This summer, I have a small number of private students who are coming to train with me because they want help with water training, specifically deliveries by water, and I’m going to share to of those training sessions with you. The first one is with Allwin the toller, and next week I’ll show you some training with Majken the goldie.
The vast majority of dogs want to shake when they have been swimming, and naturally they should get to do that. But that shake should happen after the delivery, because if you’re a dog and you shake yourself while holding on to something, you’re most likely going to drop that something. If you are at a trial, working with dummies, the judge will be a little dissatisfied since the shaking will mess with the delivery… And if you are hunting, or at a trial with live game, it’s simply an ethical question. Game should not be shook regardless of whether it is dead or injured. And if the game is just injured and the dog drops it, the injured game might run away, prolonging the suffering. Game should be brought in swiftly, be delivered and should it be injured, it’s your job as a handler to put it down immediately.
So, we teach our dogs to shake off the water after having delivered what they have retrieved.
Some good basic skills to have under your belt before starting this training is for the dog to be able to deliver to your hand on land – a clear hand target for the dog to aim at with the object in his mouth. It’s also clever to have trained and put the behavior of shaking on cue, something you can do when you’ve just given your dog a bath, or when he’s wet of some other reason. I give the cue when I see that my dog is about to shake himself off, and then follow the shaking with a reward. Then I begin to say “shake” just before the dog starts shaking. Then I say “shake” when I want the dog to perform the behavior.
Some dogs are quicker to shake themselves off than others. I have seen dogs who want to shake themselves as soon as they feel firm ground under their paws after a swim – while they still have water up to their tummies. Others wait until they are on the shore before they drop the object and shake themselves off. And some don’t seem to find it an issue to run 30 meters on land without shaking themselves off until after delivering the object. Though I don’t run into the latter that often. 😉
Here, Helene and Allwin show their super nice delivery, which of course was very well trained on land. Allwin really wants to shake himself off, but we took it step by step and then he managed to run farther down into the water – becoming wetter and wetter – without shaking until after having delivered the object. That’s the way to do it! 🙂
In the beginning, before he was all wet, Allwin found it pretty easy to wait with the shake.
The trick is usually to start very simple just by the water’s edge. I let the dog follow the dummy in my hand, grab it, turn towards me and deliver. Slowly but surely, I’ll go farther and farther out into the water before letting the dog grab the object, then back up as fast as I can without falling backwards into the water and receive the object back at the water’s edge.
Then I want a helper who quietly puts the dummy down in the water; further and further out for every successful repetition. Most dogs do very well until they get wet in the coat on their belly (especially for the long-haired breeds) – that seems to make them want to shake themselves. If the dog thinks it is difficult, we ensure that the handler stays close and that the delivery can take place just at the water’s edge. In the early repetitions, I quickly increase the handler’s distance to the water’s edge, so that she is standing further and further up on land. As soon as the dog thinks he’s feeling a little too wet and it becomes harder to resist the shaking, I move the handler down to the water’s edge again. Then we begin playing around with the distances.
What the video isn’t showing is that we also worked a great deal in the other direction, since Allwin is beginning to think water is the best thing ever. Marked retrieves along the water, marked retrieves away from the water, throw a stone into the water and then letting Allwin hold an area on land instead. Everything in order to reinforce “listen to me”. And naturally you can also use the water to reward your dog! One of my students used “go swim” as the reward when her water crazy dog succeeded with working along the water line without taking an “unauthorised” swim.
Take the opportunity when the water is warm to work in and close by water! Good luck!
PS: Thanks to Allwin with handler for letting me share your training! <3