Recently Stamp and I had the opportunity to explore the relatively new world of Canine Water Sports. At the urging of a friend, I brought Stamp out to a lovely lake in Monroe, CT, to meet Deborah Lee Riley-Miller, the founder and director of the Canine Water Sports organization. I admit that I was hesitant at first. Sure, Stamp likes to swim, but beyond that there didn't seem to be much opportunity to be involved in water sports. After all, a Norfolk is not exactly what one pictures as a water rescue dog. Well, suffice to say that after one visit we were totally hooked!
Canine Water Sports is, as it says in its brochure, `an organization dedicated to promoting fun, safe water work activities for water-loving dogs and their people.' They are dedicated to opening up the world of water fun to dogs regardless of shape, size or pedigree.
So, what exactly do `water sports' entail? The organization offers seven different water sport titles, covering everything from basic safe water skills to advanced work. The most basic level, called the Team Swim, is a bit like a `water CD', and was what Stamp and I worked on when we visited.
The objective of the team swim is to demonstrate that the dog is under control and safe to swim with. I confess that Stamp's swimming experiences, up to this point, were very uncontrolled. Basically, whenever we got anywhere near water deep enough to swim in, he swam. He loves to retrieve from the water, and even dive under water to retrieve, but that was the extent of his `training'. The only time Stamp and I had actually been swimming together was in the therapeutic pool when he'd injured his shoulder.
After watching Stamp play and swim in the water for a while, to assure herself that he was comfortable and knew what he was doing, Deborah Lee started us on the first step in the Team Swim. Four PVC pipes were laid out in a big square on shore and Stamp was to wait within the confines of that square as I waded out into the water, and not enter the water until I directed him to do so. A bit of a change for us; usually I'm the one who stays on shore and Stamp is the one who wades in and calls me. Oh, well . . .
The first try was a bit dicey. Stamp didn't see any reason to change rules that had served us perfectly well. But on the second try, he waited willingly on shore until called.
The next step was to teach him the dog version of treading water. To be a safe swimming partner, the dog must learn not to use his handler as a dock or pier, but to swim circles around the handler when the handler is not moving. That part was easy enough for Stamp because he already knew how to circle me on dry land.
Having proven that he would not attempt to drown me, Stamp was to swim along side me as I swam (actually, because of a leg injury I stayed in water shallow enough for me, but not him, to walk in) parallel the shore. For the actual test the dog must swim alongside the handler imagine water heeling while the handler swims a large zigzag pattern designated by floating markers. After demonstrating that he would swim along side me without impeding me in any way, Stamp had to exit the water with me and under control. That was his least favorite part, as he is not one to leave water willingly.
Because Stamp was already a proficient swimmer, as well as being fairly well trained, we then messed around with some of the more advanced exercises which include a wide variety of retrieves single, double, under water, blind and multiple. By that time we'd been in and out of the water for the better part of four hours, so we called it a day.
There are many other skills taught and tested in Canine Water Sports including towing a person, retrieving a boat, and diving under water. Despite my skepticism, I have found that Stamp is, indeed, able to tow me in the water, although if my life depended on it I'd opt for a dog somewhat larger.
Most of all, Canine Water Sports opened up a whole new world of play and training for us, and a terrifically fun way to get more exercise!
You can find out more about Canine Water Sports from their website: http://www.cainewatersports.com.
ANTIC, September, 2005
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