Fear of the water
By Jim Poling Sr.
Published July 6, 2017
I’ll never forget Canada Day 2017. It was the day Louie learned to swim.
Louie is my 14-month-old great-granddog. He is a chocolate Labrador retriever, a water dog who feared the water. A Lab afraid of the water? On his first visit, Louie loped down to the dock and stared out over the lake. We figured he was anxious to begin fetching, so someone tossed a tennis ball into the water.
Louie pranced anxiously, peered nervously over the dock edge and waited for the ball to float into his reach. More tosses, same reaction. He quivered with excitement over wanting to fetch, but wanted nothing to do with the water.
We got him to wade up to his knees along the shore. He seemed to like that but whenever the ball was tossed he stretched to get it, but would not swim for it.
At one point he stretched too far and slipped off the rocks. We figured that was it. He was in and had broken the ice, so to speak. However, within seconds his panic became apparent and I wondered if someone would have to dive in to rescue him.
He thrashed his paws and his eyes filled with panic until his feet hit bottom. Wading with him, then swimming to show him how it is done had little effect. Louie was terrified of getting in over his head.
Labs always have been part of life at Shaman’s Rock. Gussie, a neighbour’s Lab, used to come to our deck at 7 a.m. with a ball in his mouth and stare up at my bedroom door until I came down and threw the ball for him.
Moose, an aging chocolate Lab on the other side of our place, still pesters people to toss balls and sticks so he can swim to get them.
Emma, my son’s chocolate Lab, exhausted people until they refused to toss for her. So she would take her ball to the dock, play with it in her paws until it flew off into the lake, then would dive in after it. She spent hours doing that.
So it seemed impossible that we now had a family Lab who was afraid of the water.
Some dogs are not built to swim. Bulldogs and dachshunds, for instance, have short legs that cannot provide the thrust needed for swimming.
Labs, however, have long, strong legs and over decades have been bred to retrieve. Swimming is in their DNA.
Dogs have distinct individual personalities and some develop phobias. Louie is a cautious dog; not one to do anything reckless. It was apparent he was not going to go in water over his head without some training.
My grandson Robert and his partner Laura got Louie a life vest and took him to a doggie pool where they could swim beside him.
When Louie returned to visit on Canada Day weekend the big question was whether he would take to the water. He pranced about the dock, stretching to reach sticks tossed for him but would not jump in after them.
At one point he became so excited about getting the stick that he fell off the dock into the water. He grabbed the stick and sort of swam his way to shore. His strokes still looked a bit panicky but at least he was swimming.
The stick was flipped off the dock again and Louie stretched to get it and fell in. He grabbed it and swam a bit more confidently to shore.
Then someone pitched the stick out 15 feet and Louie actually jumped off the dock, swam to it, then swam back. I swear he was smiling as he swam to shore. Everyone applauded and breathed relief that we had a Lab that could swim after all.
Louie accomplished something that I never could.
Years ago my wife and I joined our twin girls in learn-to-swim classes. The twins and mom graduated and moved through higher levels. I never made it out of baby class.
So when Louie comes to visit again we will go swimming. He will be the one swimming with the tennis ball in his mouth. I’ll be the one floating in the life jacket.