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Paddling pools for working dogs: a useful way to introduce youngsters to water work

The return of sunny weather means it’s the perfect time to introduce your dog to water — all you need is a paddling pool, says Ellena Swift, writing for Shooting Times

Like many, my dogs have small paddling pools for working dogs that I encourage puppies to explore and play in as much as possible. I use toys and even treats to help lure them in, then allow them to play with other puppies and dogs.

While I love the sun and the warm weather, the majority of working dogs do not. So the most obvious training that dogs will enjoy during hotter spells is swimming. It is also a great time of year to introduce younger dogs to water and get their confidence up in it.

Using paddling pools for working dogs

It is important that water is fun. Keeping it shallow enough that they do not have to swim will help to give them confidence until they are ready. I have two puppies of my own — one is four-and-a-half months old and the other is nearly eight months. Neither has swum before and they have spent the past week playing in the paddling pool.

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water training gundogs

Ellena starts by throwing a ball or water dummy into the shallow end of a local pond she uses

Introducing a working dog to ponds

Once the puppies are used to playing in the paddling pool I take them both to a nice pond with a gentle sloping entry. I start by throwing a ball or water dummy into the shallow part so they can run in and get it. It is important to introduce water at their pace and not your own.

River is a few months older and already a much bigger dog. He has paddled in various bits of water, so I am happy to stretch him and ask him to swim. At this stage, I am not overly concerned about steadiness with either dog. The sooner they go for the retrieve, the keener they will be and the more likely they will swim for the first time.

Hela is simply allowed to run in and retrieve the dummy. With River, I hold him by putting one hand on his chest so he has to wait a split second before I send him. He is nearly steady on land so, within reason, I can make him remain in a sit when I throw something.

gundog in water

Eight month old River – appropriately named – is already used to being in water

Solid delivery

One of the biggest problems people have with water is the delivery. A dog will naturally want to shake as it leaves the water and often will drop the retrieve to do this. Even if they keep hold, it is not ideal for the dog to learn to shake while holding a bird in its mouth because they risk damaging it. So to encourage a solid delivery, I actually stand in the shallow water myself as they come out. By standing in the water, they don’t have as big an urge to shake as they are not on dry land yet.

gundog training

Ellena holds River by putting one hand on his chest so he has to wait before she sends him

I also do not ask either dog to sit for delivery coming out of the water. They are unlikely to be comfortable sitting while in shallow water, so a stand is fine. Slowly, over the next few weeks, I will take River to water as much as possible and work my way backwards out of the pond until he is delivering to hand a good distance out of the water. Hela I will not be pushing this for another couple of months at least. River has proved a confident little swimmer and found his first time relatively easy. So on his next visit to water, I decided to increase the challenge slightly.

dog water training

Ellena stands in teh shallow water so River does not have such an urge to shake

I have several older dogs with me, waiting their turn to train, so this is where I use them. The pond is approximately 45 yards across and there is an island halfway across. I want to keep increasing River’s confidence, so I sit him with the other dogs on one side of the water. I leave them there and walk across to the other side. Once there, I make it so that I am as close to the water as possible and call them all across. River has the older dogs to show him what to do. For young dogs, any kind of swimming is great for their muscles and development as well. But start off with paddling pools for working dogs to build up confidence.

Working dogs swimming

Sitting River with the other dogs then calling them means he takes his lead from them and swims across, increasing his confidence