Dog portrait: First Flickr photo award

Review of Newfoundland dogs water training.
By Laure-Anne Viselé, June 2010

I got invited to take a photoshoot of a water training (aka water rescue) club for Newfoundands. Read on to find out about my morning with the black water giants.

Getting there

The venue was a VERY rainy Dutch Sunday morning, on the outskirts of Delft. I wasn’t entirely sure where I should head to as the rendez-vous point was… a lake. All wasn’t lost, though, as I got some fabulous shots of a show-winning hunting dog (which found its way to my portfolio), and some really interesting mongrels for my collection.

I eventually found the club by following the sound of excited barking. One last turn, my feet getting ridiculously wet in the soggy path, and there they were: a group of about 10 people and their trusty newfies.

Making a good impression. Not so much

Being a bit of a coward, my fox terrier mix, Roger, decided to inspect the whole ado from a dry patch on the pier, thus blocking the only access point for the dogs and their handlers to the water. He then decided to bark opinionatedly every time a newfy would dive in. Once he was off the pier, he took it upon himself to inspect everybody’s bags, and predictably enough (I know his moves), he made off with a giant bag of treats while I was busy shooting. The club members seemed to take it all in very good humour, and thankfully, the shoot was allowed to go on.

What I saw

The idea of water training is that the fully trained dogs can  return a drowning person safely back to shore. There are various stages in difficulty, each stage closer to a real-life rescue. These are the steps I got to see:

Tennis ball

  • The dog gets called into the water by the owner (from a dinghy boat). Hesitant dogs would get pushed or pulled in (dragged in by a really handy handle on top of their harness).  I would have liked to see a more gradual desensitisation process, but I was there as a photographer, so I held my peace. Besides, dog sports will be dog sports and I am yet to see an event completely lacking in compulsion/scolding.
  • The dog would swim toward the owner, who would then throw in a familiar floating object like a tennis ball, for the dog to retrieve back to the shore. The dog would get in turn encouraged or scolded, depending on the direction he took. I was a little disappointed to see this other element of compulsion and punishment, but again, this has to be seen in the context of dog sports where, regrettably, strictly positive methods are yet to become the norm. Besides, the owners were clearly crazy about their dogs, and I didn’t get the feeling that they were overly objectifying their dogs for the sake of performance.
  • For a reason I do not understand (please comment if you know the answer), some dogs would be dragged onto the boat and brought back to shore. To my surprise, the dogs  seemed quite relieved to be pulled onto the boat. And here was me thinking that nothing could get between a newfy and water. Food for thought.

Dummy retrieve

The next step was to get the dog to get a cylindrical dummy back from the water. The dummy is the orange shape that you see the dogs mouth in some of the pictures.

Human(oid) dummy retrieve

Same as above, but with a human-shaped floating dummy. They would (gently) mouth the hand of a human-shaped floating dummy, and drag it back onto the shore to the general cheer and applause of the club members.

I wonder if they are eventually trained to somehow flip the human round so the drowning victim is facing upwards when the unconscious victim is facing down. Leave a comment if you know.

What I loved

The human-shaped dummy was a great novelty for me: I really enjoyed those retrieves, particularly the cheers and encouragements as the dog would approach the water bank.

I also really loved the fact that the owners were clearly completely besotted with their dogs, their pride shining through when the dog performed well. There was more than the occasional treat distribution for the waiting dogs too.

What was the most fun, though, was to watch the ‘skipper’ who had to share his rides with one, sometimes two, huge wet dogs who invariably shook themselves ‘dry’ all over their long-suffering captain.

Thank you’s

I would very much like to thank Toos for inviting me along to the event. I found it super interesting (despite coming back home wet to the core…). If you’re interested in finding out more, type ‘watertraining nf the hague’ in Youtube and you’ll find the club’s many videos.


[nggallery id=72]

Any comments?

I always love to read your comments, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts. No comment is too short or long. I would particularly like to hear from you if you:

  • Have direct or indirect experience with Newfoundlanders. What was your verdict?
  • Have experience in water rescue training. Why do you love it?

Further reading

Dog sports

Dogs and society

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