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Dogs make splash at Lake Russell

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Over a dozen curly-haired four-legged athletes showed off their swimming skills at Lake Richard B. Russell last week.

Members of the United Sunshine States Portuguese Water Dog Club (USSWDC) and their excellent swimming fur babies visited the shores of Lake Russell to train for the upcoming water trail competition at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain June 28-30.

The Portuguese Water Dog breed dates back to the 13th century when these animals rode aboard ships along the coast of Portugal. These dogs aided in setting nets, retrieving lost tackle, catching fish and carrying messages between vessels.

For the last 13 years, long-time water dog trainers Judy and Tom Leather of Colbert and a group of club friends have met at Lake Russell to share their love for these animals and the the friendly competition of the water trails.

On a rainy Thursday morning, the proud canine enthusiasts put the pups through their paces.

Tom Leather paddled a modified aluminum rowboat 20 yards off shore as Paul deCampo Hartman of Cincinnati, Ohio and his 3-year-old brown Portuguese Water Dog, Merlin, rode atop a platform fashioned to the boat.

On decampo Hartman’s command, Merlin leaped into the water and began performing. Merlin retrieved dummies and floating lines from the water. After taking a hold of a courier pouch with his teeth, Merlin swam 10 yards away from deCampo Hartman’s to deliver the pouch to another boat.

In this manner, owner and pet tested their abilities to learn the water exercises.

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America recognizes seven levels in its water trails.

New this season is the highest title of Master Water Dog – a distinction the Leathers advocated for.   

Cruiser, a 5-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, is one of only six canines in the country eligible for earning a Masters since the national club accepted the distinction.

“Three of the six dogs in the entire country eligible for Master Water Dog are from our club,” Judy Leather emphasized.

As a long-time water trial trainer, Judy Leather knows the years of work required to prepare a dog for such a task.

The Leathers first fell in love with the breed in 1995, and after retiring, they moved to northeast Georgia from Florida.

Soon after their move, the Leathers selected Lake Russell as an ideal meeting place for their friends to begin training in the sport.

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