When I was a boy, I had the greatest dog a boy could have — B.D. His initials stood for “Big Dog,” which is probably why you shouldn’t let a 9 year old name a dog. B.D. was fiercely loyal and protective of me. I couldn’t even play pick-up football with my buddies in the neighborhood if B.D. was with us, as he saw any attempt to tackle me as a declaration of war, something my childhood friend Jason can attest to, probably with a still-evident scar on his head.
B.D., a German shepherd, was also an amazing swimmer. He loved the water. It did make it somewhat difficult to swim when he would actually go down underwater and try and move me to the surface, but we eventually came to this understanding: I would stay on the surface when he was around.
B.D. went to the big swimming hole in the sky when I was in high school. When I was in college, I got a new dog, Montgomery, a purebred Alabama dumpster hound. Montgomery took the torch from B.D. and became Loyal Companion No. 2 in my life. Montgomery never left my side. He was a tenacious tennis ball fetcher and unbeatable Frisbee catcher. And, like B.D., he loved the water. My wife and I were dating at the time, and we used to take him to a creek near campus. Montgomery would spend all day in the water, swimming up and down the creek, fetching sticks we threw to him and retrieving them as if the very safety of the world depended upon it. When we would leave the creek, he would crash in my then-girlfriend’s lap, sleeping the happy sleep of an exhausted pooch who had no doubt saved the world.
Which brings us to our two current contestants.
Murphy the Excitable Dachshund and Maddux the Stoic Boxer are, on most levels, outstanding dogs. Murphy is pushing 10 years old, so he is not quite as spry as young Maddux, who is about 4. But both are very loving and loyal dogs. They are obedient and well behaved (unless you leave them near a trash can with some delicious smelling dinner remnants, which, let’s be honest, is really my fault and not theirs).
But there is one thing they are both desperately lacking in the total dog package: They are terrified of water.
I wasn’t aware of this until about a year ago. I didn’t take them around water much, so they never really had a chance to experience it. We used to have a pool, but dogs were not allowed in my pool. This rule was established early on in our time at the house, when Montgomery was still alive. I was enjoying a leisurely backstroke one evening, and Montgomery saw it as a perfect time to do a doggie cannonball right on top of me. From that point forward, if the pool was in use, the gates right around the pool were closed.
Fast forward to about a year ago (Fast forward? To the past? Yeah, just go with me.) We moved to the coast and live about three minutes from the beach. We go to the beach often and take the dogs with us more often than not. And, if they could tell the story, I am sure that they would tell you that we take them up close and personal to a giant pool of lava.
On their first few trips there, they were terrified of the water. They yelped. They tugged on their leashes. Pretty sure Maddux tried to call the SPCA.
I can only assume that B.D. and Montgomery are in the great big dog park in the sky, slowly shaking their heads, collectively saying, “What are you? Cats?”
All around us, dogs are running into the surf with reckless abandon, splashing and frolicking and doing, you know, what dogs do. My dogs, meanwhile, are standing there shivering, acting like I tried to get them to go into the T-Rex enclosure.
Over time, I have gotten them to inch closer to the water. Maddux does this very unflattering tap dance every time a wave gets near him, and Murphy keeps trying to drink the water, as if each sip will yield a different result. Sigh.
I will continue my efforts to get them acclimated to the water, and my hope is that at least one of them will embrace his inner dog and get out there and swim like the mighty dog warrior he is.
Or, I guess I may have to accept the fact that not all dogs were meant for water. Because some of them are, apparently, cats.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.