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September 30, 2008

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Bourjaily: Learning to Swim

I’ve been taking advantage of our warm fall to get my puppy Jed into the water whenever I can. He’s not sure about swimming yet, but he will do almost anything for a dog biscuit. I’ve been luring him into deeper and deeper water by wading in and tossing pieces of biscuit in front of him. He follows, snapping them up until he gets far enough out where he should start swimming. Then he stands straight up on his back legs and sort of treads water with his front legs and tries to walk to the next biscuit. Once or twice I’ve taken him out to where has to swim and let him paddle in, then given him a treat right away. That works, but I don’t want to overdo it and frighten him. Since I am training Jed by Gun Nut committee, your suggestions are welcome.

* * * *
I’m not going to rush Jed into swimming, but having made my share of water retrieves, I’m ready for a dog to take over that duty. Ike swims but doesn’t fetch. My first shorthair, Sam, was a great retriever, but couldn’t tolerate getting wet and cold.

One winter day I shot a rooster that fell onto a slushy pond. Sam ran to the edge, tested the surface with a paw, and pulled it back as if he had touched an electric fence.  He sat down and looked at me like

“You’re on your own, boss.”

I called the dog and walked back down the gravel road to the farmhouse where I had parked. I put Sam and my gun in the truck, knocked on the door and asked if I might borrow a fishing rod. Looking through the farmer’s tackle box, I found a Creek Chub Injured Minnow, a wooden plug with propellers and big treble hooks at each end. At the pond I cast the Injured Minnow over the pheasant, snagged it and reeled it in. Walking back down the road with no gun, no dog, a fat rooster in one hand and a fishing rod in the other, I hoped someone would drive by and see me. Alas, no one did. I was dying to tell somebody that the pheasants were hitting surface lures.


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WA Mtnhunter


Get yourself a Labrador. It could teach your pointer to swim or shame him into retrieving!

Seriously, you should start him out playing in very shalllow warm water with you in the water in waders teasing him to come in after his favorite training toy. keep t warm and shallow until he is ready for more. There is a training video titled "Gun Dog" with an accompanying book that is an excellent source on the subject.

My Lab will not jump into the water to retrieve a tennis ball or stick like my retarded Golden which will attempt to retrieve rocks thrown into the water. The Lab will stand there and give you the "Do I look that stupid?" stare.

But throw the retrieving dummy or dead bird into the water and he turns into Air Dawg! He also gets in the pond and river to cool off when out from a run.

Good luck


My Shorthair loves to swim and retrieve in the water. She once chased a deer into a pond and then swam the length of the pond right behind the deer (I'm not making this up and I have witnesses). I suspect yours will come around.
Back when I had a Lab, I shot a quail that fell on the other side of a creek. The dog did not see the bird fall and didn't take hand signals. I figured if I had to wade it, why not try something, so with the dog watching I took a dead quail from my vest and threw it across the creek to land right next to the fallen bird. It worked -- the dog jumped in, swam over and picked up both birds at once, swam back with both and I stayed dry. Dogs truly make all the difference in the hunting experience.


My pup didn't like swimming until a few times this summer I went wade fishing and she followed me swimming up and down and around the creeks while I patted her on the head and talked to her and told her she was doing good. Before this she would do the exact same thing Jed does, now if I throw a treat out she'll generally swim right out and get it, she might hesitate a bit if she didn't see it well. I haven't really tried throwing anything really far out yet and the only times I've shot at birds over water this year I've missed so I can't say for sure she'll get it, but I have a Jitterbug ready in case she doesn't.


On Thanksgiving a few years back we were pheasant hunting along a river when two went up and my dad shot both of them. The pheasants landed in the river and my dog, Doc, went in after them. He retrieved the first one without any problem. When he got the second one in his mouth, a pop bottle floated by and he dropped the bird and happily brought the pop bottle back to my dad. Needless to say, we were both a little demoralized that he dropped the phesant in exchange for a bottle. Everyone else got a good laugh out of it though.

Jim in Mo.

Phil, try a doggie life vest. You can take Jed into deep water and he'll think he's swimming.

Scott Linden

And bobwhites will rise to a dry fly!

Those more expert than me often suggest: attach a checkcord to Jed, YOU wade out there, and call him to you. Treat as appropriate.

Once he's bird crazy, a wing-shackled duck swimming around is irresistible to any self-respecting versatile hunting dog.

Then, go to the Cabela's catalog and order up a set of bushy eyebrows and a beard for that dog ... wirehairs rock!

