Canine Water Sports, Part 1

Canine Water Sports, Part 1

July 7, 2006
OK, so a few weeks ago, I went away for the weekend. I desperately needed a break. A friend of mine was going to Canine Water Sports camp for the weekend, so I decided to tag along. A few of my students had been to this before, but I just couldn’t see the big attraction. All of my dogs know how to swim and I really had no idea what this was going to be about. I figured it wouldn’t be too boring, but I knew Deborah Lee was a positive trainer and like I said, I desperately needed a break and a weekend away.

WELL! I was in for the shock of my life. I LOVED IT! I never would have imagined how totally thrilling it is to be swimming with your dog. I was only allowed to work with one dog and decided to use Shadow because he is my best trained dog (I thought I would have no chance with Emma or Beau actually doing a stay on shore and wasn’t really all that certain Shadow would do it).

I learned (among other things) the importance of warming up and stretching your dog before swimming them (yes I really already knew this but like so many people, I was lazy – heck, I never even stretch myself before competing). We started out doing some groundwork behaviors – hand targeting (which Shadow already knows) and a new behavior of circling around me a few times, which I named “Help!”

I then taught Shadow to stay with me in the water – first with just walking parallel to shore in shallow water and then gradually going farther out until he was swimming next to me. He loves the water and I really did not think he would be able to do even that and not go crazy.

After a few reps of that, we worked on having him stay on shore while I walked out into the water. He actually stayed until I called him. He swam out to me and I had him do his new behavior of “Help!” and then swam with him around some buoys and then back to shore.

To say I was excited beyond belief is an understatement. I cannot describe the thrill that went through me to see my little guy swimming with me and staying with me around the 3 buoys.

I have been practicing here at home (I live on a lake) and have subsequently been back for a private lesson (In CT), where I could work all 3 of my dogs. (Pictures to come soon!) Emma is rapidly reaching Shadow’s level and Beau is starting to be a little more confident. (He has a funny body type that makes him an awkward swimmer) I am working on building their endurance and Deborah Lee gave me some exercises to work on with them. I also found out (not that I had any doubt) that all 3 of them will do a “submerged retrieve” (I am not quite sure what this is called, but entails putting their entire head under water and retrieving an object. This is the first step to teaching them to dive under water – not to be confused with dock diving).

They are also learning to retrieve an object and bring it back to me while I am still in the water. Not an easy thing to change, since they are used to me throwing toys out in the water from shore, getting them and bringing them back to shore.

The Team Swim Test goes like this: Your dog is in a stay inside a “box” (4 pvc poles shaped like a square). You go out 50 feet into the water and you call your dog to you. Your dog has to swim around you for 30 seconds and then you swim off together to a line of 6 buoys, 10 feet apart and 10 feet farther from shore. The two of you have to weave through them (like weave poles in agility) and then swim back to shore together. Your dog needs to be within arms distance the entire time and you have to both get back to the “box.”

The next test is September 2 and I hope to have Shadow and possibly Emma ready to take the test. Canine Water Sports is a new sport started by Deborah Lee Riley and is open to all breeds, not just the typical water breeds. She offers many different types of workshops for different size dogs and different skill levels.

I encourage all of you to check out this new and exciting dog sport! For more information, go to

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