Update and Comments: 14 February 2020

Pavlov and the salivating dog scenario

Well, our dear Kelly, who is now 16 months old and an almost fully grown, very spoilt and rather bolshy German Shepherd, has finally decided that the pool can be a lot of fun. It has been a bit of an effort to get her to realise that, if she gets in on the top step, she can stand quite comfortably. Ever since she was a young puppy, she has had an obsession with water. She was the only member of her puppy socialisation class who raced straight over to the large bowl of water in the middle of their cordoned off area and proceeded to splash around like a lunatic. Here at home, being sprayed all over whilst the garden is being watered, is the fun activity on a hot afternoon, but this summer she has been reticent about getting into our pool.

Allthough last summer we did manage to encourage her to venture into the pool on two occasions, she made sure to get as far away as possible from me each time I had a swim. Obviously dreading my trying to get her to join me. So, last week, we decided that it was time to get her over that barrier of avoidance and try to coax her into the water. After all, we are heading towards the end of summer, so it’s now or never. My better half (so named for this article at least!) put the chain on Kelly and she soon decided to slide onto the top step of the pool. That first day we didn’t force any swimming, but she seemed to enjoy the wading around for several minutes, before trying to clamber out on her own. She has serious hip dysplasia (which was never revealed to us by the breeder) and swimming is highly recommended for her.

On day two, as soon as she had the chain around her neck, it did the trick and she didn’t need to be chased around the garden. I removed the chain as soon as she was in the pool and that day, I actually pulled her off the top step and she swam like an Olympic athlete and appeared to be very proud of her achievement. We had decided that we should put a few layers of bricks on the top step to assist her so that, instead of her having to struggle with her weak back legs, she is able to clamber out with her dignity intact.

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The point I am making here is that, when one looks at how relatively easy it is to teach a young dog, then Pavlov’s theory of Classical Conditioning is certainly what it’s all about. She associates the chain with the fun of getting into the water. Fortunately, there is no food involved in Kelly’s swimming training, so it is far more pleasant to see her doing her strong strokes in the water than salivating all over the place! Maybe I will soon be able to show her the chain without actually putting it around her neck, and she will get into the pool with no encouragement so she can have her daily swim. It makes one feel a bit more comfortable knowing that, if she were to fall in the water, she now recognizes that she has to swim to the shallow end in order to be able to get out.

It is much easier to waterproof a dog than a child, but the responsibility of ensuring that there are no unforeseen occurrences is something which one has to be aware of in order to prevent a tragedy. Taking responsibility is part and parcel of life, whether we like it or not.  Therefore, it is with a certain degree of relief that we now know that Kelly is a good swimmer and knows how to get both in and out of the water without any discomfort.  In fact, today she didn’t need to use the bricks at all and clambered out with total ease. Success!

I am off now to get the canine family member back in the pool, as rainy weather could arrive unexpectedly judging by the rather threatening clouds I can see from my office window.

“I’m trying to do the best I can
– Michael Phelps

Oh, nearly forgot – for those of you who are romantics – A very Happy Valentine’s Day for 14 February.

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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