Performance Venues -
Descriptions and Rules
Portuguese Water Dogs are an incredibly versatile and athletic breed that enjoys many different kinds of work. They were bred to retrieve, but enjoy swimming, diving, jumping, using their noses, and working with their owners. While some of you may only be interested in having a companion, we at Topsail encourage you to explore some of various venues that exist and are offered at training facilities. You may find that you and your dog enjoy these activities whether or not you ever intend to compete. Who knows? You may even become "hooked" on one activity! You won't know until you try ... Below follows a description of the typical venues offered through most training facilities or local PWD clubs. You can also view videos of a variety of venues on AKC TV!
To encourage our puppy homes in the same way that we were encouraged to try performance venues, we will offer rewards for titles that you put on your Topsail dog. See our rewards page for more information.
Obedience / Rally
Competition obedience is a complex dance between the dog and handler. It involves engagement of both partners, attention to detail, and a strong relationship between the partners. There are different levels of obedience training, each with increasing degrees of difficulty in all registries that offer obedience trialing, but all registries emphasize heel work, on and off-leash. Other exercises include the dog being able to sit or stand for a judge exam with the handler about 6 ft away, recalls, fronts and finishes, stays with the handler present and with the handler out-of-sight, drops while recalling, retrieving various objects, directional movement away from handler and over jumps, scent discrimination skills, and distance hand signals to change the dog's position.
Beginning this training as a puppy is ideal because the puppy will learn the proper positions and movements before non-ideal behaviors are established. That is not to say that older dogs cannot learn to be fabulous obedience dogs, but it is harder to undo improper positioning and retrain proper position, than it is to train it correctly from the get-go.
Companion Dog Sports offers a nice entry into obedience training because you are allowed to reward the dog with a food treat after each exercise that involves a stopped position (a sit in heel position). The AKC and UKC offer a more rigid form of obedience where no rewards are allowed in the ring, but the handler can engage the dog in other ways (hand touching, jumping up joyfully, weaving through legs, etc.). To become familiar with these venues, one should read the rulebooks of each registry.
To see spectacular examples of obedience work, which are far more complex than anything you would see in CDSP, AKC, or UKC, look for YouTube videos of Crufts Obedience -- Crufts is tantamount to the Olympics of canine obedience. See an example here.
Rally is a fun version of obedience that breaks up the heeling pattern into a series of short exercises that involve pivots, turning left and right, repeated fronts, backwards heeling, moving around cones and distractors, jumping and getting back into heel position, etc. Like obedience, rally has multiple levels which build on the complexity of the exercises. In rally, a judge will set up a course with signs appropriate for the level tested. Exhibitors then run the course which is timed to deal with teams that tie in scores. There are several registries for rally. Cynosport Rally allows treats to be given upon the completion of certain exercises; AKC and UKC allow no treats in the trial ring. Each registry varies in the types of exercises that are offered.here.
Scentwork / Agility
Scentwork comes in a variety of "flavors" from venues that are similar in form to drug detection (but detect essential oil odors of birch, anise, clove, etc.), to those used to identify their handler's odor (AKC scentwork, one portion of utility obedience work, tracking), to those used to follow the footsteps of a tracklayer, or to those used to find rats in a tube stuffed in a hay bale in a barn. All of these "flavors" harness the natural scenting abilities of your dog that were there from birth when the blind and deaf newborn had to use its nose to find its dam's nipples. Because this is a natural ability, it is often easier to train than many other performance venues (you are, essentially, a "dope on a rope" and the dog does all of the work!). It's a great way to get started in performance and helps you to build teamwork with your dog. For some dogs, it is a way to build their confidence to go into strange environments and do their job. PWDs have an excellent nose and can easily learn all varieties of scentwork. Rules vary from registry to registry and are listed below.
You can watch Uta conducting a vehicle search with her tell-tale head turn indicating that she has found the odor source by clicking here. You can also see a variety of videos of different kinds and levels of nosework searches here. Finally, you can watch Asta follow a short track with 2 turns here.
