IF ever you have the misfortune to fall into a lake at Rother Valley Park, try to make it on a Sunday.
That’s the day when Newfoundland dogs are practising their water rescue techniques.
The dogs, and their owners, are members of Rother Valley Training Group, which in turn is part of the Northern Newfoundland Club.
These big bears of dogs have been bred for swimming and it’s a hard job keeping them out of the water – even when the air temperature is in minus figures.
Member Vin Whiting, of Whitwell, who has been with the group for more than 20 years, was there with his wife Lynn.
They have an eight-year-old ‘Newfie’ as the dogs are known by their owners.
“They can start swimming from the age of 12 to 14 weeks. They have webbed feet and two coats, a long top coat and a protective waterproof one underneath,” he said.
“They’re not bothered by cold temperatures, when we had all the snow last winter Ellie went out, covered herself in snow and just lay in it.”
“They have been bred as rescue dogs and are so strong they can tow 21 people on a rope.”
Not only are Newfies potential lifesavers, their owners are also full of praise for them as family pets.
Lynn said: “They are fantastic dogs, good with children and placid and very protective.”
For the dogs to train effectively, volunteers are needed to go into the water to be ‘rescued’.
The dogs respond immediately, ploughing through the water effortlessly and towing their charges safely back to shore.
On the day I visited, when the air temperature was minus one, dog owner Lewis Sutherington, of Leicestershire, was facing the prospect of a chilly swim.
The plucky 18-year-old, who owns Raine, six, said: “I’ve got a dry suit so it’s not too bad.”
“We normally go out about 30 metres. Sometimes when we’re doing demonstrations we will fall off a moving boat. Sometimes the dog is in the boat with us and then has to jump out to rescue us.”
Also training with the dogs that day were South Yorkshire firefighters from the Dearne technical rescue unit.
Green watch manager Tom Sawyer said they trained in water rescue at Rother Valley regularly and had met up with the Newfoundland group by chance.
He said: “It’s great for us to work with them because it helps us with our training. We train in still water and swift water, and on ice. We would stress though that anyone who sees us walking out on ice should not try it themselves.”
“We wear special dry suits with three layers, you would be lucky to survive more than a few minutes in normal clothes.”
Lynn said that in their native Newfoundland, part of Canada, the dogs worked all year round.
“In the summer they would drag the fishing nets back in from the lakes and in the winter they would be harnessed to small carts and sent into the forest to bring back logs.”
The Rother Valley dogs also do carting and can work their way up through various training levels – bronze, silver and gold – both with carting and with their water rescue work.
They practise at Rother Valley purely for pleasure and also travel to other lakes around the country.
Member Cat Riches, from Nottingham, said one of the reasons they chose their Newfie, nine-month-old Wilf, was because of the social aspect of meeting regularly with other owners.
She said: “We wanted a Newfie because of their temperament and because we knew we could do the training with him and that was a big attraction.”
The Rother Valley dogs do demonstrations for charity and twice a year do a litter pick with the carts around the park.
Vin said anyone is welcome to watch the dogs in action on Sundays.
For more information contact him on 01909 723431 or go to www.rvtg.org.uk