Spirit is a water rescue dog!

6 tests required for Newfoundland title

I did not want to write about what is involved to get the advanced title of Water Rescue Dog until Spirit passed it. I am superstitious, and did not want to jinx us.

Last year Spirit failed his attempt to earn the WRD, but on August 10, 1997 at Pymatuning Reservoir, near Cleveland, Ohio, he passed! Both of the Newfoundland water titles are very hard, and require a lot of training in addition to the dog's inbred instinct. Training for WRD is comparable to Utility obedience training. Here is what we had to do:

The dog must have earned the Junior, or Water Dog title to be eligible to enter the Senior Division. Failure of any exercise is a non-qualifying attempt — no title. If a dog leaves the water before completing an exercise, its a non-qualifying attempt. If the handler sets a toe or foot in the water, except on the rescue, before an exercise is signaled complete, its a non-qualifying attempt.

The first WRD exercise is a directed retrieve. Two articles, a life vest, and a boat cushion are dropped from a boat, fifty feet out in the water. The articles are 50 feet apart when dropped. When the articles are in place, the boat rows clear.

The judge tells the handler which article the dog is to retrieve first. The handler sends the dog for the first article from any point on the shore. The dog must retrieve the article and deliver it to the handler on the shore. The handler may move along the shore to the point where the dog comes ashore, but the dog must be sent for the second article from the same point that he wss ent for the first article. When the second article is delivered to hand on shore, the exercise is complete.

Water currents often do strange things with floating articles, and they rarely stay in place 50 feet apart. The dog does not qualify if he gets the wrong article, does not retrieve both articles, does not deliver both articles to hand, or handler steps in the water.

The second exercise is the retrieve from a boat. The dog and handler go out in a boat rowed by a steward 50 feet from shore. A judge signals for the handler to begin. The boat is rigged with a non-slip surfaced platform for the safety of the dog in jumping. Upon signal from a judge, the handler throws a canoe or raft paddle 10 feet from the boat. The handler then sends the dog to retrieve. The dog jumps from the platform of the boat to make the retrieve. The dog may deliver the paddle to either the handler or boat steward. The exercise is finished when the handler has hold of the paddle. The dog will fail if he refuses to willingly go out in the boat, refuses to jump from the boat, refuses to return the paddle to the boat, is physically controlled on the boat, or if the handler enters water before completion of the exercise.

Then comes take a line and tow a boat. A steward waits in a row boat 75 feet from shore. When the judge signals to begin, the handler gives the dog an eight-foot line with a bumper attached. The dog may hold either the rope or the bumber. The dog must take the equipment on command, without the handler having to physically put it into the dog's mouth.

The handler sends the dog to swim to the steward in the boat. The steward may call the dog, but not by name. The dog will swim out to the boat and come close enough to deliver the bumper or line to the steward in the boat. The steward will reach for it and hold onto it as the dog tows the boat into shore. Exercise is complete when the boat touches bottom. The dog will fail if he refuses to take the bumper in its mouth, refuses to deliver the bumper to the steward, does not tow the boat to shore, drops the equipment and cannot be commanded to pick it up. The dog also fails if the handler physically guides the dog after it has been sent in to the water, the dog drops the equipment, the handler enters the water, or the dog comes out of the water prior to completion of the exercise.

Spirit is usually pretty good at this exercise, but really made me work in the actual test. For some reason, he took the line, and started swimming toward the yelling steward in the boat. Half way out, he turned and started swimming back to me on the shore. I managed to stop him four inches from water's edge, where he stood, line dangling from his mouth, looking at me standing four inches on shore. Multiple commands are allowed. I yelled “NO — go SAVE,” and he turned and started out toward the boat again. This time he got the boat, and we passed.

Next comes take a life ring. In this exercise, a life ring is attached to a line three to five feet in length. The line may be knotted in some fashion so the dog can easily hold it. One of three stewards will be designated the victim, and this steward will assume the same position in the water for each dog. The three stewards enter the water and swim out together to a point approximately 75 from shore. They are spaced 30 feet apart. The judge indicates the start of the exercise to the designated victim. That steward will begin to splash and call for help, but may not call the dog by name. Once the exercise has begun, the remaining stewards shall quietly tread water, remaining in position, and watching the victim. The handler shall give the line attached to the life ring to the dog. The dog shall take it on command without the handler having to physically put it into the dog's mouth. The handler shall then send the dog by voice or hand signals to the victim in distress. The dog is to swim directly to the person in the water and carry the life ring close enough so that the victim may grab hold of it. The dog then tows the victim to shore. When the dog and victim reach wading depth, the exercise is complete.

The dog fails if he refuses to hold the line, goes to the incorrect steward, fails to bring the life ring close enough for the victim to reach it, fails to tow the victim to shore, drops the equipment, or leaves the water or if the handler physically guides the dog or enters water before completion.

Next is the underwater retrieve. The object to be retrieved is no more than four inches in height. The handler accompanies the dog into the water until it is belly deep on the dog. The handler tosses the object into the water at least three feet in front of the dog and parallel to shore. The handler may not touch the dog after the object is thrown. The object must sink immediately. The dog has three minutes from the time the object is first thrown to retrieve it from the bottom and deliver it to hand. The dog fails if he does not retrieve the object thrown at belly depth, does not deliver to hand, does not complete the exercise within three minutes, or drops the article and fails to retrieve it again, or if the handler physically controls the dog.

Now comes the rescue. Handler, dog and oarsman row out about 50 feet from shore in a row boat. On judge's signal, the handler falls or jumps into the water. The handler calls the dog and the dog is expected to jump quickly from the boat to make the rescue. The dog may not be pushed or thrown from the boat, and may not anticipate and jump before the handler. The dog will swim directly to the handler and tow him to safety. The handler is primarily free floating. The dog may tow the handler to shore to wading depth for the dog, or back to the boat. The dog fails if he refuses to jump from the boat promptly, jumps before or onto the handler, does not go directly to the handler, or refuses to tow the handler, or if he is physically controlled either on the boat or in the water. Obvious swimming strokes are interpreted as aiding the dog and bring failure.

I am so proud of Spirit. He had the hardest time with the underwater retrieve, and his favorite exercise was the rescue, but he passed them all.

Ozzie Foreman

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