Annie and Dingo

Arriving home cold and miserable from a very wet spring agility trail, I found in the mailbox a flyer from Canine Water Sports: "Wet summer fun for all water loving dogs and their humans! Beginner's Water Training Workshop. Join the Splash!" I had a mental image of playing in a lake with my Australian Cattle Dog on a blue, hot summer day without a care in the world- and signed up!

Water Training began as sport/tests for Portuguese Water Dogs but Canine Water Sports Founder/Director Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, recognizing that dogs of many breeds are accomplished swimmers, opens her workshops to all dogs who "enjoy the water and have demonstrated a desire to swim". I was surprised to learn, however, that my Dingo is the first Australian Cattle Dog that she has had in her program. Don't Australian Cattle Dogs like to swim? I thought that Dingo would be a natural for this workshop as he has loved to swim ever since his first dog paddle, and when we rescued him at ten months he came with a desire to retrieve. Natural? Trained? Probably a combination.

Plus, he's a cattle dog. So you won't be surprised that Deborah e-mailed me after the workshop, "Interesting that your dog seems to approach the water the same way he would cattle-fast and hard! Have not yet looked at the photos I took of him flying into the water, but he was a bolt of lightening!" Deborah encouraged us to study the variety of swim styles that dogs have. Dingo has a very powerful stroke with his front legs. She also explained to me that many dogs approach a lake shore by walking until they have to swim, and then at that point may stop before pushing off. Dingo knows where that point is and leaps over it. Since I also know Dingo to stress in new situations and to need lots of motivation, I treated the water approach as an agility start line rather than an obedience-type exercise. (BTW, Handlers are required to wear life jackets for insurance reasons)

But it wasn't quite as easy as it may sound as I had never been swimming with my dog. All I had ever done was stand by the bank of a stream, and throw toys for him to retrieve. Team Swim, a key element in the program, teaches the dog to swim around and accept direction from a swimming person. We worked very gradually up to this point as dogs will frequently jump on their handlers or swim away when they see us simply as heads above water! Dingo became accustomed to this, but he did not get the point of staying out there circling me, since to him the purpose of swimming has always been to retrieve an object and then make for shore. Working with me rather than just retrieving on his own will be the groundwork for our future water training. The workshop also included introduction to retrieve work (both above and underwater), boat work (jumping on, sitting calmly as a passenger, jumping off into water) and towing, which is the foundation for rescue work. Much of the introductory work was done on land, and the dogs (not to mention their partners) were given plenty of opportunity to rest between exercises.

Anne A. Smith and Dingo

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