E276: Watersports with Erin Lynes & Sara Brueske

Join Erin, Sara, and me for a conversation about all the ways we can play with our dogs in the water, including Paddleboarding, SUP-ing, and Dock Diving!


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I have Erin Lynes and Sara Brueske here with me. Erin has a workshop coming up on dock diving, and Sara has one coming up about kayaking and paddleboarding with your dogs. They're both here today to talk about watersports with our dogs.

Hello to both of you and welcome to the podcast!

Both: Hello. Hi.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you each just briefly remind listeners who you are, share a bit about your current crew, and what you're working on with them? Sara, you want to go first?

Sara Brueske: Sure. I have quite the big crew. I have ten dogs, and most of them are retired now, so I only have a few that I'm actively pursuing sports with. That would be Kreacher, my Malinois. He's going for his Mondioring Level 3 title this weekend, so that's kind of a big deal for us. It's like the championship for that sport. And then I have my young Australian Koolie, she's just under 2 years old. Those are my two main dogs I'm training right now. Otherwise, all of my dogs, I have a few other Koolies, a Border Collie, couple Border Collie mixes, Boston Terrier/Shih Tzu mix. They have all done dog sports like dock diving and agility and disc dog. You name it, they probably have done it. And so that's my crew.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Erin?

Erin Lynes: My crew is not as diverse as Sara's. I have Labs, lots of Labs. My oldest dog right now is 14, Ruger, he's retired from everything. And I've actually got quite a pile of retirees as well. My youngest is Rousie, who's 8 months old. But in terms of dock diving, my two competition dogs right now are Venom and Kool Jam. They're both black labs. I do all the things with my dogs, too, so dock diving, agility, nosework, not paddleboarding.

Melissa Breau: Something for you to try then, right?

Erin Lynes: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: As I mentioned in the intro, I know Erin's got the dock diving workshop coming up, Sara has got the kayaking and paddleboarding one, so I thought I would start us off seeing what options are out there when it comes to doing things with your dog in and around the water. Erin, you want to start us off with this one?

Erin Lynes: Yeah. I think that, especially depending on your location and the weather, you might have more options than other places. I'm up in Canada, so our summer season is about four generous months long, so we try and fit in everything really fast.

Dock diving is probably the most popular water sport in this area right now, even though there's few and far between established facilities. But you can go to the lake. You can play with your dog that way. I would bet that a lot more people would be doing stand-up paddleboarding-type stuff with their dogs, if and when they learned about it. That's a pretty cool one.

In this area, the other thing that lots of people do are they take their dogs fishing and hiking and that sort of thing, so more natural stuff, less dog sports. But I think that dock diving is probably the most watery dog sport we have available here.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot, like Erin said. Here in Minnesota, we have a lot of the same stuff. Our water season is very, very short, unfortunately. But I do know one thing that we don't get out here in the Midwest is dog surfing. If you watch the Incredible Dog Challenge, especially the regionals that's held out in California, they have dog surfing, and it's the coolest thing in the world. The dogs just love it. And so that's always a fun, unique way to get involved with water sports with your dogs as well.

I know our search-and-rescue people — that's not a dog sport. It's an actual job, and they put a ton of work into it, but they do a lot of water searching, too, so they have some dogs that specialize in that type of searches. And so that is always an interesting thing to train and to think about as well is dogs searching with bodies of water and on boats and stuff like that, for sure.

Melissa Breau: That's so interesting. I imagine it would be really tricky to train. We think air currents are hard.

Sara Brueske: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: How did each of you initially get interested in doing water sports stuff with your dogs? Sara?

Sara Brueske: When I was up in Minnesota before, I did a little dock diving. I think my dogs were jumping 7 or 8 feet, that introductory jumping. But again, it was so short. I didn't dedicate a lot of time or effort into it. But we'd swim at the lake and we hung out at the beach and that sort of thing.

I do remember when we were up in our cabin when I was really young, I want to say 10 years old, my dad had a hunting buddy who had Labs, and he would do directed swimming off of our dock. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world, because he could tell the dogs, "Go right, go left," and all that stuff. So I thought that was really, really cool.

But when I moved to Missouri, I had to teach my dogs to dock dive and really get into it because of my job. That and it's ridiculously hot there, and so you can't survive in Missouri with dogs without having them swimming all the time. For that, we wanted our dogs jumping a minimum of 22 feet or so, and so we really had to get into dock diving and the details of it. That's what got me hooked, because before, I thought it was just you throw the thing in the water, the dog jumps after it, it's not a big deal. And then suddenly it's strides and collection and pushing off the rear and targeting the toy and air retreat and the speed games and all of that stuff. And so it's turned into a little bit of an obsession for me, for sure.

