Introducing A Dog To Water Retrieves

It has been a long winter, not to mention the spring that never was here in my home state of Minnesota, but finally we can get out and enjoy summer activities here in late June.

If you are like me, you have been waiting for the water temperature to warm up not only for fishing, but to start training dogs in the water. Proper introduction is imperative when it come to a dog’s first time in the water. Don’t be under the impression that just because your dog is a hunting dog it should naturally take to the water. This process should be taken one step at a time.

Jason Dommeyer

Imagining a young dog retrieving is like a young kid retrieving ground balls. If our ultimate goal is to have this dog retrieving ducks out of a boat after you shoot them, you can compare that to a youngster retrieving a sharply hit grounder and throwing a base runner out at first base. However, each process is not something that just naturally happens. There is a series of events that will lead up to this finished product.

If someday my goal is to have my son cleanly fielding hard hit ground balls, I do not start hitting baseballs at him as hard as I can. This also holds true if eventually I would like my gundog to make a 50-yard retrieve after a downed duck. I never take a young dog out and drop him off the end of a dock to “see if he swims!” Now both of these stories seem like common sense, but believe me, I have heard this dog story one too many times!

Make sure to start with short retrieves where the dog can simply wade in without swimming.

Rolling ground balls lightly to my son maybe using a softer ball was a great way to break him into it slowly. So should the introduction for any dog to water. If your dog has never retrieved in water yet, start easy by throwing very short ones. Try to keep their attention span focused by stopping the game before they get bored with it. Do not expect your dog to swim the first time you go to the water. In fact, I will do two or three days of water retrieving before I ever throw any object deep enough to make the dog swim.

Throw Dummy By Shore To Start
This means you have to start out throwing you dog’s favorite retrieving dummy down the shoreline. Have the object land just in the water. The dog may not even have to step in the water for the first couple retrieves. Then have the dummy land so the dog actually has to step in to the water maybe knee high in. Slowly, get it out farther from shore so the dog has to take the ultimate plunge to actually swim a couple stroke to get the retrieve. This would be a great quitting point for that particular day.

The next time you go to the water, begin exactly where you started the day before. Again let the dog have success by throwing it so there is no swimming involved. Make it more difficult by throwing the object farther out in the water so maybe the dog has to take three or four swimming strokes to make the retrieve. Don’t be surprised if your dog has a “puppy splash” on top of the water. This is very common and is their way of trying to “run” on top of the water. Time and repetition will take care of this! Make sure to use a lot of praise throughout this process.

The use of a check cord will help the dog bring back the dummy to hand.

After a few days, maybe up to one week, you can expect to be throwing the dummy out so the dog will actually have to swim for it. If your dog starts to get overconfident and runs out of the water and right by you, a check cord is suggested. This is simply a long rope used to ensure your dog comes back to you when retrieving. Make sure when you buy or make one,  that it floats — a light boat tow rope works well for me. Try to keep a little tension in the line and lightly pull the rope in when the dog is making its way back to you. This should make sure the dog’s legs do not get tangled up in the line.

Depending on the dogs retrieving desire, you should see pretty strong results within one month of training. Keep in mind when starting out, that this is a process and expect small results daily. Through time, repetition, and confidence, your pup will be swimming by the end of the summer. Just like the kid playing baseball, do not start hitting hard ground balls or throwing 40-yard retrieves straight out in the water!

For a fine selection of Dog Supplies, including Retrieving Dummies, click here.

Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels ( In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. If you have any questions, Jason can be reached at 507-663-6143 or visit ( He provides dog training tips twice a month. 

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