How Sebastian Learned to Swim

I’d like to introduce you all to Sebastian, my 8 year old border collie whom I’ve had since he was 10 weeks old. Yes, this is the infamous butt licker mentioned in my last post.

photo of a blue-eyed smooth coat border collie wearing a blue neck scarf and standing in a field of wild flowers in Oklahoma.
My Handsome Boy

Sebastian has led a pretty cushy life so far. He was adopted directly from his birth mother and treated like many other dogs in America who are raised by pup mom’s who don’t have full-time human children of their own. In other words, he’s what I call “well-cared for,” and what some might call spoiled. Plus, as the dog of dog trainer, he gets all of the best gear and treats, high-rated food, daily walks and training sessions, and plenty of play dates with other dogs. He even has a health care plan. But, our all time favorite thing to do together is to go hiking and camping.

Yesterday, I took him out to Red Rock Canyon State Park in Oklahoma to go for a day hike with his friend Darby. My friend, Darby’s mom, and I had simply planned to do a short 3.6 mile hike along the canyon rim, and maybe take some cute pictures of our dogs playing together. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

The park is only about an hour drive from my home in Oklahoma City. And storms from the day before had cooled the morning air and replenished the soil leaving us to believe it would be a perfect day to get out into the wild. I rose early and got all of the essentials packed: water, Skratch Lab electrolytes for me, snacks for my dog, sunscreen, Kurgo dog boots, walking harness, dog seat belt, leash, absorbent travel towel, first aid kit for people, first aid kit for dogs, collapsable dog water bowl, knife, compass, whistle, lighter, pepper spray and an extra hair tie. I downloaded the trail map, charged my phone and smart watch, and asked Sebastian the most magical question he knows, “Do you wanna go for a ride?”

He twirled excitedly, pounced a little and ran to door. Ironically, Sebastian doesn’t really like to go for long car rides because he gets a little queazy on the highway. But any road trip that leads to an outdoor adventure is absolutely worth it to him. We loaded the car and when Darby arrived we headed out. At first, the trail was well-shaded and the temperature felt great. But, after getting about a half-mile in, the trail became quite exposed and the heat index reached about 97 degrees Fahrenheit. The pups were miserable. They kept trying to duck under bushes and Darby even tried to dig a hole under a bush to lay down and cool off. Even with plenty of water, we knew the dogs were at risk of heat exhaustion and we decided to head back to the cars and develop a “Plan B.” Wanting to cool off we decided to head to another state park with a lake about 25 miles away.

Trying to Cool Off

While Darby is well-known for his love of swimming in lakes, Sebastian is notorious for avoiding getting even the slightest bit wet. This is a dog who won’t step in a two millimeter puddle in the street, hates baths, and has panic attacks when he sees me swimming in any body of water, even a hot tub. (To this behavior I just role my eyes and think, this dog doesn’t have enough real problems in his life.) So, when we decided to head to Ft. Cobb Lake, I knew Sebastian would be glad to continue his adventuring, but would not be thrilled about getting near a lake.

When we arrived, a short two-trek road led to a nice shaded place where we could sit, put our feet in the water and toss a floatable toy for Darby to retrieve. As we played with Darby, I explained that Sebastian has always hated water, that I’ve tried everything, and that after eight years I’d pretty much given up hope. This attempt wasn’t shaping up to be a success either, as he’d just witnessed me slip on a rock in the water and bang up my elbow. But, my friend said that Darby had a unique ability to get dogs to do things and said we should at least try. Reluctantly, I took off Sebastian’s harness and clipped his leash to his collar. Meanwhile, Darby was attempting to retrieve a stick six times bigger than himself and showing off his mad water skills. We found a less slippery approach to the water’s edge and to my surprise, Sebastian looked me right in eyes, stepped in the water, and then walked out a little ways to meet me, seemingly unperturbed! Since Darby was busy trying to show a log who was boss, I unclipped Sebastian’s leash, grabbed a water toy and tossed it passed Sebastian, whom to my surprise and delight, chased it into the water and brought it back to me for another round of fetch!  And he did the same again and again and again. This went on until the sun started to set and it was time to start packing up. Sebastian was soaked, dirty, happy panting and very pleased with himself. And my cup was filled to the brim.

Water Baby

Some of you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? The dog got in the water. Big whup!” But having a dog who is afraid of something can be exceptionally frustrating because, unlike a person, you cannot simply talk to and explain to a dog that there is nothing to be afraid of, and that they can trust you to keep them safe. With dogs, you have to prove to them time and again that you are trustworthy and that you’ll protect them as they protect you. Perhaps Sebastian chose to play in the water because he wanted to have as much fun as Darby. Or perhaps after rescuing him from the sweltering heat on the trail, Sebastian finally learned to trust that I would never do anything to trick or endanger him. Perhaps it was just the perfect combination of circumstances. But that’s the thing with dogs… you’ll never really know. What I do know is that after my well-laid plans failed miserably, my seriously stubborn and somewhat spoiled adult dog overcame a lifelong fear and discovered a whole new world of joy.  I wonder how long it will take him to learn the magic of the words, “Do you wanna go for a swim?”


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