Retrievers are not much good to the average Gun unless they are willing, and able, to swim; and, although most of these dogs are keen to go in water and can swim instinctively, we may occasionally find a puppy which is loath to enter water—or it may be willing to try to swim, but quite unable to do so.
Some young retrievers are put off their natural inclination to go into water through a sudden unexpected immersion on a very cold day, and it is therefore advisable always to endeavour to introduce a puppy to water under congenial conditions. Choose a warm day for the initiation, and encourage the pupil to go in by persuasion —do not under any circumstances, throw a young dog into water to make it swim, or the animal may become averse to ever going into the water again—and the example of another dog should be most useful.
Sometimes a puppy seems to lack the natural instinct to swim, and will stay in one spot thrashing water with the front legs until it begins gradually to sink. When such is the case the deficiency can usually be remedied if the puppy is persuaded to go into a pond having a hard bottom which shelves gradually from shallow water to a depth sufficient to float the dog; thus, when the pupil wades in slowly, it will continue to attempt to feel for the bottom to walk on, although out of its depth, and thus discover that by making (more or less) the ordinary walking movements, it can not only keep afloat, but actually move along in the water—in due course the correct swimming movements will develop.
Having accustomed your pupil to go in the water and swim, you must teach it to retrieve an object from the water (particularly when the latter is fast running) and to cross a river to fetch a bird which has fallen well out on the far side,
To begin with, the dummy should be thrown into a river when the puppy is watching, and the pupil should be sent to retrieve after a very short pause; If you intend to run your retriever In field trials, don’t allow the puppy to put down the “carry”, whilst It shakes Itself, when it has climbed out of the river on to the bank; but directly the dog reaches the bank, run away and call it to follow you—your retriever may lose marks at a field trial If it drops a bird on the bank and does not deliver at once right up to hand.
You will usually find no difficulty in teaching a puppy to retrieve from the actual water, but when you try to train your pupil to cross a river and fetch an object from the land beyond; you may have to take more trouble with the lessons.
To begin with, it is advisable to allow the dog to see as many moorhens as possible and to make your pupil understand that these birds are to be considered In the same category as fowls; for if you allow a retriever to hunt and take an interest in moorhens you may find that the dog will always prefer to hunt these birds (they have a strong scent, and are attractive to hunt as they prefer running to flying) rather than seek for other game—thus you may find that, when a retriever has been sent across a river to fetch a pheasant which has fallen on ground beyond, the dog may swim the river as directed, but then proceed to hunt the reeds and cover on the far bank in pursuit of moorhens.
A retriever which will work to an occasional signal is most useful in all field work, but where water work is concerned it is essential that a dog should always be taught to answer to signal direction—given by means of a whistle or arm waving. Thus, when a bird has fallen (say) fifty yards out on a field beyond a river, the retriever which can be directed to go over and out to the fall, is far more useful than a dog which cannot be made to realize that the river itself and the banks thereof are not the only centre of attraction. Similarly, when a wounded duck has dived and can be seen under the far bank by the handler, it is most annoying if his retriever will not respond to a signal which will guide the dog (unable from its low position in the water to see the bird) to the right place.
To train a dog to go out over a river and beyond, it is a good plan, to begin with, to hide several freshly-killed birds, so that the pupil is almost certain to find one of them—for, if the puppy should fail to find on the first two or three occasions on which it swims the river and goes out properly beyond, it may be disheartened, and difficult to get away from the far bank in the future—to begin with, the birds should only be placed about ten yards beyond the river, but eifery day the distance may be increased until the dog has to go out about fifty yards beyond to find a bird. Of course it will be necessary, when placing birds for training the pupil in this way, to select a part of the river near a bridge, to enable the handler to cross and hide the birds; but the dog should not be sent across, or the birds placed, near the bridge—in case the pupil chooses to return that way!