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Training a Dog to Retrieve from Water


I spent some time training my Lab, Diesel, to retrieve from water this past weekend. The training went really well so I thought I would share what I did.

While I'm no professional dog trainer, I stole the idea from Roddy Reynolds, of Roddy Dogs, so it's based on solid foundations. In the interest of full disclosure, I've never trained a dog to retrieve from water before. Nonetheless, I would categorize this past weekend's training as an unqualified success. Here's what I did:

1. Tossed the toy into the water very close to the shore so Diesel could wade in and get it (2nd pic). It was a new toy and he was very excited about it so he waded in cautiously and got it.

2. Next, I tossed it out a little farther - to the point where he would have to swim a little bit to get it - to see if he was motivated enough by the toy to overcome his unfamiliarity with the water and swimming. He wasn't. He waded in to where he was comfortable, whimpered and pawed at the water.

3. Since he wasn't comfortable going in deeper by himself, I carried him out to the depth you see in the first picture - where he would have to swim. I slowly lowered him into the water, supporting him the whole time. When he started to paddle, I tipped his nose up and supported it under his jaw. That taught him how to keep his nose out of the water. I let him paddle back to shore - just a few feet.

4. I carried him back out again and let him start paddling. This time I showed him how to steer by putting a little pressure on either side of his nose - pressure on the left side to turn right; pressure on the right side to turn left. Then, I let him swim back to shore.

5. For the final step, I tossed the toy far enough out into the water so that he would have to swim to retrieve it. He jumped off the bank and swam after it like there was no tomorrow. As he was jumping into the water, I gave the command "Retrieve" loud enough that he could hear it over the splashing. I continued to give the Retrieve command while he swam out and back.

6. I used the rope on the toy for two reasons. First, I didn't want it to float away if Diesel couldn't get it. Second, I wanted to make sure he brought the toy to me when I gave the Retrieve command. We've never played tug-of-war with him so a little tension on the rope steered him to us at the bank of the lake. We've worked with him using the "Release" command to give us balls, sticks and other things we've thrown for him on land so we used that command for him to release the toy when he got to shore. All this was coupled with generous petting and praise.

Like I said, he was begging for more. You want to be cautious, however, with a new swimmer that you don't tire them out and get them in trouble in the water. We did about a half dozen retrieves of 20' or so and then let him rest. About 45 minutes later, we did a half dozen more.

I'm sure Jensen, and perhaps others with more experience than me, will chime in with other thoughts and methods but this method comes from, arguably, one of the best hunting dog trainers in the country (Roddy Reynolds) and it worked for my dog. YMMV

Carrying Diesel into the Water

Diesel Retrieving Close to Shore

Diesel Gets the Hang of It


Using the Rope to Steer Diesel to the Shore


Labs are great swimmers, and pretty soon you'll have a hard time keeping him OUT of the water...

I know, I have a female Yellow Lab named Brook...because the first thing she did when my daughter brought her home was run down to the "brook" at the end of our property and jump in. That was 12 years ago...but she still likes to get wet now and then !