One of the classic books on training hunting dogs that I grew up with was a book called “Water Dog” by Richard A. Wolters. First published in 1964, it is still recognized as one of the great books on teaching your dog to do water retrieves. The book was so good that the problem now is finding an original copy that isn’t soaking wet.
Having said that, I have always felt that there was a key step missing between the idea of taking your retriever from dry land out into big water. And that is why I have spent most of this spring with my English Springer Spaniel Rosie, addressing the missing step in all this – the puddle.
To be completely honest, the idea of having a dog spend an inordinate amount of time charging through and laying down in muddy roadside and backwoods puddles would not have occurred to me. I am just not that bright.
Yet, this occurs to Rosie and most other dogs almost every time they go afield.
Rosie understands that she needs to take some responsibility for her training. Also, she has realized from puppyhood, that you have to walk before you can run – and then you never need to walk again. So, she came up with the concept of the “Puddle Dog.” Or at least I assume that’s why she spends so much time in them.
The training aspect is actually quite simple. At first, all you need to do is take your dog through an area where she can run free off the lead. Suddenly, without you even knowing that you have started the training session, your dog will zero in on the muddiest puddle in the area and then decide to lay down, roll or submerge herself in it. If it has any kind of future as a puddle dog, she or he will probably do all three.
The command you use as a handler is, “No…..for the love of God! I said no!”
There will be times when the training goes totally off the rails and the dog accidentally listens to you. If you are having one of those days, don’t despair however. There are a few training tricks that will almost guarantee that your dog will jump in. The easiest is make sure you don’t have a towel in the car. If your dog is truly stubborn, have the interior cleaned the day before the training session or simply wear white clothing. Either of those is usually enough to get the most water-wary dog to do belly flops.
Once your dog gets good at finding the easy puddles, it’s time to challenge old Rover a bit by visiting places that have undergone severe droughts or areas where the slope or drainage makes finding a puddle nearly impossible.
My Rosie is such an advanced puddle dog that she now could find a puddle in the desert, and when she leaves one she is often carrying enough water in her coat to start a new puddle, usually in the living room.
That’s why I now think she is ready to tackle the big water and pond exercises that are the next step towards becoming a full-fledged retriever. She’s experienced every kind of puddle you could possibly a predominantly white-coated dog wants to visit – namely, the dirtiest, muddy ones.
It’s time to move onto bigger and better things – like a muddy marsh or swamp.
How else is a dog like Rosie going to make a splash in this world?