So now that I’d finished with Buffet and he was towel dried and handed off to his “Mom," it was time to swim his brother, Reddy. I looked down at him, watched him dance around nervously, heard his excited and somewhat anxious whining, and thought, “am I “ready” for Reddy?” I don’t mind telling you, that I was pooped. Not only had I swum other dogs earlier that day, but Buffet had proven to be a real workout. I was now sporting several scratches and a few bruises from his wilder moments and I didn’t relish the idea of collecting more. I’d always considered Reddy the more energetic of the two, and he looked charged up and “loaded for bear” at this point.
Reddy is a beautiful red dog with a large white collar, amber eyes and freckles on is face. He‘s a bit larger than Buffet and outweighs him by a few pounds. A sweet, athletic dog with tons of power and energy, he tends to take the lead when the two of them are together and can be a very pushy boy when the spirit moves him. Now normally I’m quite taken with this lovely creature with his confidence and strength, but after going several rounds with his water-ninja brother, I wasn’t looking forward to taking on an even larger “competitor” for the next round. As I said earlier, even dogs that learn to love the water can be real handfuls the first time you take them into the pool.
My dog Willow was still in the pool when I started. I’d left her in there while I dried off Reddy’s brother and did the exchange. She’s normally very quiet and calm when she’s in the pool, but she’d caught some of the excitement of her two sons and was whining and anxiously watching us as I brought Reddy into the room. He’d been pretty excited when I had his brother in the pool and now his energy seemed to be building from that of a mild rainstorm to the beginnings of a full blown hurricane.
I walked him up onto the ramp and watched his eyes go from normal to dinner plate size. I thought that I’d better just get him in the water before he started to really lose it, so I lifted him up and over the water and carried him to the swim step. I set him down and waited for the inevitable moment of explosive panic that I believed was coming. Reddy simply froze. I mean not a single movement...his body as still and stiff as a chiseled statue. I know this dog really, really well: after all, I was there when he was born, but I was a little shaken by the stillness of his body and the size of his eyes. If you don’t know dogs, you might think, “Oh good, he’s going to cooperate!” but when a dog freezes and gets that very intense look in his eyes, you’ve really got to be cautious about what might happen next.
Meanwhile, his human “ mom” Dana, was chattering and laughing and having the time of her life. She was safely out of reach, watching from an open observation window at the other end of the pool. She had no idea that we were probably seeing the “calm before the storm," and that I was most likely going to get a little beat up very soon. She was watching her “boys” have this wonderful new experience, and smiling and cracking jokes, and enjoying every minute of it.
Willow was adding to the atmosphere, by whining excitedly as she stood on another swim step opposite Reddy. To shut her up, I called her out into the water and watched Reddy watch her as she calmly made laps around the pool. He was still doing his best impression of a marble work of art, and stood completely stiff and still, watching her through gigantic eyes. I spoke softly and calmly to him, and waited for him to shift his attention my way; he appeared to not even know I was there.
I knew he would enter the water and go ballistic, probably scratching off half my skin before I could even get him back to the swim step. I anticipated his attempts to climb up my body and made a mental note to prioritize saving the features on my face over all else. Before I lost my nerve, I thought I’d better just go for it. I told Willow to go stay on a step and gently applied pressure to bring Reddy out into the water toward me…as I slowly pulled him forward he gave me the surprise of my life...he just swam. In perfect form, and without any wasted effort, he looked to me like he might have been channeling Michael Phelps. He simply swam around the pool, with all the grace and calm dignity of his own Aussie mom Willow.
He listened to me when I told him to change directions and followed my hand around the pool when I told him to “target.” He calmly got back onto the step when I asked him to. I’m telling you, this dog was a STAR!
He did try to swim over Willow the first few times she got into the water with him, but when she finally issued a warning growl, he got the message and stopped crowding her. I was astounded by his naturalness and ease in the water and impressed at how willingly he listened to me and took direction. I know he had never even seen a body of water like this before, and he’d certainly never had an opportunity to swim. I’d never before had a dog take so effortlessly to the pool and I’ve not seen one since. Apparently when he’d stood frozen on the swim step watching his mom, it was intense concentration that he was immersed in, not paralyzing fear.
Reddy and Buffet come to swim regularly at the clinic now and both seem to really love it. Buffet has gotten much better at swimming although he still has a little bit of anxiety that makes him a bit of a loose canon in the water. He surprised me by jumping in off the swim step one day just as I was turning toward him and smacked me right in the eye. Sometimes he swims beautifully, but he can also get to slapping wildly at the water on occasion. We introduced the tennis ball to him recently and that‘s made a difference. He retrieves out of the water with the same intensity and determination that he does on dry land and that’s helped him to maintain a steadier forward motion.
Reddy is still Reddy. He still swims today as he did from day one…calmly, with great strength and confidence. He makes a good case for reincarnation, because as you watch him glide calmly through the water, you could swear he lived his last life as a sea otter.
Next up…cool pool safety tips!
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