Water Work

by DFS-Pet-Blog on August 31, 2009

Newfoundland dog tows a boat during water rescue training.

Rudder tows a boat during his water rescue training.

Some summers I work on training my dogs for a specialized water test designed to be performed by registered Newfoundlands. Newfs can earn three titles, each with a different series of tests or trials. It can take a whole summer to teach a dog the skills he needs to successfully pass the tests to earn even one of these titles. The titles are Water Dog (WD), Water Rescue Dog (WRD), and Water Rescue Dog Excellent (WRDX). The basic test is called Junior Division and if the dog passes all 6 tests to the satisfaction of the judges, he earns his WD title. The tests are:

  1. Basic Control is a mini-obedience test on land. The dog does this portion off-leash with his handler. The test includes sitting, staying, coming when called, and a lot of distractions.
  2. Single Retrieve of a “bumper” (hunters call these “dummies”). The dog sits next to the handler on shore. Handler throws the bumper and sends the dog out to retrieve and bring it back to to him so the handler can take it before dog puts his feet on dry land. 60 seconds is allowed to complete this test.
  3. Drop Retrieve.While dog is sitting on dry land next to handler, two people row a boat 50 feet out and place a cushion or a life vest on the far side of the boat and row away without the dog seeing it. The handler sends the dog out to retrieve the item and bring it back so the handler can take it before the dog puts his feet back on dry land. 90 seconds is allowed for this test.
  4. Take a line. A person not known by the dog swims 50 feet out and pretends he’s drowning. The handler gives the dog the end of a 75 ft line and sends him out to the “drowning victim.” The dog must swim close enough so the “victim” can grab the line or the dog, who tows him back in. 90 seconds is allowed to complete this test.
  5. Tow a Boat. Dog must pull a boat from 50 feet out in the water to shore. The dog must do this within 90 seconds.
  6. Swim with handler. The dog must swim with the handler to 20 feet beyond where the dog can touch bottom. When the judge directs, the handler must command the dog to swim to shore and the handler grabs the dog’s hip fur or tail and allows the dog to tow him to shore. 90 seconds is allowed for this test.

For more information on these trials, go to The Newfoundland Club of America’s water rescue section.

A lot of these things are fairly easy to teach because the dog wants to (and in most cases has the instinct to) do them. My favorite thing is to watch the seriousness of the dog’s face as he is “doing his job”- even a goofy, immature dog can turn into a star when he is doing something he is bred to do.


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