Water for dogs

You think Labrador Retrievers are naturally born swimmers? They’re not.

For a couple of weeks now, Masha has a new fried – a yellow Lab called Indra, whose human family, an elderly lady, just moved here.

Indra is a year older than Masha, and also the more fidgety, high-energy type of Lab, a superfast sprinter, fearless and frontal – and at the same time extremely kind and gentle, especially with humans.

She’s also very obedient – unlike Masha, to the point where she would wait for a command even in situations that demand urgent, independent decisions and responses. Her total lack of stubborness makes her very comfortable to walk with, but also a bit helpless and disoriented when the human fails to give clear directions, or makes obvious errors of judgment.

However, as we discovered today: Indra can’t swim.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to – she’s drawn to the water, and as long as her paws have contact with the ground, she enjoys every splash and drop. But in deeper waters, she struggles, paddling desperately to keep herself afloat, using only her front legs and therefore failing.

When we realized she cannot swim, we were a bit dumbfounded. Ever since Masha had discovered that the water would support her, there have been no limits to her swimming. Nobody has ever tought her – and to us, this was just natural: she’s a Lab after all, and they are known to be powerful, enduring swimmers from early puppyhood, and are often hard to keep out of the water.

So how can it be that Indra can’t swim? Apparently, she’s never learned how.

Masha seemed much less surprised, and much more vigilant, maybe because she already knew – and when Indra lost ground contact, Masha was quickly at her side and under her to bring her, piggyback, back into shallow water. Now we have seen her doing that before, with both humans and dogs, and I know her sense of distress in others is very reliable.

Another rather surprising difference between the two is that Indra looks around when searching for things, whereas Masha always only ”follows her nose”, quite literally. As a result, it is almost always Masha who finds first whatever we let them search for, like a heat-seeking missile – and it is also Masha who senses the presence of other animals or humans before anyone else does, and finds hidden treasures like sheep bones buried underground.

Why, though, would a dog search with her eyes while having a much more acute and precise sense available? In many ways, Indra seems to have learned her behavior primarily from humans, and much of her dog skills and powers seem suppressed and underdeveloped.

We’ll see how this develops when she’s spent a little more time with Masha. We’re taking her out two times a day, and let the dogs play and explore together.