Dogs enter trials for water rescue title

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If you ever spend time on the water for sport, pleasure or work, it might be a good idea to have a Newfoundland dog with you. Test trials for the breed are being conducted this weekend at Pymatuning State Park and handlers from across the Valley are eagerly waiting for their dog to earn official certification in water rescue.

David Hartmann, president of the Penn Ohio Newfoundland Club, helped organize the trials and said the breed has a long history of water prowess. Hartmann said many Coast Guard units in Europe still have the dogs on some vessels and count on their nautical abilities.

“The dog is comfortable in water. They are strong , they have webbed feet, they are powerful swimmers,” said Hartmann. “They don’t dog paddle, they breast stroke in water, and they’re very, very strong.”

The dogs are put to the test with many land and water exercises but to obtain water rescue certification, the dogs must be able to retrieve a boat and tow it to shore, rescue a swimmer and take the person back to the boat, rescue an unconscious person and find a person who is trapped under a boat. Additional tests will be conducted for other water titles.

The canine club rented space at Pymatuning every weekend since June for trainers to practice skills with their pets. Hartmann said there are several levels of expertise with the “Excellent” division being the most difficult. For most dogs, that level of training takes several sessions a week over a one to two-year period.

“Watching a dog go out and rescue people and do it with gusto is amazing or watching the dog jump off a boat and see them leap five or ten feet out and go for things, it’s really quite a thrill,” said Hartmann. “When you’re training a dog and the dog actually achieves it and you’re in the water and say “jump” or “save me” and the dog actually does it, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Dan Carr from Columbiana was at the beginning trials on Friday with his Newfoundland “Gibb,” affectionately named after the NCIS character. Carr said he brought his young dog to the trials just to see what he could do and while he didn’t earn any titles, Gibbs did something that wasn’t expected but instinctive of the breed.

“He missed a couple of the exercises. But when he rescued the person in the water, the shore was closer than the boat, so he brought him to shore. He did the right thing and he made that decision on his own,” said Carr.

Testing Chairwoman Connie Luoma of Thompson, Ohio oversees the trials and said the exercises on land basically follow the AKC obedience training but with a more friendly approach. The water trials are designed especially for the Newfoundland breed. She said getting the dog the titles they are working for is important, but the handler and dog always come away with much more.

“It’s a team, you two will pass this test together,” said Luoma. “When you train your dog for water rescue, there is an unbelievable bond between handler and dog.

Water tests will be conducted Saturday and Sunday with about 50 dogs expected to participate. Trials begin at 8 a.m. at the park off of U.S. Route 322 in Jamestown, Pa. Signs will be posted directing spectators and participants to the testing site.

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