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Teaching A Dog To Swim
by Mary Carson

Teaching a dog with web feet how to swim is easier in a swimming pool which, in Phoenix, we have lots of. Or do it in the Salt River Irrigation Canal, or Lake Pleasant. Read several articles where dogs can drown if not taught properly (AKCGazette). My friend, Margaret, age 82 with a utility Vizsla, nursing home, and  field experience taught me this way. "Quote: It's the only way to teach it. Yes Mam'm." (She's put more utility titles on dogs than anybody I know, so I listen.)

Get them comfortable in the water, you with them, show them the steps, take them away from steps, let them swim back to steps, always emphasizing STEPS! When you and pup are very comfortable in the shallow end, get yourself a longline, we use our field rope which happens to be 1/2 in thick, cotton, and heavy. (New trainer, so now I no longer use it, but glad I had it for swimming exercise.) The heavy duty rope forces dog's face or head lower into the water, can come up, legs swim, versus tree standing upright in water.
1. Dog comfortable at shallow end.
2  People job now.
3. Have longline.
4. You take pup or adult dog to deep end of pool on deck.
5. Attach heavy 1/2 in cotton or thicker rope to collar.
6. Pick up dog at deep end, and have rope handle in hand of helper.
7. Throw pup in, you walk along side of pool on deck, friend is gently tugging on rope. If pup tries to climb out side of pool, push him back in. You have taught him the word "STEPS" so now say it to pup while helper is gently pulling pup to shallow end where steps are and encourage pup to walk up steps to you. Praise at least 15 seconds, while pup is getting breathe and wiggling all over the place.
8. Make sure pup has breath.
9. Take pup back to steep end of pool, have helper hold end of long line, you pick up pup and throw into water. Again, say Steps, Steps, Steps. Gently pull into steps, praise, pet.
10. Do this 2-3 times now, then quit.
11. If it's your pool, do tomorrow in the A.M. while cool.
12. If borrowed, ask to use twice weekly.
13. Continue doing until you can see plenty of good swimming, not trying to climb out of the side of the pool, lots and lots of petting.
14. When you see strong swimming, repeat, let rope go. It is still heavy enough to get his head near the water, not sticking up like a tree.Repeat couple more times.
15. Now to see if he knows how to swim! Take off rope.
16. Throw in water, and hope you have a tennis ball nut like I do, and throw ball in front of him swimming towards steps.This will help him focus on ball, head will look towards ball, will not sink but level out, he will reach out and take ball, you will run to shallow end of pool, encourage him, and make BIG TO DO when he comes out.
17. Repeat, about 4 times and quit.
18. Now, go back to shallow end and throw tennis balls in, encourage him, and see if he will jump or dive in on his own steam, get ball, turn around to find the steps, say STEPS, gather ball from him when he comes up, praise, praise, praise.
19. Then, go to other side of pool, throw ball in, and see if he will jump in, retrieve, steps, steps, steps, encourage him to swim to steps.You NEVER want him to get out anywhere except steps.
20. Now you play it by ear, throw ball in from all angles, but ball is always retrieved to steps, praise, etc.
21. Once confidence is built in, then you just throw balls from your chair. But watch you don't over do ball throwing as it can end up killing him. But that's another story.

Lake is easy, all you do is walk in, let him swim around, praise, praise.  Salt River Irrigation Canal is little tougher. Extremely dirt-steep sides, 3 ft down from there on concrete, then water. Top of water is slow, bottom at about 5 ft is extremely fast. If dog falls in here and doesn't know how to climb out by  going straight up concrete by DIGGING IN with his nails, they either become stubbs and nubby, bloody, and maybe dog doesn't make it as there are no ladders for miles.First time Mistletoe, my Story Catcher, 4 yr old Vizsla fell in when she  got too hot in bird field, smelled the water, ran in that direction disobeying the whistle, over dirt road, headlong into the water. I caught up with her 2 minutes later, swimming, and not sure how to get out. This was not the time to teach it as Don reached down to get her and almost went in himself. I laid down, he shoved me by my ankles down, I reached water, but not her. He shoved further, and my ankle still hurts today. I grabbed her, yanked her out, and we went back bird training.When we are finished bird training, we go back to landing at the Irrigation Canal, and from that area, we taught her in several sessions to dig in those nails and come up. Sure enough another morning, 90 degrees, and I can't find her, so 3 of us walk over to canal, there she was swimming cool as a cucumber, very unconcerned. I was Mad! So swim. We walked 2 blocks, finally Don said: Here's a bank that not too high, maybe she can get out. I said nuts, she can swim to truck. Oh, that's about 3 more blocks. My feet hurt as we  had been walking about 4 hours on desert rocks, so I asked her most politely to get out, she did, and we went back bird training. oh, Forgot to tell you, she's only one of a dozen varities that does jump off diving board. That's how I have taught about 5 vizslas to swim.

Mary Carson

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