How to Train a Newfoundland for Water Rescue

Hard
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Powerful, imposing, and with enough fur to resemble a bear, the Newfoundland is a breed which is heralded for both its size and its kind nature. Known for being caring and an all around family dog, the Newfoundland is also held in high regards as a working breed, its large stature being excellent for a variety of jobs on the shore and in the sea. With a coat that protects them from the harsh elements of the coastal climate and webbed toes to help them glide through the water, Newfoundland dogs, or “Newfies”, are fantastic swimmers and adapt to life near the sea quite well.

Because of their capabilities in the water, the Newfoundland is also a champion at water rescue. This job generally consists of the ability to leap from either the shore, a boat, or a low flying helicopter into choppy seas in order to pull the average person to safety. However, while the breed is built for power and speed, it is the training which really solidifies the Newfoundland’s capability when it comes to water rescue.

Defining Tasks

Beginning at about four months old, Newfoundland puppies undergo several phases of training, consisting of basic obedience, complex obedience, swimming, overcoming any hesitation around the water, and then complex rescue maneuvers. The entire process can take up to a year, though depending on the puppy and the trainer, it can take less time. Regardless, there is still a commitment that is required when it comes to training water rescue in any breed and though Newfies are always ready to learn, puppies can sometimes struggle to pick things up right away.

Water rescue can also be difficult and sometimes impossible to train without access to water. A dog will preferably learn in a larger body of water like a lake or the shallows of the ocean under close supervision, but a large pool can work just as well. An owner who wishes to train a Newfoundland at water rescue should always consider that training will take some time and plenty of patience once the dog is introduced to the water for the first time.

Getting Started

There are a number of things that you will need to begin training your Newfoundland at water rescue and there are tools that will come into use when he begins to progress to more advanced stages of training. These things include a list of verbal commands that you will use, a “record card” which can be used to track your dog’s progression, an area to train in the water that is large enough for your dog, and a small boat if you wish to train your Newfoundland to leap from a boat and into the water for rescue.

Other tools include ropes for pulling as well as your method of reinforcement, whether it be a toy or treats. This can depend on what your dog is more willing to work for. Once you’ve set up your area for training with your dog, you can begin on land and then progress to the water.

The Beginner Method

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Step
1
Basic commands
Every working dog should know basic obedience commands. Using your list of verbal commands that you’d like your Newfoundland to know, start from the beginning and work your way up.
Step
2
Introduction to water
Not every puppy will immediately take to the water. Introducing your Newfoundland to the water can take a little bit of time. Encourage positive reinforcement by offering to play with a favorite toy around and in the shallows of your water training area.
Step
3
Adjustment to water
Take some time to get your dog used to the idea of working and playing in the water. Play games, go swimming with him, and take walks along the shore.
Step
4
Retrieving
Play a simple retrieving game in the water with your dog using a floating toy or rope. This can help adjust him to having to “fetch” a person or a rope used to tug a boat later on.
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5
Exercise
Continue to offer water-based exercise like swimming and playing on a regular basis. The more your Newfoundland is exposed to the water, the more receptive he will be to training later on.
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The Intermediate Method

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Step
1
Longer swims
Start going for extended swims with your dog to adjust her to the time that it may take to fully administer a rescue.
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2
Leaping from land
Begin by swimming out into the water from the shore and coaxing your Newfoundland to follow you. You can lead her out to a certain distance or to a boat where you can then encourage her take a rope or an object to take back to shore. Reinforce with plenty of praise and treats for progress, even if it needs some work.
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3
Leaping from a boat
With you in the water, have a trainer or other helper take your dog out onto a boat but not far enough to alarm your dog. Encourage good associations with the boat by offering a toy or treats while she is on it and then coax her to jump into the water to you. Offer plenty of rewards initially, but then adjust your Newfoundland to leaping into the water after anyone who is in it, otherwise it will be difficult to get her to leap into the water for anyone except her owner.
Step
4
Drowning rescue
Have a person act as a drowning victim and swim just a little bit away from the land. It should be enough that your Newfoundland has to swim to get to them. She should then be rewarded and given the instruction to return back to shore. Reward with plenty of praise and increase the distance between exercises to simulate drowning victims at varying distances.
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5
Boat rescue
Have your dog leap from a boat and then offer up a rope for which to tow the boat with. Coax your dog back to the shore with a verbal command and reward when she begins to swim forward. Offer plenty of praise and treats once the job is done.
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The Advanced Method

