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Nov 1, 2018
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Aye Mates,

The proper introduction to water for any working dog that will be expected to make retrieves in that environment is critical. Sudden immersion of a forced nature is NOT the way to go and is responsible for a number of dogs becoming aversive to water for the remainder of their lives. A retriever that is expected to make retrieves of game birds and waterfowl dropped over both land and water will only be getting half of the expected job done if it has developed an aversion to water that cannot be overcome via corrective training. All that said, the best approach is to head off problems before they start by setting the puppy up for success and that means making the pup's introduction to water a proper one.


~ Setting The Groundwork ~ LEAH is seen getting acquainted with a training bumper on land, that being a tool that she will make retrieves of many times throughout her life as a working retriever. A pup that develops a love for the retrieve on land, will be much more likely to extend that passion for the retrieve to the water. "Fun Over Force" is the way to go when introducing the retriever pup to water. We want the prospect pup to enter the water on her / his own, rather than being forced into the water.


~ A Team Effort ~ Seen here are gun dog prospect CASTLE HEIGHTS LEAH and her owner John. The bond between LEAH and John has developed nicely and the two have been pretty much attached at the hip since he brought her home from the breeder about three weeks ago. During this initial introduction of LEAH to water, John has entered the water before her as an enticement to encourage her to enter the water of her own accord. Short tosses of a small training bumper into the water, are an extension of the pups interest in the bumper previously established on land, that being one more motivational factor in having the pup self motivated in making entrance to the water.


~ Control The Conditions ~ I am an advocate for making introduction of pups to water at an early age, an element of their development of self confidence and the many skill sets so important for the prospect working retriever. One will note here that our point of entry into the water is in shallow water with a very gradual slope that increases in depth as the pup moves further from shore. We do NOT want the pup to be suddenly immersed in water where it loses contact with the bottom. Warmer water temperatures are best for initial introduction to water and cold water introduction is to be avoided. We want the pup to develop a love for the water based on our making it a fun place to be. We allow the pup to gradually build confidence as we provide motivation for her to initiate increasingly bold exploration on her own terms.


A Helping Hand ~ John is seen lending his pup a bit of physical assistance along with verbal encouragement as she initially makes her first few swimming strokes after losing contact with the bottom of the pond. This optimal balance of allowing the pup to self initiate while providing critically timed assistance when needed, helps the pup to avoid the panic which might lead to the water aversive behavior we seek to prevent. As with all of the introductory work we do with young pups, we strategically set them up for success rather than failure. Early training sessions are purposely made to be fun, instructional, motivational, and confidence building.


~ Reward And Reinforcement ~ Our initial session of introduction to water was kept relatively short, the focus being on having LEAH make as much progress within the constructs of her ability to handle the situation at hand. During my coaching of John with regard to his interaction with LEAH in the water, I am constantly monitoring the pup for indicators that she has had enough. We seek to always leave the pup wanting more and to end the session prior to them actually becoming tired or worse yet, bored. Ultimately, we want the pup to love the water and to make every early aquatic experience our trainee has be a great one. As we bring our first session in the water to a close, John gives LEAH the verbal and physical encouragement so important to rewarding her for the progress made, that reinforcing the desired behaviors we seek to instill.

A quick assessment of our initial introduction of trainee pup LEAH to water, found her making entry to water of her own accord, demonstrating increasing self confidence and motivation throughout the session, gradually venturing into deeper water on her own terms until she lost contact with the pond bottom, making her first initial swimming strokes, and having a totally positive experience throughout her initial introduction to water.

Going forward, plans for further reinforcement and expansion upon the gains made during the initial session, will include providing adequate follow-up opportunities in the water for LEAH to develop a love for water, all of that while increasing her self confidence and swimming related skills.

It is so much fun watching a young retriever developing the self-confidence and skill sets needed to become a competent working dog. Additionally, it is awesome to facilitate and observe a retriever pup and her owner / handler developing into a bonded team, and the joy they both realize in doing so.

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You just know all that time, care and attention is going to reap dividends.
Brill both the pics and the coverage of the topic
I see that your pup rewards with kisses for looking after him /her
Nice, cute set. I take it they also just watch their elders go into the water to gain trust that it's safe.
Nice, cute set. I take it they also just watch their elders go into the water to gain trust that it's safe.

Yes, I ran my retriever MAC while we were working with LEAH.

Mike ☘️

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