ABlogAbout Dexter: Adventure Dog, Part 2

Ah yes, my Adventure Dog. We came closer as time went on – car rides became almost tolerable.

He would be so excited to get into the car! He’d bolt out the door, sometimes bypassing his trip over to the neighbor’s house, and shoot straight for the truck. (Side note, it was a really emotional moment the first time that Dexter was able to jump up into the back of the SUV on his own. That was HUGE for a dog with bad hips!) He’d be smiling his real, relaxed smile, not the one where veins popped out on the side of his snout. Then you’d pull away from the curb and immediately he would forget how excited he was to go on an adventure. The horrible barking would start.

The first part of this video gives you a taste of what a car ride was like for us. Fun times!

[The second part of this video, by the way, shows the fabulous Julie Thomas at Doggie Paddle getting Dexter into the water for a little swim therapy. She’s a real trooper for being so patient with him. Another Team Dexter member!]

We once drove up for a weekend on the mountain – about an hour away from our house – and he made that noise the entire way. After we tried yelling at him to (no avail) we turned the radio up full volume. And when that did not work, we put our iPods on and covered our ears with hats and ear muffs. We could still hear him. The SUV was not big enough for that sound. Zeta would sit and look super-annoyed that we had trapped her back there with him. She did not have the benefit of ear muffs.

I’m sure any good dog trainer could pick out four or five things that we really screwed up in our car trips. All the attention we gave him yelling reinforced the behavior. Logically we knew this while we were in the car. But in the moment, you are just desperate to Make. It. Stop. I’d have given him a whole freshly slaughtered chicken if I thought it would occupy him long enough to get us up that mountain.

Nature Dog… or not?

We are so lucky to have the Sandy River Delta Park in our back yard. This is a really amazing place, also known as Thousand Acres Park. Because it is… a thousand acres. It’s right on the Sandy River and there are fields, and trees, and beaches, and wildlife. It’s also almost entirely off leash for dogs. Beyond the parking lot and one of the main thoroughfare paths, dogs can run free. I don’t know how everyone else’s dog reacts to this place, but for ours, it was completely mind-blowing. That pure joy is completely intoxicating to me, and I love, love, loved taking the dogs there.

Dexter enjoying the freedom at Thousand Acres Park (also known as the Sandy River Delta).
Dexter enjoying the freedom at Thousand Acres Park (also known as the Sandy River Delta).

I was initially worried about this trip, for the same reason I was anxious about any walk. Who would we meet? How would the dogs respond? Would people be mad at my dog’s lack of training? Lots of concerns would go through my head. But actually, both of the dogs always did really well there. It was the most adventurous I ever saw Dexter, really. Out in nature smiling and wagging his tail. He clearly loved it there. Even better, he’d get more exercise than most dogs. Where most dogs just ran along on a forward path, my mommy-focused boy would run out a few yards and run back. Run out a few yards and run back. Over and over, he’d traverse the same path three times. Out to explore, back in to tell me about it, back out to explore, back in to make sure I was still coming, back out to explore, etc. etc. This is when it pays to have a Mama’s Boy.

What I really wanted him to do was swim, though. Swimming is such good therapy for dogs with hip problems or hip replacements, just as it is for people. The buoyancy of the water lifts the pressure off of the hips and lets them exercise with less pain. It’s great for recovering from surgery. Besides the therapeutic effect, I wanted Dex to join Zeta in the water and have some fun.

Dexter would have none of it. I should have known. Every time we ventured out to the water, Dexter would just stand there looking perplexed. What, exactly, did I want him to do there? I think he wanted to swim. He looked very interested in following Zeta. But he just wasn’t sure how to go about it. He’d splash about in the water and then just run back on shore. Back to Mama.

But here is where having a mommy-focused dog can work to your advantage. The key to teaching Dex to swim was in how I positioned it. Or, how I positioned ME. If it was me standing on shore throwing a stick, I’d get a blank look. He didn’t like fetch on dry land (another head-scratcher), so why would he run out in that wet stuff to get some random stick now? But if mommy was out in the water, well he DEFINITELY wanted to be there. And if mommy was out far enough that he couldn’t touch the bottom any more…. Viola! Swimming dog!

The problem is that it is rare to find a spot where the water is a tolerable temperature in Oregon. Plus the Willamette is just plain nasty. I think it is back on the River Keepers’ list of most endangered waterways at the moment. Fine for the dogs (maybe), but I sure as heck am not going out there.

But there was one summer when the water in the Columbia was just warm enough that I could get in.

Of course, Mommy had her waterproof camera with her. Would I miss this opportunity?

Here is a video of his first swim

Seriously, there are very few things that I find cuter than a dog swimming. His earnest look! His concern! Oh, it just KILLS me! You can’t see it, but underneath the water I am being rammed by the claws of a giant dog. He was swimming, but he was not good at stopping – which coincidentally is exactly how my two experiences trying to ski turned out. So I get what was going on there. 🙂

With laser focus on the fowl, Dexter takes off swimming.
With laser focus on the fowl, Dexter takes off swimming.

Once we’d done this dance a couple of times, he got more interested in it. Didn’t really swim a lot, but there was one time when he saw some ducks swimming just out of reach and took off after them… that was a sweet moment. Another cute moment? On that same swim when he realized how far out he’d gone and turned around with a look of utter shock.

"Wait what??? How the hell did I get all the way out here?" Our hero heads back to shore.
“Wait what??? How the hell did I get all the way out here?” Our hero heads back to shore.
Size Matters
On one camping trip, we ran into a St. Bernard. Look who’s taller!

Also not on Dexter’s bucket list? Camping. Time away from home, sleeping on the ground? No thanks. We did try to take him a few times. He was unimpressed. To him, the best part of the whole ordeal was the way we’d fly every which way when he bounded onto the air mattress with us. Every. Single. Time. He’d jump up on it and off we’d fly. But by God he was going to be on that mattress, because Dexter was not going to be sleeping on the ground. Noooooo, even on a queen air mattress, he would be joining us. He made a very good space heater, though.

So I had the only retriever that didn’t like water, and refused to fetch. Not an adventure dog.

Truth is, when I look back on it, I see that Dexter didn’t have much of a sense of play after his first surgery.

After Zeta passed and we got Logan, things changed a bit. Puppies are just relentless in their pursuit of fun. Dexter was only a few months out from his latest (and last) hip surgery, but he was still patient as a saint. A determined, overwhelmingly happy puppy, Logan persisted and eventually Dexter unleashed his sense of play. It made me so happy to see Dexter ROMP around the room with Logan. Never in a million years did I ever expect to see that. But it was hard to ignore the puppy my brother dubbed a Big Ball of Happy. Another amazing dog, worthy of his own story one day. I’m forever grateful to him for teaching Dexter that play can be fun.

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