All the handlers, including myself, had been bitching to the trainers about running every morning because it was hot as hell. The run kept getting longer too. This was understandable, as both the dogs and handlers needed to be in top physical condition in preparation for operating in the mountains of Afghanistan. Understandable? Yes. Fun? Not on your life. The trainers decided to take us swimming with our dogs, as it is great exercise, and the change of pace was welcome. I had memories of swimming with Gunner, my Chocolate Lab of 14 years (miss you buddy), and we always had such a great time in the water.
We showed up at the park, which was located on the river by Laguna Dam, and changed into our swimming apparel. We made our way down to the water, dogs in harnesses on their long lines. The idea was to play fetch into the water for a while to get the dogs used to swimming. We all lined up along the beach with some space between each dog team, and chucked our balls out into the water. Fama charged the water, took about 2 steps off the beach, and turned right around, coming back up onto the sand. She looked at me, eyes saying, “I hope you don’t think that I’m going in THERE after that ball, do you? Because that is NOT going to happen.”
I sacrificed that first ball to the river gods. I had put some arm into the throw, and didn’t feel like swimming all the way out there to get it. I took a second ball out, don’t ask where I had it stored, and got Fama all worked up with it, tossing it around and teasing her. I flipped it underhand into the water right at the edge. Fama raced to the edge, and then tip toed out one more step with just her front feet in the water, stretching her neck to reach the ball, and jumped straight backwards 6 feet until she was on dry land. It took me a good 3 minutes to get the ball back. I tried several more times to tempt her into the water with the ball, with no progress. I got in first and tried to call her to me. She would get excited and bark, whine, warble, and jump around, but she refused to get into the water. We were going to have to do this the hard way. I was glad I had a shirt on.
I took her by the harness and gave the SHOULDER command, at which time I put her up on my left shoulder and headed into the water. She was just fine up there, looking around, digging her nails into my skin to establish a more stable position. The water got up to my waist and touched her back feet, which were tucked into the back of my trunks. Feeling the water touch her paws, Fama tried to climb on top of my head. I felt like a beanstalk, with Jack’s sister Julie trying to climb me using her brand new Lee Press-On Nails for grip. She came around the front with her feet on my chest, trying to face the shore. I stopped her with my hand on her harness. Then she backed up a little and tried to go over my head. When I restrained her, she just pulled harder. I brought her off my shoulder and cradled her in my arms, bending at the knees to lower her gently into the water. I could feel the sting of the claw marks as I entered the water.
Here is my fearless Military Working Dog, ears back, sorrowfully whimpering, trying desperately to get back to the shore. Her feet were thrashing in the water against my stomach and legs. I could feel the scratches multiplying by the second, so I let her go. She sensed her chance to make a break for it and poured on the steam. I had her leash in my hand and I let her have about 10 feet of slack and stopped her forward progress. Now we’re swimming, not the way I had hoped it would go, but it would have to do for now. I floated a ball towards her head, and she snapped it up like an alligator, continuing to flail towards the shoreline in vain. I let her in to the beach to have a break and got my ball back.
We continued “swimming” for about an hour, with frequent breaks on the beach. I kept letting her have her ball once we got out into the water, and she started to lighten up after a few repetitions. She wouldn’t go into the water on her own accord, but the protests grew less and less over the course of the afternoon. After we were done swimming, I took Fama up to the parking lot and played some ball in the sun to help her dry off. Fama was not the only dog with swimming issues. Several of us stood in the parking lot comparing scratches. Tired and hungry, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and some sleep.