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The Core Elements of a Water Training Program


The video above tells the story of a dog named Tie. He was incredibly talented and had so much potential. And while he won a Canadian National Amateur Championship and finished his career with over 100 All-Age points, I limited his career due to some big training mistakes.

Back then, my inexperience and overconfidence led me to think that I could ask more of him on his water blinds than he was ready for. On one water blind, he was not handling very well, I had finally had enough. I decided to dig into him, and ask him to give me more “effort”. Corrections and questionable training approaches escalated when he wouldn’t respond appropriately to my casts. But I was determined to make him do it my way, no matter what. We battled it out for quite some time until it was done. It was ugly. Neither of us felt good about what had happened.

Was it the right thing to do? Not even close. I ended up paying for those mistakes for his entire career. 

As I spend time with trainers across the country, I’m realizing that many of them are in the same boat I was in. Doing the same things, and making the same mistakes.

In reality, we often overestimate our dog’s skill level. We don’t do enough teaching or recognize when more teaching is required. We aren’t quick enough to simplify or acknowledge when it's time to look for an exit strategy. The truth is, we don’t accept responsibility for the situation we’ve created.

So what's the problem? Why do people continue to make mistakes when training their dog around the water? Well the truth is, there is a lack of educational opportunities out there for them. They don’t understand what a complete water training program with a step-by-step approach looks like. An exceptional water training plan teaches each skill, each standard and each concept in a logical order. It gradually increases the level of difficulty, so that each unique dog is properly prepared for the challenges ahead. It monitors and nurtures a positive mental state and a confident attitude about the water. It ensures that there is a thoughtful measured response when the dog falls into traps, doesn’t meet standards or makes mistakes. It provides effective tactics for simplifying when conventional training methods aren’t working.

So listen carefully...

A complete water training program has 4 core elements.

  • Core element #1. A focus on the fundamentals. They include go, stop, come, obedience, and delivery. These take priority and are of primary importance. If your dog fails to meet the standard of performance in any of these areas, you must stop working on the lesson and focus on the immediate problem. A dog that is unable to maintain the standards in these areas is doomed to fail.
  • Core element #2 Mental State - I’m referring to attitude, confidence and memory. You can have the most highly skilled dog, a dog that fights all the factors and makes good decisions but if they have a poor attitude or they lack confidence, it's highly unlikely that your dog will bring their “A” game on game day. They must believe in themselves. They must trust that everything will be ok. They must want to do it more than anything else in order to be successful.
  • Core element #3 Standards - I’m talking about a dog that makes disciplined decisions and doing what doesn’t come naturally. These areas of training encompass getting in the water at the proper location, getting out of the water in the proper location, making the swim and fighting a crosswind. These standards are taught and enforced to encourage your dog to maintain a relatively straight line to the retrieve, and to ensure your dog will cast appropriately when challenging conditions exist.
  • Core element #4 Conceptual Learning - This area focuses on marking configurations, marking concepts such as 2 down the shore, bridge marks, diversions and scent on blinds. This is advanced training and generally requires that all of the other core elements are firmly in place before you move into this area.

In my next video, I’m not only going to teach you how to tackle cheating singles but how the core elements of a water training program apply to the thought process behind them. Check back in a few days!