The Swim-By

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The Swim-By

by Dennis Voigt

Reprinted by permission of Retrievers Online Magazine, for information regarding obtaining a subscription please visit -

The Swim-by is a fundamental step in the Basics portion of the program currently used by many successful retriever trainers across the continent. It gets its name from the skill developed by the dog at the end of the lessons: swimming by the handler on command. The Swim-by generally follows the teaching of the Double-T on land. That step prepares the dog for several of the skills that the dog will develop in the water. The Swim-by is an important pre-cursor to teaching your dog about water channels and water cheating singles. Novices, seeing the Swim-by for the first time often question the process of Swim-by and why it is necessary. Experienced trainers have learned that the Swim-by produces a dog with a readiness to stay in the water and a dog with important skills that make teaching advanced water work much easier.

Purpose of the Swim-by
It teaches handling skills in the water – view it as a single-T in water.

The process reinforces getting into the water since it exposes the dog to pressure (e-collar) to get in the water and to drive back while in the water.

It teaches the dog to stop in the water, turn around and look for directions. It develops the skill of treading in water.

It teaches skills of staying in the water, casting into the water and being comfortable while swimming in the water near the shore (without getting out early).

It teaches the skills that are used to handle the dog into the water both on the way to the retrieve and just as importantly on the return from the retrieve.

Figure 1

The Pond Requirements

The correct size and shape of the pond is very important to teach the Swim-by effectively and efficiently. It is worth seeking the ideal pond. The ideal pond is rectangular and about 10-15 yards wide and 30-40 yards long (Fig. 1). It should be free of obstructions. It should have a clean shoreline of low cover and you should be able to walk around the edges. Avoid shallow edges.

A passable substitute is to use one end of a channel (perhaps a bay on a lake) that has the other required features (Fig. 2). This shape will require some special techniques to complete the Swim-by.

Figure 2

The following steps should be followed in sequence. Ideally, the Swim-by is taught in a series of daily lessons for maximum efficiency. Occasionally, I have done a second session in a day with a keen, willing young dog. Since there is repeated water work over a period of 15-30 minutes, do not teach the Swim-by until the water temperature is at least 60°F. I would also avoid cold, raw, cloudy days even if the water is warm.

Step 1. Lining to Pile
Identify a pile of about 10 bumpers 2-3' up on the shore across the pond by throwing one to it. I often allow the dog to watch me establish the pile either by walking around or tossing them across the pond. If you are not an accurate thrower do not toss them since you do not want a mess of bumpers all over the area, some in the water, some on land.

Send the dog on his name straight across the pond starting close to the edge. Repeat, lining across the pond using the command ‘back’. Continue by mixing up sends from your side as well as remote sends with the dog facing you in front (front sit position). Your dog should be enthusiastically going and coming. Get a quick re-entry by blowing the dog whistle or commanding here, the instant the dog reaches the bumper. Shopping for bumpers should have been cleaned up on earlier land work. Remote sends should be varied from 10-20 feet from shore. Repeat this step a second day unless the first session went perfectly.

Step 2. Forcing to the Pile
This step involves the use of the electronic dog training collar to reinforce the ‘back’ command both on land and in the water. Start the session by marking the pile and giving 2-3 freebies. Put your dog in a remote sit front finish position 10-20' from the water’s edge. Command ‘back’ and just after the dog has turned, nick and then repeat the command ‘back’. Use momentary mode or a very quick nick on the continuous mode. Use a level lower than you used on land force to the pile. (Example: if you forced on land with a level 5, high momentary, use level 5 medium or low.) The procedure now is to mix-up freebie sends with forced sends and nicks on land with nicks in the water. I do about 2 forces on land for each force on water, 2 freebies for each force, and 2 remotes for each side send. Read your dog and watch for bugging, no-goes, flaring problems. These should have been dealt with on land but they may reoccur here. React to hints of their reoccurrence by adding freebies, more remote sends or lowering intensity and duration. Your goal is not to avoid the force but to avoid bad habits, poor attitude and too much concern by the dog.

The response that you desire is a stable one with compulsion to go. This indicates your dog accepts the pressure, understands what it is for and what to do in response to the command. This is ideal. In my experience, you can achieve this better by teaching and balancing your sequence and application of pressure than you can by gritting your teeth and forcing your dog through every mistake or problem. The solid sit with a clear anticipation of going may come after only 3 forces, but usually it is not evident for 5-10 or more forces on 2 days.
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