"Exposing puppies to water in a non-threatening way as early as possible is a great idea," Buck said. "We introduce our litters to water in a children's wading pool when they're only three or four weeks old.
"We also introduce our litters to birds quite early, so we can use birds in water work."
Buck suggests that as a new owner, you introduce your puppy to water and birds as soon as the little tyke is comfortable in his new surroundings and bonded with you. He recommends a wading pool, and later a pond or slow-moving stream, with shallow water entries.
Living in Texas, where the weather and water are seldom cold, he nevertheless warns against putting young puppies into frigid water. He also warns against places where the puppy might encounter dangerous animals, like alligators or poisonous snakes.
"Make it a game," he said. "Wade in and encourage the puppy to follow you. Then walk around where the puppy doesn't have to swim. As soon as possible, use a dead bird to encourage him to get wet. For this, you should have the wind coming off the pond into your face.
Toss the bird a few feet out in very shallow water and encourage the puppy to go in and get it. If he's at all birdy, he'll rush in and grab it." If birds aren't an option, you can use a bird wing. If that isn't an option, you can use a canvas retrieving dummy your pup is used to retrieving on land. A dummy may not be quite as compelling for the pup, but if he likes to retrieve, as all worthwhile spaniels do, he'll react positively to it. To make it more attractive, put bird scent on it and let the puppy smell it just before you throw it the first time. If you always throw it into the wind, he'll smell it as he goes after it.
Buck says that the worst mistake you can make in this early water work is to force your puppy to go in. For example, you shouldn't throw him in or drag him in. You should also avoid ponds and streams with deep-water entries that force the pup to swim immediately.
He should be able to wade for some distance before having to swim. Later on, he'll enter deep water with a long high-flying leap that will tickle your hackles, but he's not ready for that yet.
"Gradually lengthen the distance you throw the bird," he said. "Eventually he'll have to swim a few strokes. Don't worry. A birdy spaniel will swim a bit to wrap his mouth around a bird."
|Introducing Your Puppy To Water|
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The rest is obvious. Lengthen the distance he must swim to get the bird, but do it very gradually. If you accidentally over-extend him by tossing the bird too far out, he'll refuse to enter. Although you should avoid this as much as possible, you can recover from it by going back a few steps to much shorter throws and then slowly rebuilding your puppy's confidence. Obviously, the less frequently you have to do this, the faster your progress will be.
"All through this introduction," Buck said, "you should give your puppy lots of 'happy talk' when he's swimming. Give him 'massive praise' when he swims his first few strokes. He wants to please you, so make sure he understands that when he swims, he's absolutely delighting you! To do that, you have to 'talk happy' to him all the time he's swimming."
Buck said that he uses basically the same process for introducing an older spaniel to water. However, if the dog has had a bad experience that has turned him off of water, Buck said he might have to go swimming with the dog several times at first to convince him that water isn't as bad as he thinks.
This tip is from Buck Grabowski of Big Cocker Kennels, 13201 Jacobson Road, Lot 2, Manor, TX 78653; (512) 203-7322; www.bigcockerkennels.com; firstname.lastname@example.org. Buck has been training all sporting breeds professionally for seven years, specializing in training spaniels for hunting, hunting tests, and field trials. He participates in and judges spaniel hunting tests and field trials. He breeds field-bred English cocker spaniels.