Erin Lynes: I grew up with hunting dogs in the prairies, and so waterfowl hunting with the Labs was the thing, making the big, long water retreats like Sara was talking about, with the directive handling and that sort of thing.

But what got me into dock diving specifically is when one of my puppy owners sent me a photo one time. She lives in Whistler, and they have all these really incredible dog parks that actually have water frontage and docks and that sort of thing, and she sent me a picture. Her dog was in the paper, jumping off the dock, and she's like, "Wasn't that cool that they captured her?" It reminded me, "I think I've seen this on TV. You should look into dock diving." She went down to the States, where you could do dock diving at that time, and got really into it and her dog did really amazing.

And then she brought the sport up into B.C., and I joined in. My first experience was similar to what Sarah mentioned, where I got to the pool and I was like, "You just chuck the toy in, and the dog goes in, and whatever magic happens, happens." I think Shelby was my first dock diving dog, and she had a really, really big, 13-foot jump on her first trial. It was so exciting. I got home and I was like, "Well, obviously, now I want to train this."

By the time I got home from that first event, our practice pond had dried up, so I needed to get a pool. Clearly, that's the next logical step. So we got a pool and built a dock and then had to learn everything from there. With all the local dogs and my large crew, had lots of dogs to practice with and figure out all the cool things, and then long winter frozen stretches to also obsess about all the dry land stuff and everything we could still work on, even when the water was not available. So yeah, all kinds of stuff.

Melissa Breau: So fun. I know you both have been doing this now for a fairly decent amount of time. Are there ways to evaluate whether or not a particular dog might enjoy this kind of stuff? Are there ways that listeners can think about this with their dog and figure out, "Oh, my dog would love this," or "Oh, my dog might not be such a fan"? Erin?

Erin Lynes: When people approach me about, "Should I try this with my dog?" I always ask, "Does your dog like retrieving?" Because that's the primary goal for the dog is to go and fetch their toy. Obviously, being a reasonable swimmer is a good plan, but that's probably a little bit less important, as long as the dog feels safe in the water and is willing to get in, versus actually really wanting to get their toy. So we look at the toy aspect of it more than anything, and then we can grow the swimming experience from there.

Melissa Breau: Anything to add, Sara?

Sara Brueske: Just like Erin said, the dogs that have that toy drive are always a little bit easier to get into the water, for sure. But as far as paddleboarding kayaking, goes, I tend to find the dogs that they don't necessarily want to retrieve the toy out of the water might be a better fit.

I have dogs that are toy-obsessed, and so for them, I really approach kayaking and paddleboarding as, "This is a leisurely activity. Your job is just to hang out with me." We're not doing the swimming thing right now, because once you open up those gates of the toy could be thrown, they are obsessing about it the entire time. And so you have to be really clear about that sort of thing.

So for kayaking and paddleboarding, as long as your dog is confident on wobbly surfaces. Good thing if they can swim, but you can always throw a life jacket on them so it's not the end of the world if they fall in, as far as that goes. But honestly, any dog that just wants to hang out with you is a great dog for kayaking paddleboarding, for sure.

Melissa Breau: Anything to think about in terms of size?

Sara Brueske: If you want to be logical about it, Melissa, you probably don't want an English Mastiff on your board. I understand that. But you can always go out on a canoe instead. Full-size boats.

Melissa Breau: Make sure your equipment is appropriate. Fair enough. Any tips for getting started, Sara?

Sara Brueske: Yeah. As far as kayaking and paddleboarding go, it's really a confidence thing. We do a lot of wobbleboard stuff for puppies to grow their confidence, especially if they're going into sports like agility, that sort of thing. It's the same thing with kayaking and paddleboarding. You have to know that it's going to be wobbling around. They have to be fit enough to be able to control their movements, and coordinated enough and confident enough to do that.

There are some dogs that they just don't like it. We can build that up by getting them used to being on wobbly surfaces, getting a wobbleboard or even just a sheet of plywood and putting a towel under it so it's moving around, and then just slowly introducing them to the kayak or the paddleboard on dry land first, and then putting it into some shallow water and having them get on that.

The webinar is all about that. We go step by step on how to get your dog really excited about going out on the paddleboard or kayak and how to feel confident about it, as far as that goes. And then, of course, teaching the dog to swim, because they probably will fall in at some point, and so giving them that confidence so it doesn't really scare them that much when they do fall in is a big deal too. But I'm sure Erin's got some great tips on that part.

Melissa Breau: All right, Erin, some tips for getting started with the dock diving and the water bit.

Erin Lynes: I really like to teach dogs to swim or enjoy water in natural water bodies first. Obviously dock diving, from a competition perspective, is usually done in a pool these days, but I still prefer to go out and find a little creek or a little quiet, warm pond to teach dogs first, and get them really retrieving and excited about doing that in natural water.

