Saturday, March 1, 2008
Newfoundland Water Rescue Trials: The Time Is Now
It's that time of the year when Newfie Water Rescue trials are taking place, so do as Satchie says, not as he does, and get out there!!
"The Newfoundland breed's character has two distinguishing traits that are special indeed. According to the breed standard, the Newfoundland has a 'sweetness of temperament', and 'possesses natural lifesaving abilities.'
"It is easy to make the argument that the Newfoundland has the finest character of any breed. It is also the ultimate retrieving breed. In water rescue, Newfies retrieve both boats and people!
"Other retrieving breeds are related to the Newfoundland and can surely be taught most of these skills (depending on the size and strength of the dog being trained). How many lives might be saved by water rescue dogs, with more of them on the job? Handler and dog work as partners in most of the exercises, though the dog also learns to independently rescue the handler or others.
"It's not only in the water that Newfoundlands have saved human lives, but they are especially built for swimming. The Newfoundland Club of America's water rescue dog testing program is not a competition but rather a training ground to preserve this genetic marvel of life-saving instinct in a huge, teddy-bear canine body.
"For a water test, the natural waterfront is to be 75 feet, extending out at least 200 feet from shore. The water depth is to increase gradually so that the dogs are swimming within 20 feet of shore or of a marked starting area. Any hazards must also be marked, and there must be a suitable area for underwater retrieving.
"The test rules require a shaded area for entered dogs to rest in crates or other confinement when not testing. Dogs are to be securely confined or on leash while waiting, but off-leash for the test. The handler cannot guide the dog by the collar once an exercise has begun.
"A veterinarian must be on site or on call, and a telephone must be available at the test site. Every participant who enters the water must wear a flotation device and foot protection.
"Spectators to the event are encouraged to applaud and cheer dogs returning successfully to shore. This is exciting stuff, so applause comes naturally. Handlers cannot carry food during the test, but are given wide latitude for encouraging their dogs vocally and with body language.
"Equipment that handlers provide for the junior division includes a boat bumper, an 8-foot floating line with attached bumper, a 75-foot floating line, a boat cushion and a life jacket. The senior division adds a canoe or raft paddle, a ring-type life preserver with a 3-to-5 foot line attached, and an underwater retrieve article no larger than 12" x 4".
The test committee (assuming the absence of Plonkers) provides the following equipment:
1. Flotation device for all water stewards
2. Rowboat rated for three or more persons with a non-slip platform mounted on the stern for handler and dog to ride and dog to enter and exit the boat
3. Rope or other material to mark the test area
4. Floating markers
5. Shore markers
6. Whistles, clipboards, stopwatch, first aid kit, cellular phone if another phone is not on site
7. Canoe or kayak to be used for placing the retrieve articles
Prior to the beginning of the test is a pre-swim, 30 minutes in which dog and handler can get into the water to get familiar with it. Handlers in the Junior Division pre-swim time can use a retrieving article with their dogs, and handlers in the separate Senior Division pre-swim period can use a retrieving article and have their dogs get on and off the beached boat. This time is not to be used for training, and no food can be used.
Junior Division Testing
Basic control exercises are required as part of the test for dogs who do not have American or Canadian Kennel Club CD (Companion Dog) titles. Titled dogs are automatically marked passing on the control test.
The control exercises are performed off-leash in a 40' x 50' ring area. For the controlled walking portion, a judge calls standard directional commands and the dog must move with the handler, within arm's reach. The recall portion of the test allows signal and verbal command from the handler and additional commands once the dog has started to move. The one-minute down-stay exercise is performed off-lead with up to 10 dogs in a row.
With the control exercise requirement satisfied, dogs and handlers move on to the water work:
1. Single retrieve of a bumper thrown at least 30 feet into the water
2. Drop retrieve of a life jacket or boat cushion placed unobtrusively about 50 feet out into the water by a steward
3. Take a line, one end of a floating line 75 feet long, to a steward about 50 feet out in the water who is calling the dog
4. Tow a boat with the handler's 8-foot line attached to a boat bumper, from about 50 feet out in the water to the point that the boat touches the bottom
5. Swim out from shore for 20 feet with handler not touching the dog, and then tow the handler to shore
Senior Division Exercises
1. Double retrieve of a boat cushion and a life jacket, splashed two or three times for the dog to mark when placed
2. Retrieve a paddle back to a boat the dog and handler board and ride out with a steward rowing
3. Take a life ring out to and tow in to shore the one of three stewards in the water who is splashing and calling for help
4. Underwater retrieve of an object tossed into water at least three feet from where the dog stands in water of elbow depth
5. Take a line (8 feet long with a bumper attached) from shore to a steward in a boat 75 feet out in the water, deliver it to the steward, and tow the boat in toward shore until it touches bottom
6. Rescue the handler from the water after handler and dog ride the boat platform about 50 feet out from shore (oarsman rowing) and handler falls or jumps into the water
Water Rescue Dog Excellent Testing
Beyond the WRD (Water Rescue Dog title), the Newfoundland Club of America has developed the title of WRDX (Water Rescue Dog Excellent) with more advanced exercises. This test includes:
1. Rescue of multiple victims, two stewards in the water calling for help while holding to their boat
2. Deliver of a 125-foot line from the handler in a boat 100 feet from shore to a steward on shore
3. Search for abandoned boat 75 feet from shore, towing the boat in to shore and beaching it
4. Rescue of an unconscious victim, a steward wearing sturdy wetsuit protection floating in the water
5. Rescue of three victims, one at a time, swimming from the boat platform to each victim and towing each one back to the boat
6. Rescue of a victim, a steward wearing sturdy wetsuit protection, from under a capsized inflatable boat
Water rescue work upholds the highest tradition of dogs being true partners with humans. While heavy-duty tasks such as towing a boat may call for the size and power of the giant Newfoundland breed, much of the work also suits the large-breed retrievers.
The Newfoundland is a lot of dog, and not the right choice for everyone. The coat care is a formidable task, and many Newfies drool profusely. If you have serious work for a water rescue dog, though, the Newfie is exactly the breed for the job. Or a more moderately sized retriever such as the Labrador may be your own perfect choice, and don't have the dog tow boats! Either way, this exciting and inspiring work that saves human lives is a proud tradition for an incredible breed."