Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Hunting Dog Swims!

With my wife, Stacy, teaching summer school, I had taken my kids to Ithaca for a week at my dad’s lake house. Stacy finished teaching on Thursday, and went north to join us for that evening, for Friday (summer school runs Monday through Thursday), and for Saturday morning. To the great joy of the kids, Stacy took the dog along.

Cocoa was thrilled to visit the lake cottage. There must have been thousands of new smells there, and she was clearly impressed to stand over a body of water that was larger than her water dish. That’s where the real fun of Cocoa’s visit came in: My daughter decided it was important for Cocoa to discover her natural swimming ability.

As a Chocolate Lab, Cocoa is designed to float and swim easily in cold water. Thing of it is, she didn’t grow up floating and swimming in any water. I insisted that my daughter should coax Cocoa with patience. I’ve never read books on the subject of introducing dogs to swimming, nor have I seen instructional video. But I have seen several dogs who got into the water more quickly than they wanted to, and then refused ever again to swim.

I’d like to tell you that we walked down to the dock, waded into the lake, and Cocoa bobbed in after us, demonstrating her genetically-superior propensity for swimming. Of course, I can’t. We spent the better part of an hour wading into thigh-deep water, encouraging her to follow. Cocoa was obviously anxious to join us, but she pioneered every possible route along the rocks and dock to get near us without actually standing in water.

My oldest son and my daughter both swam into deeper water in hope that being farther away would increase Cocoa’s incentive to swim. This was no small sacrifice: The temperature of Cayuga Lake water in early June can’t be much above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the days last week were overcast and chilly. For all their efforts, Cocoa remained enthusiastic and dry.

In her defense, the lake shore at my dad’s cottage is very uneven and rocky. The only wading entrances require a final step into water deep enough to touch Cocoa’s stomach. I suspect if she could wade down a gentle incline into the lake, she’d be less timid about the wetness.

My daughter would not abandon her dream. This morning, we were down at the lake again, encouraging Cocoa to join us in the water. After what must have been another hour of calling and cooing and otherwise making fools of ourselves, we finally coaxed her in—first standing in water up to her chest, and then swimming in short half-circles.

I don’t see Cocoa entering Olympic swimming events any time soon—or even retrieving birds from swamps. Still, I’m pretty sure the expression on her face and the bounce in her step when she got out of the lake were the canine equivalent of a fist pump and a high-five.

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