I think it's just a little bit easier for them because they can walk in gradually. They never have to decide that moment when they get in or get out. It just happens naturally in those water bodies. And I think that the natural murky water is maybe a little more comforting than looking into what potentially looks like an empty blue box, depending on where the dog's visual perspective is for the pool. Once they are excited about retrieving, and they're confident swimming and then transferring it to the pool, that's the steps that I like to take.

And then, in the between time, if you're really wanting to help the dog do a good job of it, there's a lot of little dry land skills that you can train too. Sara mentioned wobbleboard stuff for her paddleboard dogs. I like to do rear end awareness-type stuff for my dock diving dogs, so when they're in the future going to be running down the dock as fast as they can and jumping off the edge, we're hoping that they jump reasonably close to the edge, so that they're not wasting too much of the dock and getting the best score that they can get. But they really have to know where those rear feet are to do that, and just to trust that they're not going to overstep the boundaries and end up trying to push off in the middle of the air. So lots of rear-end stuff, core-building strength stuff, there's all kinds of things.

You can almost get as nerdy as you want to get for dock diving. I think that's maybe the most fun thing about it is it totally can be the sport where you just chuck the toy in and the dog jumps in, or you can really piece it apart and train all the little parts separately.

Melissa Breau: Are there skills that dogs need before somebody thinks about that first trip to the dock, or before somebody thinks about going out on a board or in a kayak? I keep wanting to only say paddleboards, since that's what I do.

Sara Brueske: Same. Paddleboarding or kayaking is an option, because the paddleboard is so much fun. I love it.

Melissa Breau: I don't know, maybe a canoe would be even easier, who knows.

Sara Brueske: I'll have to add that one in — paddleboard, kayak, and canoeing with your dog.

Melissa Breau: Are there skills that it's useful to have, or worth having, before you go out for that first time? A little bit more on maybe what we can train during the off season, when it's not actually nice enough to actually be in the water, and what should we have trained before we even ask them to think about this stuff. Erin, you want to start? I know you were just talking about some of this a little bit but maybe be a little more in-depth.

Erin Lynes: I think that if you're going to be using a lifejacket for water sports, they should be comfortable wearing it away from water first. That's probably one that gets overlooked a lot. Some dogs will get really stiff and awkward and icky-feeling when they put that lifejacket on for the first time. You can totally work on making that a fun thing to wear before you ever associate it with your water sports. That would be a good one.

Specific toy skills, so retrieving, bringing it right back, getting the toy when you ask them to get it, and doing it in an excited state where they still have brain function. Tweaking that specific arousal level to get that sweet spot for dock diving — that's pretty important and helpful. You can do that anywhere.

I think we were already talking about the fitness and body awareness stuff that is helpful for all dog sports, but really something you can do before you get started at the pool, too.

Sara Brueske: One of the things that I think is super-important for dogs to learn before going out on any kind of watercraft with you is to learn to settle. We always think about making sure they're confident and swimming and all of these things, but really, when they are on that board, and you're standing up, and the water's choppy, and whatever it may be, having them know to lay down and just settle and wait there is one of the biggest skills you can teach them, just to give yourself confidence and your dog confidence, as well.

You don't want them running back and forth across the board as you're trying to paddle, so teaching that skill is probably one of the biggest things that way. When you get on the board, you're not trying to maintain and teach a down-stay as you're trying to paddle across the lake. Teaching that away from the water, away from your paddleboard first, is a really great way to go about it, and then adding it to your paddleboard later.

Melissa Breau: Any tips for finding places where you can swim and teach your dog some of this stuff? How and where are folks finding places to practice all of this stuff?

Sara Brueske: That's one of my favorite things to do is try to find awesome swimming spots for my dogs. What I normally do is I normally pull up Google Maps and I look for public access spots on lakes or rivers. It's generally called something different in each state. Here in Minnesota, public access is what it's called. Sometimes it's boat put-ins, sometimes it's kayak put-in, and sometimes you just have to look for a state park.

And then, of course, always check your local laws as far as leash regulations go. You can always swim your dogs on a long line. Make sure you're managing it and it's not getting tangled in their legs or around a log or something along those lines. That's how I generally look for somewhere to swim my dogs — natural bodies of water. It's also a great place to park your car generally because there's a parking lot there and put-it in for the kayak and the paddleboard right there.

And so that's what I normally do with my dogs is I just go, and we all spend an entire day going from one public access spot to another to try to find a good boat launch or whatever, and find that nice little secluded area where there's not a lot of people, with clear, nice water. It's an adventure time. It's great. And you can keep a little directory of all your swim spots.

