnerved him, or he could just be choosing to do what he wants, rather than what he has actually been told to do.
Try and tackle your gun dog’s problem when the weather gets warmer to avoid training in really cold water.
Find a piece of water that your gun dog can swim across easily and one that has an easy access and exit.
Make sure he can see the training dummy on the other side.
To ensure you achieve this it may be advisable to get someone to work with you so that the dummy can be very specifically placed in full sight of the gun dog before you send him.
If your gun dog is not the happiest of swimmers this short swimming exercise will build up his confidence.
He won’t lose focus on the job in hand when he gets half way across, because if you choose your stretch of water well he will be almost on the other bank by the time he starts to think about turning around.
This exercise will build up his swimming ability and strengthen his belief in you because he knows there’s a dummy waiting to be retrieved.
I would persevere with this for some time until you feel he’s over his hang-up and then you can start to make the swimming distance a little wider.
If necessary you can always ask your assistant to give him some encouragement.
I would resist any retrieves from the water itself as this can encourage him to look on the water for the retrieve and reduce his determination.
The long-term aim should be to get the gun dog to regard water in the same way he regards dry land.
In other words that it’s just something that has to be travelled across when that’s what he’s been told to do.
Ideally you need to progress to a stage where you can send him on a blind retrieve across water.
You will need to be able to do this if you are picking-up unseen birds after a drive.
Laying a firm foundation of total confidence in you by undertaking the exercise I have described should, in time, enable you to achieve this.
It is very important to make sure that you give a clear directional hand signal when you send your gun dog out across water to help him swim in the quickest and safest way.
And remember that you also need to be able to handle him once he is on the far bank.
He must assume that you, as his master, could ‘walk on water’ if you needed to deal with any failings which may arise on his part.