It’s getting cold out, and this is a distinctly warm weather post, so I thought I’d better get it off before the first freeze. These are the stories of Sawyer’s first adventures in the water.

German Shorthaired Pointers (or GSPs) are considered a versatile breed. They are technically a pointing breed, which means they are bred to find birds, point them and remain in that position until released. This is contrasted with flushing breeds like Brittanys, that basically charge around scaring up birds indiscriminately (I think) and retrievers like Labs who are supposed to wait quietly in cover until there is a dead bird to be collected, usually from a body of water, and returned to the hunter. However, GSPs have a dense, water resistant undercoat and webbed feet, making the breed good water dogs too.

Now, I don’t really want to hunt waterfowl. Lying in a blind, on the bank of some nearly-frozen pond waiting for the birds to come in sounds awful to me. And what if none come? Then you’re just a really cold guy lying around with a bunch of other really cold guys, some of whom (me) probably fell asleep while waiting. At least an upland hunter who doesn’t see a bird all day still got some exercise, and is notably less gay.

Regardless, I’d like it if Sawyer enjoyed swimming. I’m not sure why. An affection for water seems like a quintessential big-dog trait to me. I assume he’d eventually start swimming on his own, but letting things happen organically isn’t my style. I prefer forcing my dog into situations he may or may not be ready to work through yet. So, we started taking him to the river.

We’ve been three or four times. It started out fairly innocently, with Jerrica and me telling ourselves we wouldn’t drag him into the water, but instead letting him go at his own pace. But damn that pace was slow. We started by wading into the water with rolled pant legs, splashing at the water with our hands, making those ridiculous sounds people make to indicate fun to a dog. Are those really fun sounds? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t have any fun making them. Regardless, Sawyer ignored us and sniffed around on the shore.

Decision time: should we let him ignore us, therefore claiming power over the situation for himself or pick him up, carry him into a deeper spot and drop him? We opted to carry him in; the drunk hardass in me (he lives within us all) thought something like “he needs to learn to deal with stress.”

I carried him to a good spot and dropped him in. He swam, sort of, with his front paws coming out of the water with each kick and splashing back down. It wasn’t pretty, but it got him to the nearest rock, which he promptly climbed on in order to escape the water. We called him, he howled back. Rafters floating by watched as we tortured our pet.

The next time was about the same, but I was alone, making the family fun atmosphere even less present. That trip did yield one positive, however. Sawyer found a good stick (henceforth known as The Stick), that I found was a good way to get him to swim out into the river. That’s right. Sawyer didn’t want to swim, so I stole his new favorite toy and chucked it into the water. I then smiled at him and made those absurd noises again. He obliged a few times, but soon tired of the game, and probably of me. We headed for home.

Over the next few weeks we made a few more trips to the water. They were all about the same. I began to worry that the water was too cold for him, a fear that only compounded with the slowly chilling air. But one day, I got out of work early, and we were having a week of unseasonably warm weather. We took Sawyer to the river, and, for the first time, he swam out to us when we made the excited noises. He stayed in the water too, rarely retreating to the shore and not howling at all.

This was no great thing, and I don’t want to make it sound that way, but it was pretty cool. Like the whole purpose of this blog in microcosm. There are a lot of wrong ways to do things – dropping a dog in the water and letting him figure it out is certainly one of them – but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. I think we’re probably done swimming until the spring, but I think he’ll remember the drill when the warm months come around again.

– Matt