Going off the Deep end? By Lisa Norris

When I first put my 9-week old puppy into the bathtub and acclimated her to polite doggy bathing habits, never did I imagine it would instill in her a lifelong obsession with water.

Then again, little did I know this little girlie would take to many canine pursuits not typically attributed to her Non-Sporting heritage. I have since become very accustomed to folks at Agility Trials who ask in astonishment “THOSE dogs do Agility?” or “I thought they were couch potatoes!”

Fellow competitors seem to have gotten accustomed to my dogs’ funny faces in Agility.

Some of you may have caught us monopolizing the Hose and kiddy pools at trials throughout the Northeast. So, upon the suggestion of fellow agility addict Claudia Mohr, and with the endorsement from her Portuguese Water Dogs, we left our familiar weave poles and seesaw behind and tried our paws at a new doggie camp.

While I filled our training bag with our clickers and targets, favorite Frisbee and tuggy toys, we also packed Life vests and waterproof Bait Bags and headed to SPLASH CAMP.

Those of us with roots in Equestrian sports know very well the virtues of Swimming for Hydrotherapy and conditioning of our 4-legged athletes. Since my littlest athletes perform equally physical feats, I have carried over this approach with my dogs to maintain health and conditioning for them, not to mention having good clean Fun.

Splash Camp, Fall 2002, was nestled into the panoramic settings of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains where Canine Water Sports' delighted dogs and handlers from a variety of backgrounds came to 3 days of adventure for those who dared take the plunge.

There I was surrounded with handlers of all shapes and sizes, from as far away as San Francisco, and with canine campers who were mostly PWDs and representatives of just about every Retrieving breed. Early morning of day 1, we unloaded our gear, greeting and chatting with each other excitedly in anticipation of the days ahead.

Meanwhile my own two dogs remained snuggled in their crates in the car and slept thru the early morning chill air burrowed deeply in their blankies. Yeah, Okay, lots of folks tell me my dogs NEED their Beauty sleep. Then our Camp Counselors called us to Official opening ceremonies, I had to go roust my sleeping darlings.

In we came and took our seats along picnic tables in the pavilion. At first I thought it was only the polar fleece coats my dogs were wrapped in which had fellow campers staring, but then I realized folks were a bit taken back by who was wearing those coats.

“Are those BOSTON Terriers?? Here??? accompanied by a few bewildered faces with wrinkled noses as if imitating my dogs. “How can a BOSTON Terrier do Water Work? Do they even like Water?!”, we were questioningly but very amicably greeted with queries from fellow campers.

I warmly reassured them that yeah, it was ok.

Camp instructors were delighted to have “different” dogs in camp - no one had ever brought a Boston for water training!!

“Yup, they sure do love water!” I replied and relayed some of the notorious antics of my Jumpin’ BeanDogs.

After all, I’ve had a hard time convincing Pandora she’s supposedly “Non-sporting”, as I had previously indulged my dogs with Herding and Terrier Races.

Once we took to the water, however, Pandora removed all doubt if she could navigate water - Even without a tail or much of a short nose. Her heart and drive lead the way as she eagerly charged into the lake for our new exercises.

Canine Water Sports (CWS) is the creation of Norwalk CT Police Sergeant, lifelong dog trainer and Water sports enthusiast Deborah Lee Miller. Deborah Lee organized the 1st local water workshops where she’s been teaching for ten years, and serves as a national water trial judge for both PWDCA and CWS. Her plan came to reality in 2001 with the introduction of Canine Water Sports to the world of canine pursuits. CWS Opened water training and Certification trials to ALL dogs who enjoy water regardless of breed or heritage. While it is based in traditional water service work, the CWS training is creative and flexible to include training and challenges for dogs even with just the slightest interest in water.

All that is required is a Fun Positive Partnership between dog and handler.

Splash Camp as we experienced it was a wonderful mix of formal water service combined with pure fun and team-building enjoyment with our Best Friends. Campers varied from novice puppy owner thru avid Obedience and Agility handlers and instructors with top-level titles on dogs. I thankfully was joined in the “Odd Dogs” assortment by handlers with a Bedlington Terrier, Rottweiler, Standard Poodles, Aussies and a Staffy Terrier mix along with the funny looking Bostons.

Regardless of our Dog training background, experience or Breed of choice, the exercises and water tests were geared and taught to provide learning challenges and enjoyment of success for each Camper team. One of my fellow campers, Victoria and her Bedlington needed a bit of extra encouragement to convince her dog that water really was not just for drinking anymore. We are here for a confidence boost for Hotspur and she had included her in her morning introductions. Over the 3 days, they took pride each time Hotspur relied on his handler and ventured into the lake above his dewclaws to the cheers of fellow campers.

