Step 3: The 6 inch plunge!

The next big challenge, but one that is really up to the dog, is the water entry. This is the sticking point for most of the dogs. Only 1 dog so far has stepped right off the boat into the water on his first outing without over-thinking it. However, I suspect that he thought he could walk on the surface (there were lily pads nearby). It’s funny how big of a deal that little distance is. In the dogs’ defense, they do need to develop a way to enter that allows them to stay more horizontally level rather than dipping their front, head and all, under by stepping down front end first. Irie is our champion diver thus far. Getting video from inside the boat is hard, because it is a really wet situation. Please pray for my phone;) Here’s the best I could do:

While each dog was encouraged to launch themselves into the water, no dog was forced or even pressured for very long if they didn’t feel secure enough to do so*. If the dog wants a toy badly enough, overcoming the challenge of dropping a whopping 6″ off the boat develops more quickly. For those that have little toy/duck interest, and who don’t LOVE the water more than life itself, I explore different ways to get them used to taking the initiative to get in the water. In some places there are floats or docks that are about the same height as the boat, and those are more stable platforms than the boat. So, some dogs were unloaded onto the dock (so far all were happy to jump onto the dock from the boat), and not permitted to jump back onto the boat. Then, I’d paddle a little ways out and encourage them to leap in and swim back to the boat. A couple of the Porties made the biggest fuss over this. Gaia cried as if she was abandoned but couldn’t convince herself to take the leap that day. It even took her a while to figure out that she could run the dock to the shore and swim out. Another Portie refused to try and swim out, and raced along the shore watching us with concern instead of solving her problem. Partly, how a dog puzzles this out will be influenced by how much (or little) that dog has been given opportunities to think through training exercises. The last Portie mentioned is not a creative thinker. But Gaia is. She couldn’t put the pieces together right away, but given the opportunity to learn, she figured out that she could find a suitable entry and swim out to join us.

But I think it all comes down to giving the dogs time to get comfortable with it all. Just the other day, Gaia finally became a diver. Her owner said she has always been hesitant at docks and never leaps in. Well, one 90+degree day she was ready to fly. At first, her form was more like flinging herself high into the air. She was enjoying the water so much that as soon as I’d lift her back aboard, she was running to the front, taking her mark, and launching back into the water. It really makes you smile to see a dog “own it” like that. More recently, she’s altering her entry to be less exaggerated effort. It’ll be interesting to see if she can change her angle of entry to a horizontal motion rather than a downward direction which dunks her head.

For the rest of the dogs who need help to gracefully enter, I assist by setting them in the water in such a way as to keep their face and ears from getting wet. One hand on the collar while bearing the weight with the harness works well for me. There’s an art to angles and direction, all while keeping your boat upright and handling a moving dog. If my hands weren’t so busy I’d get you lots more pictures 😉 It’s fascinating to watch!

After editing the video above and studying slipping, my last trips out proved the mats I have to be insufficient. Next up, instead of lots of loose little mats we’ll try a very large rubber backed carpet. Sometimes the current set up is OK, but the dogs need permanent traction and stability. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

*You can hear me in the video saying, “Go, go, go, go go!”, which is a cue Irie understands on land to mean race away from me and seek out an agility obstacle, used generously when sending her across a big distance to a jump before practicing her running dogwalks. She LOVES this command. For most dogs, that’d be too much pressure to use in excess like that. For her, it actually makes her hyper-excited because running her dogwalk is some of the best fun.

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