20130602-IMG_6099We had a pretty warm weekend here in So Cal. We took our kids over to their Grandma’s house (My mom, the woman behind Leave No Paws Behind)

Having 2 high prey drive dogs in Major and Raven makes time around the pool interesting. Our dogs LOVE water and fetching toys, and they both have great endurance. While it is a fantastic trait for a DAD caring for kids, when it comes time for those same kids to be in water throwing rings and dive toys and jumping, diving, and splashing, well, let’s just say the dogs go on “heightened alert”. Everything is amplified, the kids are excited, the dogs are excited, and it can spiral out of control pretty quickly. Most of the time, we take both dogs to Nana’s house, but I really wanted to do some training with Raven (we got her this past winter, so we haven’t had her swimming with kids yet) to see where she was. Yes, we’ve taken her dock diving and swimming, but not with the added distraction of kids in water. So we left Major at home and packed up the kids.

Major and Raven are my first ever experience with working dogs, and Labs specifically. I had Rottweilers for the last 20 years, a Great Dane, and our little terrier Tully.I am NOT a dog trainer. So aside from a very unorganized game of fetch, and a dog that could only swim with a life vest, this whole “retriever” thing is new to me. We were taught early on by our trainer Crystal at Canine Hope that fetch can be a fun training session, and that when we do play fetch, we need to keep it very structured. Meaning that the dog heels by your side to start, then you throw the ball/bumper/toy, and the dog waits until you release him, they fetch, they return, they sit, and they drop it in your hand. This has proven to be a GREAT way to play with and train the dogs, and we don’t allow chasing or tug of war to happen.

In that scenario, Raven is really good. Major is good with bumpers, but tennis balls being thrown means I often times have to keep a hand on his collar before I can release him. When we went back to Mississippi to attend the Wildrose DAD conference, I picked up a book called “The Wildrose Way” which is geared towards training a hunting dog, but that has lots of info and training tips for retrieving dogs in general, so we have been doing more work in this area. It’s a fun treat for the dogs, and they don’t know it’s training 🙂 So with both dogs, we are working more on memory retrieves, and sometimes using both dogs, but releasing them 1 at a time, so the other dog has to wait (honor the other dogs retrieve), and working more with denials (throwing the bumper, but not sending the dog, instead picking it up myself) all in an effort to create calmer, more patient dogs, more focused dogs.

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So that brings us to the pool. What was the goal? What were the steps we took? What was I looking for? The goal, ideally, is to have a calm dog that can hang out and be great while the kids are playing in the pool, pay attention to Stella and alert if we have an issue, go swim and fetch occasionally, and be under control. We are working towards that. Our work on land in our backyard playing the aforementioned retrieval games paid huge dividends yesterday. While Raven is still pretty amped up around the pool, she was able to stay focused, and left the kids alone to play and splash and swim. They could all be in the pool together with no issues.

The actually training consisted of a calm, controlled retrieve. First, Raven needed to be sitting in the heel position by my side. She had to calmly watch her wubba get tossed in the pool, and she doesn’t get released until she looks back at me and makes eye contact. Then, it’s “Raven, fetch!” and she dives in, grabs her wubba, swims to the steps and returns, dropping her wubba in my hand. Here is a couple of images showing this, and the whole series is on our Facebook page.

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Raven waiting and sitting by my side

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Raven remaining seated while the wubba is released

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Watching the wubba

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Raven is watching the wubba. To be released she needs to look back at me and make eye contact.

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Still being calm, but I’m still waiting

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There it is, eye contact!

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Now, she gets released: “Raven, Fetch!”

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We did this over and over, from all sides of the pool, and with both myself and my wife doing the handling. We would also toss the wubba in and not release her at all, while one of the kids swam to go get it. We did it while standing on the side, and while sitting on the steps. Raven did fantastic with this training.

We had a pretty big lunch, The kids played a little after lunch, and then headed back into the pool. I went back to training with Raven. At one point, while Raven was swimming back, she started to whine (she was in the pool swimming, wubba in her mouth), and at first I thought she hurt herself. She got out, I had her sit and I was giving her a quick exam to look for any blood or soreness. Then I thought maybe she needed the restroom, so I took her out to go air.

She rushed through that, and wanted to get right back. I put her in a heel, and was getting ready to toss the wubba. She didn’t wait, and broke her heel, diving straight into the pool. She swam towards Stella. I was concerned that Stella would get hurt as she was in the deep end. I told Stella to hold onto the wall, and I called Raven, She turned around, swam back to the steps, ran along the pool and headed straight to where Stella was on the wall. At which point I realized she was alerting (no bringsel on my belt, I was in a bathing suit, so she made do with getting her point across). Stella was 85 (with a boatload of insulin on board) which was really odd as we had just eaten and she should have been closer to 200. Raven came back to me, grabbed the test kit, and took it back to Stella. What an amazing alert by a dog that could just have easily been distracted by the water/fetch etc. So proud of her! And we wouldn’t have checked Stella for another hour or so, fully expecting her to be much higher then that. Great low Raven! 🙂

All in all, a great day of training. Of course, Raven had no idea that this was work…


Team Blackdogsrule




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  1. Retrievers are awesome, gentle, VERY SMART dogs. I love your dog and don’t even know her!

  2. So informative and a great example of how “work” can still be FUN!!! And kudos to Raven for a spectacular alert 🙂