Our first water task was to master the Team Swim, a Core Requirement upon which further tasks are based.

Our objective was to teach our dogs:

1) To “tread water” by means of swimming close circle around handler; and 2) Negotiate a line of 6 buoys in the water 8’ apart while dog is swimming “in heel position” hands free with handler parallel to shore. Dogs needed to learn to enter the water confidently, to swim with their handler without interfering with or climbing onto their Swimmer, and to Target the shoreline for safe return to the beach.

Part 1 of this was geared to build the dog’s confidence in entering the water - many dogs, including some of those curly coated pups, just sniffed and pawed at the shore.

Handlers were encouraged to use any prior training that would help our dogs gain confidence and apply it to our new tasks. Dogs with prior Clicker training benefited greatly here, while Instructors quickly brought other teams up to speed.

Here, I took benefit of our Lead-Out always used in agility, and I left Pandora on shore while I waded out about 30’ to hip depth with her favorite Frisbee. I called my dog to me and immediately clicked for her bold shot from the shore and rewarded with food treat when she reached me. Next, I employed a bit from Rally-O training and coaxed her to swim a 270 turn around me, clicked for a pass behind mom (previously forbidden in agility) and rewarded with her beloved Frisbee to tug with.

Second element of Team Swim consisted of the line of 6 Buoys out in Full swim depth. They were laid out in a line parallel to shore and spaced 8’ feet apart. Dog and handler were to zig-zag their way in unison thru the line, entering on the far side of line with 1st buoy on our left shoulder and proceed with shore on our left weaving in unison.

I was very psyched - YES!! I knew we’d find a way to play agility in the water!!

This looked to me just like a submerged Master’s Gamble to offside weave poles!!

I was Confident my lunatic Beandog, she who craves “the weavies”, would also view this challenge as such. I lead out to knee-deep water. There, with back still to my dog, I firmly squared my shoulders to just right of the first buoy, then turned from the waist and raised my right hand and began our “run”.

Once Pandora joined my right side, I simply extended my right hand and arm toward far side of the buoy line and told her “Go Weave”. I remained in place while she paddled her way out the additional 30’ of water and tucked her little nose around that far side of the line and entered the buoys. Those must have been the darndest looking weave poles ever put on course.

Amid calls from Sarah Wilson on shore attempting to correct my handling, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that...” Sarah called, cut short - then “Holy (Shoot), She’s DOING IT!!”, I then took few steps parallel from my dog as she swam her way thru her “poles”.

As my girlie completed the six, I whooped “EXCELLENT” for my dog and threw her Frisbee towards shore and partied our way up the beach.

Yeah, Ok we did have to come back for us BOTH to swim through the buoy line correctly, but boy was that fun and it left me confident that next time an agility site gets flooded out, we are ready.

Consistent coaching from Deborah Lee helped us introduce our dogs to water Retrieving, Courier Service and elements of basic rescue using out dog’s favorite things in life. Camp instructors Melinda Harvey and Sarah Wilson rounded out the camp team and emphasized maintaining the dog’s happy and confident attitude at all times. At no time was any handler permitted to force, throw or carry any dog into the water; such would undermine dog’s trust in their handler and could irreparably frighten a dog from the water for life. Rather, emphasis was always maintained to preserve the dog’s spirit, happy enthusiasm and Most of all, their confidence in their handler’s direction in the unsure skills we were coaching them thru.

Our 3-day instruction was broken out into the individual elements of:

Team Swim - basic Pre-requisite
Water Retrieve
Delivery (water Courier service)
Underwater Diving (by dog)
Water Scent work (tracking on water)
Boat Skills and Launch

Needs of our dogs remained the foremost of concern throughout all training exercises, and desensitization sessions were included, some of which also proved most hilarious.

I found the most variation in dog’s responses was during our session with the “Disappearing Diver”. Volunteer Fire and Police rescue divers, clad in scuba gear, took hold of individual dogs’ fave rewards, engaged the dog in a tantalizing game, and then disappeared from the dog into the water with dog’s favorite toy/treat in tow. Handlers restrained dogs on shore, and then released them into water to successfully follow that “funny looking monster” into disappearing water depths to retrieve their coveted rewards.

CWS is also the only national sanctioning body to offer dog certification and titling to all breeds and variety of dogs along these seven Individual Disciplines, as well as awarding titles for overall Utility Work, Rescue Work and Search Work. And for fun, competitive Water Games honors the fastest and most skilled dog in each of the water objectives!! Awards are divided into 2 groups based on size of canine teammate.

As for my littlest dog at camp, however, she wasn’t one to care even if she was doing the Big dog tests. She took hold of the Buoy/life preserver towlines and ran with them.

Best game of tug she’s played, even with that smushed Boston nose and head well above water!!

  Canine Water Sports
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