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Finding a drowning person
Begin with a person who is partially obstructed by a boat or other obstacle and in “distress”. Your dog should be encouraged to go and retrieve them and tow them back to shore. Continue to move the person further and further out of view to encourage your Newfoundland to circle the area to look for the victim before towing them back to shore.
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2
Complex obedience
Adjust your Newfoundland to take commands from you at a distance. He should be able to go to other victims without needing direct encouragement from you.
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3
Ignoring distractions
Reward your dog for working in a distracting environment where there may be noises, other people, or other boats in the water or nearby.
Step
4
Choppy water rescue
Practice in a variety of circumstances and weather conditions where the water may not be necessarily calm. Always supervise your dog during these practices and have a life jacket on hand for your safety.
Step
5
Frequent practice
Continue to practice each and every command and exercise with your Newfoundland to encourage good behavior and work ethic with each one. Consider practicing with a licensed trainer who specializes in water rescue.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Frankie
Newfoundland poodle mix
2 Years
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Question
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Frankie
Newfoundland poodle mix
2 Years

This is not a question about having trouble with my dog but I am doing a school project and I was wondering if I could ask someone some questions.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
393 Dog owners recommended

Hello Danielle, If the questions are about dog training, you can find numerous articles about various training topics at www.wagwalking.com/training. You can ask individual training questions under the "ask a trainer" section under those articles by topic. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Dudley
Newfypoo
8 Months
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Question
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Dudley
Newfypoo
8 Months

Loves the water and swimming. Goes to New Smyrna inlet most Sundays, started tossing a 4’ stick out and he runs in after it out to about 8’ deep water. Would like to know what steps or devices to enhance his work. Thinking of a noodle with rope attached and then me. His reward is praise, attention or treats. Thrilled with any

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
393 Dog owners recommended

Hello Frederick, It sounds like he has good potential for it. I suggest working on the noodle with rope or lifeguard rescue tube with rope and teaching him to retrieve that by the rope. You can even start retrievals on land or in shallow water to help guide him toward pulling it by the rope and picking it back up if he lets go. I also suggest working on him jumping off of things into the water, such as a dock or something that is similarly elevated above deep enough water for a jump. Many dogs will jump from land but hesitate when there is any form of drop off first - so it helps to get them over their fear or that and show them how to exit the water a different way than how they went in when needed. Before you work up to an actual person you want to get him used to pulling something that weighs more than what he is used to. Start with lighter weight things, that give little resistance in the water, and work up to harder to pull objects - that require more perseverance from him. You also want to teach him where to grab on a person (a rope from a tube around them, specific part of the shirt, ect... so that he doesn't climb onto them and become a drowning threat to them himself. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Willow
Newfoundland
5 Years
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Willow
Newfoundland
5 Years

We have a small Newf that we haven’t ever trained in official rescue, but she shows natural rescue tendencies. She can swim well but is a bit slow and needs to increase endurance. She fetched toys in the water and will pull us to shore if we grab her fur or collar. We would like to encourage this and train more specifically. If there a harness specifically for water with a handle you would recommend? And what do you recommend for endurance training? We thought about a life vest to help increase her endurance but we don’t want to give her a false sense of security.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
393 Dog owners recommended

Hello Heather, Check out www.ruffwear.com and their line of harnesses with back handles with flotation and without. Their webmaster harness is a popular water rescue harness without flotation with a handle. They also have a life jacket. You can contact RuffWear with any specific product recommendations and questions about what product will rub the least. For the endurance, think about when human swimmers train and how they train. She needs not only motivation but also enough practice to build the right muscles (usually lean muscles), and cardio endurance. There are different ways to build those things but honestly more swimming is one of the best ways to be sure the right things are being exercised. There are pros and cons to a life jacket. It can be a great way to increase endurance by letting the dog stay in the water longer. You don't want the dog to get too dependent on it always though. I would rotate between practicing in something like a life vest and something like a non-floating handle harness. Ruffwear also makes great life jackets. Be aware of the false sense of security a life jacket can give - help the dog learn their own limits while not in a jacket while swimming while also working on endurance through further swims in jackets. I would contact a water search and rescue group for details about how they train for endurance in the water too - the people who spend the most time doing it are the best resource. Check out the article linked below: http://www.caninewatersports.com/Canine_Water_Sports/5.a._SafetyEquipment.html Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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