See Jax (Choose Not To) Swim

Today I took Jax for his first session at a new canine swimming facility near our house. I have followed them on Facebook since their February opening and finally decided to take the stir crazy pup for a much-needed exercise session that did not involve the 109 outdoor heat  index.

The lobby was warm and welcoming with a series of dog gates that allowed different dogs to be in their own gated area, alleviating the frenzy of multiple dogs coming in and out of the door like at some animal friendly institutions. A friendly young woman in a wet suit greeted us and took us back to the swimming area, which contained a large above ground pool and a wooden deck. The decor was adorable, much like at the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chains, reminding me of a vacation in the Florida keys. I could not wait to get the puppy in the water!

After removing his collar and fitting him in his bright yellow flotation vest we headed up the stairs to the pool. Or at least the humans did. Jax wouldn’t budge. We tried treats. We tried jumping up and down with joy. We tried his reliable recall. Finally after ten minutes he climbed the stairs to the pool area.

In retrospect I wish I had visited the facility before I took Jax, because the entry into the pool would have prompted the thought that Jax was not going to like this. We did a good job of making him open to new experiences, but he usually digs in his paws when it comes to going up or down stairs that he cannot see well. Entry into the pool was down a steep beige ramp that had lots of textured grooves to prevent slipping. The other option was to go down the plastic pool stairs that were 10 inches tall. Knowing my pup the way I do, he wasn’t going to do either.

The swim trainers tried with treats and toys to get him into the water. I tossed a tennis ball near him and although I could see it in his eyes that he wanted that ball, he was too afraid to make leap. I asked if other people had issues like this and what they did, and one trainer said they basically give their dog a little nudge in the rear and the dog just went right down the ramp. We tried that and Jax dug in his nails and would not budge. I gave that up quickly so as to not ruin his trust or make him even more fearful.

In the end we spent our 30 minute session unsuccessfully trying to get Jax into the water and he refused the entire time. You could tell he was thinking about it. He would approach the pool, stare me in the eyes while I called him and tried to get him to come to me. Then he would walk in a circle, get a drink from the water bowl, and come back to the pool. I wish I knew what was going on in his mind. His body language told me this was stressful to him, so we ended our session,  paid our $40 and left for home.

I cannot be upset at him. This was just for his fun…after all, he’s a labrador! He was meant for swimming. But I understand his hesitancy to make the leap into the unknown. I could see the desire in his eyes to get into that water. I could see that he wanted to trust me as he kept nearly continual eye contact with me, but in the end he just could not force himself to jump in.

I am glad he is smart about where he goes and the situation in which he places himself. When he was young and nursing his broken leg our breeder talked about how she was so amazed that he was instinctively so careful with his leg and he did not put any pressure on it until it started to heal. She was right that he is a special dog. His intelligence astounds me and I saw a different, insightful side of my puppylove today.

I am not sure if we will go back to the pool, although I would highly recommend it to anyone whose dog will enter the pool. Now we will start looking for a lake for him to swim. It is harder in the suburbs than it would be in the country, but we will find a way to get our boy into the water. After all he is our Aquadog; his webbed feet just have not found the right spot to push-off to make the leap.

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