Agility is a fun sport where you and your dog run a course comprised of jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and contact obstacles (A-frame, seesaw, dog walk) in a particular order. The course often switches direction and the handler needs to determine a handling method that will cue the dog appropriately that a change is coming. The dog needs to learn obstacle commitment and handling signals while the handler needs to learn how to read a course map and to execute a variety of moves to help the dog make the correct directional choices. Agility should start with teaching the dog many handling exercises on the "flat" and exposing it to surfaces that move. It can be quite challenging to teach agility well, but is quite rewarding when the team comes together on courses. Your dog should be slim and well muscled to do well in agility and will need regular chiropractic adjustments to help with the stresses placed on both the shoulders and elbows and the pelvic girdle. Basic rules are that the dog cannot drop bars, must touch contact zones with at least two paws, and must not go off course. Every registry offers a variety of levels and a variety of course types within a particular level; these can include jumpers with weaves, standard courses (contacts present), fast courses, gamblers courses, etc. Rulebooks explain all of the different kinds of courses in each registry.
To get an idea of what agility looks like, you can view Darwin running an novice jumpers course here and a novice standard course here. You can also see an example of a complex handling sequence with distance here.
PWDCA Water Work
The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America's Water Committee has devised a set of tests designed to replicate portions of the kinds of work that PWDs used to do for fishermen. There are five levels of tests, each with increasing levels of difficulty for the dog. Four of those levels result in a title; one results in a certificate and is an optional level (Junior Water Dog).
Beginner dogs can start at either the Junior or Apprentice level. At both of these levels, emphasis is placed on the dog working from shore to retrieve objects (bumper, line, sunken ball/splunky/or bait bucket), to board and ride a boat, to come to a boat when called, and to swim with the handler. You can view an example of a Junior trial here.
Upon achieving the Apprentice level, dogs then move to the Working level where working off a boat as directed by the handler is emphasized. Exercises include dragging the gear to the boat, retrieving a bumper as directed, retrieving multiple overboard articles, boarding another boat and taking directions from the handler at a distance, and retrieving a dropped line that the dog does not see placed in the water. You can view an example of a Working Water Dog trial here.
The next level involves more complex work off the boat and interacting with another handler on a second boat. The Courier level involves the dog taking pouches back and forth between two handlers on two separate boats, taking a net from another boat and bringing it back to the handler, retrieving multiple articles in a particular order, and setting a buoy ball at a particular distance. Dogs can receive an "excellent" title in this level if they test successfully in three trials.
Once the dog achieves a Courier Excellent title, it can move the to Versatility level where exercises are varied and modified from previous levels and involve both shore and boat components.
For a full description of all levels and rules, visit the Water Manual that is updated annually by the PWDCA.
Canine Water Sports
Devised by people who were interested in the water tests for both PWDs and Newfoundlands, CWS is open to all breeds and involves a variety of water skills that are executed both from the beach and in the water. These skills include directional responses by the dog based on handler commands, swimming with the handler in complex ways, moving through objects in the water as cued by the handler, retrieving and delivering items, and underwater scent work. For the rulebook, click here, and for an example of a CWS test, watch Deborah Lee Miller Riley direct her dog here.
Dock diving involves the dog running down a long dock and jumping a certain distance (based on the dog's size class). The dogs generally dive after a toy and some forms of dock diving can involve the dog diving not only a certain distance, but also a certain height to grab hold of a dummy that is elevated above the pool. Canine Watersports Canada has a great video showing you all of the different types of dock diving competitions. Many PWDs enjoy this sport, but be aware that it is hard on their bodies and if you engage in it, you should be willing to have your dog periodically adjusted by a canine chiropractor and should actively condition your dog to build proper musculature . There are several registries that conduct dock diving tests and their rulebooks are listed below.
For an example of training dock diving, see Uta learning to jump off the dock.