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.
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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.
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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.
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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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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