How to Train a Newfoundland for Water Rescue

How to Train a Newfoundland for Water Rescue
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon3-6 Months
Work training category iconWork

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

The Beginner Method

Most Recommended

3 Votes

Ribbon icon

Most Recommended

3 Votes

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Intermediate Method

Effective

1 Vote

Ribbon icon

Effective

1 Vote

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Advanced Method

Least Recommended

1 Vote

Ribbon icon

Least Recommended

1 Vote

Ribbon icon
1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 02/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

Have a question?

Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Toby

Dog breed icon

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Dog age icon

12 Months

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

My dog swims very well but we need to swim faster otherwise he climb on my back. Yesterday I have to be rescued by a kayak because he was drowning me despite my life jacket. He stop swimming and we have to carry him on the kayak. When he is with out me swims long distances and it is very hard to call him out of the water

Dec. 24, 2019

Toby's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Aupalma It sounds like the issue is him trying to climb on you qnd not just distance. He needs to be taught a deterrent to climbing onto someone in the water. First, teach an Out command - which means leave the area, so that you can tell him to give you space in the water. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Second, I would hire a trainer who has experience with training hunting dogs and e-collar training, but also uses positive reinforcement and is calm. Have that trainer teach an e-collar Out, so that pup will move away from you in the water when you tell him to and stop climbing onto you. This needs to be done with professional help and a high quality, waterproof e-collar, like those used for during duck hunting water work, as well as a long leash that floats for directing pup away from you while close yo shore early in training (very carefully to avoid entanglement). Garmin, Dogtra, Sportdog and e-collar technologies are reputable brands but make surw the model you choose is waterproof. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 26, 2019

Dog nametag icon

Willow

Dog breed icon

Newfoundland

Dog age icon

5 Years

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

User generated photoUser generated photo

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.

July 15, 2019

Willow's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 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

July 16, 2019


Wag! Specialist
Need training help?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews

Install


© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.