Our Black Lab puppy Bête Noir is exuberant, perhaps even excessively so, in nearly every way except one: she has shown no interest in swimming. Thanks to our friend John Bailey and his two water-loving dogs, Keel and Buddy, Bête at nine months learned to wade in a pond, but she was emphatically not going to follow their example and swim. She remained a wader, and not even a very deep-water wader at that.
Now, I don't want you to get the impression that I was concerned about this characteristic of hers. I was completely reconciled to owning the only Lab in the entire US that didn't swim. I told myself that it wasn't really that big a deal: I could always shave, and then none of my friends would recognize me, any more than they did after I grew a beard. So I was stoically prepared to have a non-swimming Lab.
Several days ago, just after Bête became nine months old, the two of us went out to Jennings Pond in Danby, NY, where there is a swimming beach marked off with guard ropes. It was late enough that the life guard had gone home. Given that Bête always wants to go where I go, I reasoned, I would wade around with her and at some point perhaps wade out to where she would have to swim. As we splashed around together, she gradually waded in deeper, to the point where she could just touch the fine gravel bottom.
Then she decided it would be fun to bite the little buoys spaced every three feet or so to keep the swimming area's boundary lines afloat. I did say that she's exuberant, right? Starting about ankle deep, she lunged and bit the first one, in a foot or so of water. She then lunged and bit the second one, in a foot and a half or so of water. I hit the third one with my hand to give it some motion, and she lunged for it, mouth agape. Surprise! No bottom under her paws! She look startled but not scared as she dog paddled forward and bit that buoy as well, then turned around and swam back to the bank. A few minutes later, in she went again, and she appeared altogether comfortable swimming from then on.
I then tossed a dummy out where she could wade. She brought it in and dropped it. Good girl! I tossed it a bit farther out, but still where she could wade. She brought that back, and dropped it. Good girl! The third toss was into deeper water, but not far out. She promptly waded in and then with no hesitation swam for it and brought it back. Good girl! Not wanting to press my luck, I stopped there.
Caroline said after I got home that I was beaming like a proud father!