October 20, 2013

I just have to share this! I feel like a proud mother whose kid just said its first word! My dog Sam got his feet wet in the sea this morning, and didn’t freak out!!!

He even lay at the tide line and allowed a few little waves to lap at him before moving!

Owners of Labradors and Golden retrievers will read that and wonder what the big deal is, people who know Sam will be cheering him on.

He’s a special boy, lacking good early socialization, he was a nervous wreck when I met him with a view to being a temporary foster for him. (Note: emphasis on Temporary and Foster!) He was returned to Hong Kong Dog Rescue by his owner who realized he was no longer able to properly take good care of him. They clearly loved each other and I know it was a tough decision, but the right one in this instance.  A nervous, under-socialized, one-year-old German Shepherd mix not getting enough exercise or stimulation has potential to go horribly wrong in some way.

Anyway, back to the sea… Sam has always been nervous of waves and has maintained a distance, probably about two metres to begin with, and over time diminishing to about a metre. This is a fairly calm sea I’m talking about, gentle waves – rough sea and any crashing waves, and he’s further back and possibly jumping back in surprise at a big one. High tide often means I can’t sit in my favourite waterfront cafe spot as Sam is unsettled and trying to escape the scary waves. He spent his early months at HKDR’s place on Lamma, so whether he was frightened by waves in some way during that time, or if it’s just down to his general nervousness, I have no idea, and it doesn’t really matter. I still have the same dog either way.

Some people teach their dogs to swim by just picking them up and taking them in. That can work for some, but with a nervous dog it’s not necessarily the best option, They have to do stuff in their own time. I tried the carrying in method years ago with Cookie, my last dog. She got out, threw me a dirty look and took herself to the back of the beach, she stayed well clear of me if I was near the tide line for weeks. I took that as a big “NO!” and she lived out her days as a non-swimmer, just dipping her belly in to cool off sometimes. With this knowledge, I’ve never even considered doing this with Sam. I really don’t care if he learns to swim or not, it’s up to him. It pains me to see people forcing their dog to swim when the dog is clearly hating the experience.

We have recently been visiting a small pond where he has learned that water is not too scary when it stays still. At first he would dip a toe in and bark at the ripples, then run around like a mad thing and come back and do it again. There’s something very endearing about such a big, tough-looking dog being so delightfully wussy. Over time he has waded out for sticks until he’s just within his depth, and has learned that he can cool off by lying in the shallows.

Today is the first time he seems to have transferred what he’s learned in still water to the sea, and it was a pleasure to see. He’s only really gone ankle-deep so far, but any step towards overcoming a fear is cause for celebration.

Well done Sam, you’re a Big Brave Boy!

Jill Eason has lived and worked in Hong Kong for many years. She runs 'For the Love of Dog' with the aim of helping HK's dogs and people get the best from each other. Jill holds a Certificate of Canine Studies from the Seattle School of Canine Studies, Washington USA.