Sometimes when you just get into a mode, you can forget how amazing things are. I’d kind of forgotten that swimming with my dog isn’t typical and isn’t something most people would think of, or do, or know anything about. For those of you who haven’t heard, I regularly train with my dog, Guri (pronounced GRRRR-ee), and we were just invited to participate in our first ever race together. TOGETHER!!! The two of us! So, on August 17th, Guri and I will be tackling the 5-mile swim across Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Guri even made the Daily News of Open Water Swimming http://dailynews.openwaterswimming.com/2013/07/guri-bosch-paddling-pet.html, because she’s just THAT amazing.
I know that there are tons of questions out there, so I’ve lined up an interview for you and Guri and me. We’ll do our best to answer all of your questions about what it takes to be an open water dog.
You: Tell us how this story began. How did you select Guri? What kind of dog is she, and did you want to have a dog to swim with you all along?
Me: I wish I could say that I had planned this. That I, somehow, chose my chocolate labrador retriever based on the breed’s affinity for water, and I selectively picked Guri to be my dog because of her obvious ability to learn to swim alongside of me for miles and miles. Ha ha! It was not so complicated as all of that. The truth is, I wanted a brown dog… to match my eyes. So I got one.
Guri: Hey. It’s me, Guri. You know, you could throw this ball right here. You can throw it, and I’ll go get it for you. That’s a fun game. It’s really fun. You could throw this ball. If you want. Please, please, please throw this ball? See how cute I am? This ball. It’s a really, really fun game.
You: So you didn’t think about swimming at all when you got Guri? How old was she?
Me: I got her when she was 6-8 weeks old. It astounds me to realize this, but swimming wasn’t really a part of the equation three years ago. I had just done my first ever event, an 8 mile swim. I was just barely beginning to dream about swimming the English Channel.
Guri: Here’s the ball I want you to throw. I’ll leave it on the couch by your leg. It’s a really fun game. I promise I’ll get it if you throw this ball. I will. It’s a really fun game.
You: So if swimming wasn’t a part of the equation, how did it come about that you guys began swimming together?
Me: Ha! It’s funny, but I remember my dear friend, Judy, who had two Siberian Huskies at the time and was becoming involved in dog sledding, saying to me, “Why don’t you teach your dog to swim alongside of you?” And I remember thinking that that was nuts. I mean, I knew that chocolate labs have webbed paws and are water dogs. They retrieve things from the water; that’s what they do. But I wasn’t going to swim short distances and taking a dog on even a mile swim seemed like a long swim. But, you know, my schedule was getting crazy because swimming became a huge part of my life rather quickly. And juggling work and a dog, well it didn’t seem fair to have a dog that I never did anything with. So I just decided that I would take her to the lake with me, one day.
You: How old was she then?
Me: She was probably almost a year old, maybe a little bit older.
Guri: …Don’t you SEE this ball?
You: How did that first swim go?
Me: … It was rough. He he – you might call it my first adventure swim! We went to the Chittenden Reservoir and there’s an island about 300-400 yards out. I thought that would be an easy start for her. So I suited up: swimsuit, goggles, cap and off I go, toward the island. Well, Guri kind of freaked out.
Guri: It just looked like you were drowning. That’s all.
Me: She panicked and whined and swam hard after me.
Guri: If you die, who will feed me?
Me: And, of course, I was slower than death, so she caught me, but that wasn’t good enough she HAD to jump on me. So I had to stop and talk to her and calm her down and then start swimming again. And we’d swim a little ways, and then she’d jump on me again.
Guri: Well, you should know… but, well… you swim with your face in the water. How are you going to see with your face in the water?
Me: I realized that it was all a bad idea. So I went back to shore and got her ball.
Guri: Like this ball. This ball. By your leg. If you throw it, I’ll get it.
Me: So then we made our way to the island by going for the ball. Every time she would bring it back I would throw it out again. It took a while and was a hard swim for me with all the stopping and starting and treading water and throwing… but starting out, that was what we needed. We made it just fine to the island and back three or four times that day. It took us hours.
Guri: It was fun. I like swimming. You know what else I like?
You: Wow. So how many swims did you do like that? With the ball throwing?
Me: I think there was only one other. That time I brought her a soft duck chew toy. And, boy oh boy, did she love that duck.
Guri: I love ducks. I love them. I love swimming. I love food. I love this ball. I love you, too. You can pet me. I love it when you pet me.
Me: Anyway, she could carry the duck in her mouth and for whatever reason, it gave her a purpose and she didn’t seem to need to jump on me. That made the swim much easier. We got a lot farther a lot faster. That was when I noticed that by the time we got to the end of the swim, her hind quarters were sinking.
Guri: That’s bad, when your butt starts to sink. It’s not good body position. See cause you mostly pull yourself forward with your front paws and just do a two-beat kick with your back legs. If your hips start to sink, then you’re just dragging your body through the water. Don’t use your tail to swim, whatever you do.
You: What did you do about her sinking?
Me: It took a bit, but I found Guri a wetsuit. I mean, a life vest.
Guri: Yeah, I swim with a wetsuit. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t judge dogs who swim without them – unless they smell bad or smell really good or are trying to be dominant or are aggressive or look like they want to take my ball or are wimpy so I could dominate them or don’t like water or don’t want to play…
Me: Anyway, since we got the wetsuit, we can swim for quite a while with no problems. The only thing is, I guess Guri will have to have an asterisk next to her name in every race!
Guri: Um… If you don’t throw this ball, how can I bring it back to you?
You: So you are doing a race! How did you manage that one?
Guri: Do you see how cute I am?
Me: Ever since we started swimming together, I’ve wanted to do an event with Guri. It’s just such fun to train with her. She was my first ever swim buddy. She watches out for me. She goes where I go, at the speed I want. She’s just the best! It’d be almost too bad, when you train as hard as we do, to not have her get the chance to have the glory that’s due her, right? So one day we’re up swimming with Phil who puts on all the swims in the Northeast Kingdom and he thought Guri and I swimming together was the best thing ever! So he asked us to do Willoughby – a 5 mile race. I had to take Guri to the vet anyway, so I made sure to check with him about it, but he said it should be fine. We signed up just a couple weeks ago and there we go! It’s very exciting.
You: That’s a great story. Is there anything else we should know about swimming with a dog?
Guri: Don’t use your tail or you’ll get swimmer’s tail.
Me: Swimmer’s tail was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to Guri from swimming. Basically she somehow sprained her tail, and I think it’s more likely to happen in colder water. I think she moved her tail too much to keep warm or tried to use it to swim faster – like a beaver uses their tail to swim. Anyway, she was panting and in so much pain for at least 24 hours after that she could hardly sit and couldn’t sleep. Poor girl. It’s something to be aware of, if you plan to swim with your dog. It might be breed specific. I’m not sure about that. That was probably the most bizarre thing I learned about swimming with dogs: swimmer’s tail. Who knew? Other than that, let’s see, we aren’t a perfect swim pair. We stumble over each other a bit. She tries to herd me toward the shore, I have to sometimes shove her away from me. It’s an adventure, for sure, and I’m sure that there’s tons we still have to learn together.
Guri: I love swimming. I love the drying off part too. I love eating after. I love eating before. I love this ball by your leg. Just try throwing it. Look how cute I am. Don’t you want to play that really fun game? Don’t you trust me? It’s really fun…