Duck Creek Dick

All good suggestions here but I always like to train a pup with a started dog. Puppy see, puppy do! Get a lot of fun going in shallow water with the older dog and the little guy will not want to be left out. Same thing for retrieving practice. Throw some bumpers for the older dog, while the pup is on the leash. He'll be jumping up and down wanting to show you his stuff too. A lot of fun.

Thos. B. Fowler

Dear Phil...
With a name like Bourjaily, I am surprised that you did not choose the versatile Brittany. I've had three, trained two others..never had a bit of reluctance around water. Natural pointers, natural retrievers. A setter friend was once cussing because he couldn't find his empties that his automatic spat out. I called over a Brit I was training, and the dog pointed them. I asked him if he also needed help with reloading them.

Good luck with your pup...be patient.

Tom Fowler


I thought all dogs could swim naturally, without lessons. Weims, Setters, Pointers all seemed to just do it when the time came.

Then a year and half ago, I bought a Bichon/Shitsu cross for the kids. Wasn't allowed to get the Weim I wanted. Last summer Nacho and I walked along a cement wall beside a boat launch extending well out into the lake. He loves the water. He'd been in creeks that I thought had water over his head, so I figured this little guy could swim...naturally. Well, he stepped off the side of the wall and was in over his head, kerplunk! He didn't seem to be gaining much on the gravity pulling him down. He was pretty much straight up and down in the water like your dog. I said very nonchalantly, thinking he was just playing around, "c'mere, Nach, I'll give ya a hand", feeling sorry for this little guy who can't hunt to save his life, and now he can't swim to save his life either. He couldn't even get over to my outstretched hand and never forget that look in his eye as he was about to take his last breath above water. He looked at me as if to be saying, "what are waiting for you arsehole, can't you see I'm drowning here?".

The water was actually very pleasant that morning as I jumped in to rescue him. He and I have had a very close bond since that day.

But I still laugh when I see him run right past grouse, or if he's about to run smack into one and it actually trees but he can't see or smell it worth a darn. He'll never hunt. Then again, I don't see or smell as good as I once did either. Maybe that's why the bond is special.

Bird Dog

I have to agree with Duck Creek. If a friend has an expierienced water dog get them together. The pup will have so much fun he won't realize he is going past prievious boundries and you won't have to reinvent the wheel!

Jeff C

Pheasants hitting the surface lures - that made me laugh

Dr. Ralph

I've always had Labs, so no problems there. When I was a kid my dad had two English Pointers neither of which liked the water and only one of which would retrieve.. We usually hunted with Springer Spaniels which loved to swim.


I'm a Lab guy.....my choc jumped in the tub with our two-year old boy last week when I was giving our boy his bath.....my problem is keeping them OUT of water...although not really a problem. Lots of good suggestions here....I'd wager he eases in to it no problem at his own pace when he feels comfortable enough.

Rusty In Missouri

I have had several Brittany, shorthair, and Labs that all seemed to take to the water when a bird was involved. The labs and Brittanys do it more readily than the shorthair. I have also had non-hunting dogs that can not swim, one was my beloved Dashound; she would jump in and sink, fully expecting me to save her, which I did on more than one occasion.

Jerry Goldstein

My 8 week old Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon went swimming the first time she saw a pond. No hesitation, she ran down the bank and jumped right in.



Just bought a dog life jacket at the local supply store. For peace of mind. ;))

don't know where the bischon/shitzu (spelling?) comment came from..a little far from hunting. Anyways guess by shorthair you mean german shorthairs. I have two of them one of which is about a year and a half and the other is probably eight months. The older of the two is the best quail dog I've ever hunted with. Born a master of pointing and retrieving. I took her duck hunting for the first time and she wouldn't go in the water but would retrieve em on land like a pro. I have been working her on water for a while and she just wouldn't retrieve. I finally got so sick of it I didn't care about scaring her away from water since she wouldn't get in it in the first place so I threw her in. Swam like a champ, and after a couple more tosses in the deep end she came around. I'm waiting to see if the younger one will come around, but if not she'll get the same treatment...


My bro-in-law had a Chessie that would tread water until I sent my Lab into the pond. Within minutes the Chessie learned how to swim.


My dog Gracie will not swim, at least very well. The Doggie life vest has helpped tremendously. Outbound hound I think it is...She has jumped from my boat to the dock and missed a couple of times. The vest has a handle so I don't have to get in to get here out anymore. She can keep herself afloat but she freaks out. She will retreive a ball into deeper water with the vest on, but more than a couple times I have had to swim out to get the silly ball I threw...not the point of fetch I think.


Bring a friends dog that likes water and send him in after what ever he likes to fetch your dog will eventually follow him my dog did.

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