A Bay man is teaching his dog to become a surf lifesaver in what is believed to be a New Zealand first.
Thomas Yule has been training his 2-year-old 60kg-plus newfoundland Ted to help rescue people from the surf - similar to a human lifeguard.
Mr Yule said internationally-accredited water rescue dogs wore a custom-made lifejacket with handles attached. People held on to the handles while being towed in.
In some cases the dog would tow a patient while its handler administered first aid or helped calm the patient. However, the dogs were also trained to complete rescues unaccompanied.
Mr Yule pitched the idea - dubbed the SLSNZ K9 Water Rescue Dogs Project - to Surf Life Saving New Zealand and received its backing.
Director of lifeguards at Omanu Surf Life Saving Club Allan Mundy said it was a good idea that was well-researched and well-presented by Mr Yule.
He said he was keen to see the result, however SLSNZ was not able to fund the project.
Mr Yule, an Omanu Surf Life Saving Club member, had since taken his project online with a Givealittle and Facebook appeal.
"I personally got the idea to bring it in about 15 years ago, when I was about 10," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"Back then we had another newfoundland; we knew he could swim quite well. Then I got pretty involved in Surf Life Saving New Zealand."
Mr Yule said there were water rescue dogs overseas but they mostly worked in still water, such as lakes and rivers.
Training involved daily excursions to the beach or flat-water locations such as Fergusson Park or Lake Karapiro.
"He's going to be able to swim 3 to 5km and being able to tow about 12 to 14 people quite consistently through the surf environment and be able to jump off boats or rocks ... and rescue people who might need to be rescued."
By the end of it, Ted was expected to achieve an International Certification for K9 Rescues by the International Life Saving Federation.
"There are a lot of experts internationally that we will be pulling on and developing our own sort of training, especially with our beaches," Mr Yule said.
"That's the exciting thing for us, to bring it to New Zealand beaches.
"This is untapped ground, but it's still early."
Ted's sister had joined him in his training and he said it was exciting to see how they had progressed, Mr Yule said.
Any dog could be trained but newfoundland dogs were ideal for water rescue because of their strength as swimmers, large paws and powerful tail.
"They also had a strong instinct to help when needed, Mr Yule said.
"That instinct is probably the biggest trait we are looking for - a dog to see a human in distress and go out without instruction to help rescue that person."
Mr Yule said dogs were being used overseas to help locate bodies of drowning victims, retrieve patients from sea or hard to reach coastal areas, and even tow boats.
He said Ted had showed a natural instinct for the water since he was little.
"We got down there when he was real small and we tried a few things. He's not scared of water at all. He's running around, jumping through the waves," he said.
"He's got the natural instinct so it's just getting their confidence up for them to read the waves ... to see when to jump."
Mr Yule expected the programme would reach fruition by the end of two patrol seasons "and hopefully we will have two patrol dogs being internationally certified and able to act as patrolling lifeguards".
Dog of courage
•The newfoundland, known as the "gentle giant", is a dog of courage, devotion and loyalty.
•Newfoundlands were bred to be working dogs who spent all day with their family.
•Newfoundlands excel at water work and carting and obedience.