Melissa Breau: All the places you go.

Sara Brueske: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: Erin, what about on your end?

Erin Lynes: Up here in Canada, especially in the more rural areas, there's lots of options. We were pretty lucky with lots of lakes and ponds and that kind of thing. I like the Google Earth suggestion because you can see a lot of cool stuff. We often have directories of free campgrounds, and usually those don't have any leash laws or that sort of thing. So when you go to those, you just have to be aware of what other users might be present. And a lot of the time during the week, there's nobody around, so you have the place all to yourself.

There's often lots of good shorelines and boat launches and that sort of thing. Some of the docks that you can find, like fishing docks and boat docks and stuff at lakes, you can use during off-peak hours when there's nobody around, if the rules are allowing for that. Occasionally you have to bring a little bit of traction if you're going to practice dock diving off of one of those docks, because they get a little slippery, on the newer plastic docks especially. But you don't necessarily have to have a dock to be practicing all the dock stuff, either, if that's what your goal is. There's lots of just good shorelines and swimming skills and all that kind of stuff that you can really you can really make use of.

Melissa Breau: I feel like this is one of those things where once you've done it and you've figured out how to do it, it's so useful to know. But when people are first getting into this stuff, it feels so intimidating. So I think it's really useful to have those tips. I wanted to give you each a chance to share a little more on your workshop, what you'll cover, and maybe who should consider it. Erin, you want to go first?

Erin Lynes: Yeah. My workshop is on advanced skills for the specialty games and dock diving. If you've been to a dock diving event or you've got a dog that's already a little bit started, there are specialty games like air retrieve and hide-or-dash, or extreme vertical and speed retrieve, depending on what league you're playing in. These are the games that are a little bit more than just jumping in the water after the toy, and that's what this particular workshop is all about.

I take you through all the different rule variations and strategies of the game, so that you first understand what they are. And then we'll talk about all the training tips, so that you can get started introducing your dog to stuff on dry land, building their conditioning skills specific to those sports, and then also exactly how you transfer all those skills to the pool.

So it's perfect for people who are just learning those specialty games, but a lot of the tips in the workshop also apply to dogs already competing who maybe just haven't quite reached their potential yet, or maybe there's a little bit of inconsistency in their performance, that sort of thing. Lots of stuff that's going to help clean up the performance for those games as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Sara?

Sara Brueske: My workshop will be covering basically the skills you need to get your dog on the paddleboard or kayak, whatever your watercraft choice is, and then introducing them to actually going out onto the water with it, and expectations as far as that goes.

It covers communication skills like when can you swim versus when you shouldn't be swimming, so don't just randomly jump off the board. It also covers teaching your dog to settle on the board and expectations as far as that goes. We do spend some time as well teaching about lifejackets and putting those on your dogs. But the one thing I don't cover is how to paddleboard or kayak yourself. That is a human skill. I will only be focusing on the dog skills needed for this.

But it's a lot of fun. If you have access to a kayak or paddleboard, it's really, really great. I know there's a lot of places that people can rent those as well, so if you don't have one, you can do a day rental. Generally, in your area, there might be a lake or a beach or somewhere that has access to that, and so even if you don't have the equipment, you can absolutely take the workshop. And a lot of it can be done at home away from equipment as well, too. So it's a great workshop for pretty much anybody out there, other than those with giant dogs.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. This is for both of you. I know it was in my questions, but do people actively need access to either a dock or their paddleboarding equipment the week of the workshop for your workshops?

Sara Brueske: Preferably for mine, they would have access to whatever watercraft equipment they're going to be using.

Erin Lynes: For the dock diving workshop as well, it's ideal if the working students have access to a dock during that week. However, if they're really into it and they want to take the workshop, we do have options for doing dry land stuff as well. Melissa Breau: Awesome. My last question here: If we were going to drill all of this down into a key piece of information or something you just want listeners to walk away from this understanding, what would that be? Sara, you get to go first.

Sara Brueske: That watersports are the best summertime activity for you and your dog. Seriously. I always joke when I post on Facebook that all I do in the summertime is swim my dogs or paddleboard or whatever. And so it is absolutely true — it's my favorite thing to do. And I think a lot of people, if you figure out how you get the access to the places to swim and get those general skills down, I think a lot of people enjoy it.

Erin Lynes: I think that's a good point. A lot of people that try dock diving with their dogs say this is their favorite sport, or "We're going to Doggy Disneyland this weekend to do dock diving." So absolutely the high level of joy it brings the people and the dogs — it's really hard to compare to that. And it's great use of these hot summer months, too.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you both so much for coming on the podcast.

Sara Brueske: Thank you for having us.

Erin Lynes: Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it!

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training. 


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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