Just Add Water

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Making the transition from land to water in a bird dog’s development

Words By Douglas Spale, Photos By KC.Photography

Part 4 of a 5-Part Series

While Kohtopu’s water introduction began with hesitancy, her desire for the waves quickly blossomed into an obsession. 

The transition from land to water is crucial in any retriever’s development. It is imperative that the initial interactions are pleasant for a young pup. Although her pedigree suggested a long line of superior water dogs, Kohtopu’s prowess in the water was not inevitable. Nevertheless, through patience and persistence, she successfully paddled through the water milestone. 

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Our first water introduction was combined with the summer boating scene. A pontoon ride offered a relaxing atmosphere for the pup among familiar faces. 

Once we stopped to refill our supplies, it was Kohtopu’s time to perform for the crowd. Under the watchful eye of my father, I led Kohtopu to the water’s edge to sweet-talk her into the water.
 
However, my persuasion skills are best reserved for the legal world where I make my living. Although our initial attempts were unsuccessful, when my father tossed a stick into the lake, Kohtopu lunged into the water toward the limb. While cheers rose around us, my heart thumped with joy as Kohtopu returned with the seemingly golden branch. 

After a few more quick tosses, we departed and she curled up next to my father to rest for the remainder of the ride. Our smiles said it best: 

“We have a water dog!” 

***

After the success we had during Kohtopu’s first water introduction, I attempted to emphasize a positive and playful environment for each additional session.

Luckily, the summer temperatures are more persuasive than my voice to coax her into the water. In the future we will work through more detailed setups in the water. But for now, we focused on the fundamentals. 

There is a sort of give and take in training – I will give her the water retrieves she desires, and as time progresses I will expect more from her performance.

Since public dog beaches are readily available, we also must consider that other dogs will join in on our training sessions. This is both an opportunity to work on her concentration skills, but also an instant reward when she can run with the other dogs. My previous dog Sunka refused to play when she was working on her water retrieves. I had to take away her bumpers so she would relax and socialize; her focus was impressive.    

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While each water session improved Kohtopu’s familiarity with the water work fundamentals, a few setbacks continue to occur. She has not mastered her casts, sometimes struggles to mark, and drops the bumper before delivery. This has resulted in a loss of a few bumpers, unless there is a paddleboarder or bigger dog to help us out. 

But I always try and remind myself: What we do not accomplish today, we will master tomorrow. An essential motto for any dog owner.
 
There are often skills that we can understand as humans, but it is important to think like a dog and problem-solve to understand why the pup is not performing. I have found that the answer is usually time, and when I give Kohtopu time she responds with progress.  As such, it is always fascinating that a week’s time can greatly improve her level of understanding various behaviors.

When training any dog, time may be the most important variable to consider. 

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As summer progressed, I began extending Kohtopu’s water marks and training setups to correspond with the type of hunting situations we may encounter. Additionally, like in her early days, it was important to place her in various waterways, with each body of water providing a different stimuli and obstacles.
 
In certain areas, I would put a few decoys in the water – quite a site at a public beach. Sometimes I would travel to local marshes to let her run around. We worked with different types of bumpers to simulate the types of quarry we will pursue, whether a duck falling from the sky or a rooster flushing out over a slough. 

When working in the water, I try and consider her perspective – whether she can see the marks through the waves, whether I am high enough on the bank so she can see my directions, and how to create motion toward the mark if she gets lost. This water dog is growing into a gun dog.  

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Our time together has been full of highlights as we learn to work together. In addition, we have been fortunate to meet so many other enthusiasts, which makes this journey more meaningful. 

While some exciting adventures are on the horizon, we continue to live each day to the fullest. Although it has been an emotional transition from a finished gun dog to an ambitious young pup, this experience has been rewarding indeed. 

Douglas Spale decided long ago to live life with a bird dog at his side.
 

VIEW THE COMPANION PHOTO GALLERY FOR THIS STORY

 

OTHER STORIES IN DOUGLAS SPALE’S BIRD DOG IN THE CITY SERIES:

Bird Dog in the City

A City Full of Enrichment for a Young Gun Dog

Developing a Bird Dog Lifestyle

A Nostalgic Return, A Future Reimagined