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How to introduce a puppy to water retrieves

Neil Varney outlines various tried-and-tested methods of training a puppy and suggests how to introduce it to water work

water retrieves

At first the dog may have a high front action but will level out when it has a retrieve

With the arrival of warmer weather, it has been a good opportunity to introduce the young spaniels to a bit of water work and introduce water retrieves. Though the puppies are the same age, it is surprising how different they dealt with this new aspect of their training. Logan, the black-and-white dog, is normally very bold but he has been quite cautious with this exercise. Dolly, on the other hand, has taken to this like a duck to water, and her progress has been much quicker.

water retrieves

Neil begins by throwing the dummy just into the water, at the edge and just out of the puppy’s reach

Introducing water retrieves

I always start off in a small pond with very shallow banks, as I don’t particularly want young dogs making a spectacular leap into the water. It looks exciting, but I don’t always know what lies below the water surface; I have known more than one dog that has sustained severe injuries through hitting a submerged log.

To start with, I will throw a dummy just into the water, at its edge and just out of the puppy’s reach. At this stage, I am not concerned about steadying the dog: if he runs-in, that’s all the better: I need him to be keen to overcome any concerns about entering the water. Once the dog is in the water, I will stand right at the water’s edge ready to take the retrieve; this will prevent the dog from dropping the dummy when it gets back on to solid ground, and you don’t want it to start shaking until it has made the delivery.

water retrieves

Neil stands right at the water’s edge, ready to take the retrieve from Loan immediately as he returns

It may well mean you will get wet, but do not be tempted to stand farther back, as the chances are that the dog will drop the dummy and shake, and then you may have another issue to try to rectify.

Some dogs struggle to swim properly

Initially, some dogs struggle to swim properly, create a lot of splashing and have a high front-end action, but this is nothing to worry about, as a dog soon learns to adjust its body. You may find that, as soon as it gets a retrieve in its mouth, it will level out.

water retrieves

At first the dog may have a high front action but will level out when it has a retrieve

At this early stage, don’t over-stretch a young dog by throwing long retrieves: swimming is hard physical work and will quickly tire a youngster out. I would also recommend using a normal, cigar-shaped dummy — either a canvas or plastic one — rather than a ball or a hard, rubber dummy, on which the dog may find it difficult to get a grip; balls in particular can keep bobbing away from a dog, and this can affect its confidence.

Water work is an essential part of training a gundog, there is nothing worse than being on a shoot day and a bird drops into a pond or river and you can’t get your dog out to retrieve it.