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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shale Takes the Plunge - My Little Swimmer

Exciting news last week about Shale… She finally took the plunge and got brave enough to swim outside!   Shale has been swimming in an indoor pool for a while – more about that shortly – but she has been hesitant for the over the last year and half to swim outside.

When Shale first came home from her breeder I thought for sure she would be a water loving dog.  After all her favorite game both inside and outside of the house was splashing and digging in her water bowl.  While it was really cute at first it was messy and luckily she outgrew this game pretty quickly.

Shale's First Swim
Our first “hike” together was in early November of 2009 and Shale was about 3.5 months old.  I took her to one of my favorite Trustees of Reservations properties, Weir Hill, in North Andover.  I have to admit I was a nervous wreck and judiciously used a leash and a long-line while we explored.  My little explorer was a fearless and loved the wide open trails we traveled while playing recall games.  She had a terrific time exploring the more technical side trails and was fascinated by the large reservoir that the property abuts.  It was a cool fall day and Shale went right in for a swim.  I was so surprised.  She started paddling immediately and was heading out pretty far.  To this day I don’t know if it was a hint of panic in my voice calling her in or the crisp autumn air giving her a chill that turned her off to swimming.  I didn’t even recognize at the time that she had suddenly developed a fear of going over her head.  I guess the fact that she came out of the water at full speed, and literally ran for the hills should have given me some indication that a problem was brewing.  Not realizing I was just super excited to know I already had a natural swimmer and I was already looking forward to the late spring and early summer fun we would have playing at the beach and local ponds.  I figured with it already so cold out there really wouldn’t be opportunities for her to swim again for a number of months. 
That December I decided to enroll Shale in swimming for physical fitness at Good Dog Aquatic in N. Andover.  Good Dog Aquatic has an above ground indoor hydrotherapy pool and offers physical therapy, canine massage and swim therapy as well as swimming for physical fitness.  I’ve known the owners for years and my dog, Meg; also a Border Collie swam there for physical fitness before I lost her to lymphoma a few years ago. I will be introducing Meg and telling some of “Meg’s Tales” soon.  I figured Shale would be a natural in the pool and would easily make the “Good Dog Aquatic Swim Team.”  Well Shale was a not huge fan of the pool.  The dogs at Good Dog Aquatic are required to wear life jackets for safety and I promptly put Shale in Meg’s Ruffwear lifejacket only to find out it was a too large.  No worries Good Dog Aquatic had plenty of jackets for Shale to use so we easily found on with a better fit for her frame.   Shale swam monthly at Good Dog for a while, made the swim team and I was confident she would be an expert swimmer come the late when we could swim outside with all of our doggie friends from the Merry Mutts.   

After a great winter exploring and hiking the warm weather returned I was promptly tossed a favorite water toy into one of the nice ponds on one of our walks only to find that Shale was a champion wader but would not swim.  At that point I was lucky to get her to go up to her elbows in the water let alone over her head. I have to admit I was surprised and perplexed.  In the pool she was a pretty comfortable swimmer though not a big fan of getting into the pool.  She needed a little lift by way of her life jacket’s handle to get her in the water but once she was in – she seemed focused on her swimming.  Toy of choice in the pool was an orange “boat bumper” that had belonged to Meg.  For those who knew Meg, you can probably guess her toy of choice - a Frisbee (that bumper really never got any use before Shale came along). 

I tried all summer to get Shale to swim.  Tried coaxing, going in the water with her, bribing her with favorite toys tossed just beyond her reach, every trick I could think that might resolve this fear of swimming outside.  I certainly knew she could swim.  She demonstrated that in the Good Dog Aquatic pool and a few times outside when she accidentally went in and had to swim.

I found out in the early fall that another dog swimming pool I had been to in Waltham, MA called Aqua Dog was bought by an acquaintance of mine and was now being called, Flow Dog. Flow Dog like Good Dog Aquatic offers physical therapy on land and in the pool.  I immediately called for an appointment to sign Shale up swimming for physical fitness.  I really like Flow Dog’s approach with fitness swimmers.  The staff works really hard to make the swim a ton of fun for the dog and after just a few sessions in the pool Shale was bounding in on her own – no need for assistance getting into the pool.  Before long Shale was doing so terrifically and demonstrated such confidence swimming that she graduated to not using a life jacket in the pool.  I was ecstatic and completely sure that this summer Shale would swim outside without any issue especially since she was so great in the pool. 
The warm weather came and so did our outings to places with great swimming spots and yet no swimming for my little chicken of the sea.  Plenty of wading, going a little deeper each time but nothing was persuading her to go over her head or to start dog paddling.  Yet, she loves the water.  When it’s hot Shale absolutely is the first dog in the group to head to the water, a champion wader I have been calling her. 

video

A major break through came last week. It was a fairly humid evening and after work I got my bike on and Shale in the Jeep and headed to Lynn Woods for ride.  Shale loves running while I trail ride on my bike. I’ll be chronicling our adventures learning to ride together soon.   As usual we stopped at each of the swimming spots on our roundtrip ride between Great Woods and Pennybrook entrances.  I noticed that evening that Shale was venturing a little further past her usual wading comfort zone and was practically going over her head.  I was very encouraging and kept reminding Shale to swim like she does in the pool.  Something clicked and the next thing I knew she was paddling. I could not have been more excited and proud of my little swimmer.

Shale is still a little cautious entering the water where there is an immediate drop over her head.  However, with gradual slopes where she is able to have her footing and walk out a bit before swimming she is doing fabulously!  I’m so glad she has embraced swimming and I’m sure this is going to continue to be an activity she greatly enjoys. 

Happy dog paddling!