Your retriever pup should be introduced to water at an early age. Introduction to water should not be attempted when the water is too cold or too deep. At this stage, the goal is to make the puppy’s introduction to water a pleasant experience so he does not become fearful of water. If your puppy does not eagerly enter or refuses to enter the water, don’t get overly aggressive and throw him into the water. This misguided effort on your part simply increases his reluctance to enter the water and swim. Instead of this approach, at the beginning, on a warm day, find a shallow spot in a pond where the puppy can walk but will not have to swim. Put on your boots, wade a short distance out in the shallows and call him to you. Your puppy will likely be reluctant at first. When he decides to wade out to you, offer lots of praise and encouragement. In the next session(s), move out a little deeper each time until the pup has to swim a short distance. Repeat this scenario until he is comfortable getting into the water and swimming. This may happen during the first session, or it may take several sessions. But after you are satisfied that pup is at ease in the water, it is time to move on.
Next, add a dummy to the mix and have the puppy make short water retrieves. Increase the distance as he gains confidence or until he is making retrieves at a distance that you are satisfied with. Again, do not test your puppy in water with retrieving feats that he would not be comfortable making and has not progressed far enough in his training to make. Instead of trying to impress yourself and your buddies with your puppy’s abilities, progressively train him in the water. Remember never to fall into the trap of attempting to handle pup in water until the puppy can be handled on land. If your retriever will not handle on land, he certainly will not handle on water, and corrections are difficult to make on water especially when the puppy does not understand the commands.
For the past 15 years, Bill Gibson has studied, trained and learned how to apply low-force training methods from masters in the United Kingdom, Ireland and U.S. Bill and his dogs have won Team and Gundog Challenges in Northern Ireland. He has also served as a judge for the British Field Trial Society of America. A retired law enforcement officer, Bill is the Director of Gundog Operations for Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels.