It’s been interesting watching my dogs during this recent heat spell. I have two Labrador retrievers, one old and yellow, the other younger and black. Even though they are of the same breed, they tend to act quite differently, not just in the unrelenting heat, but most other times too.
My old yellow Lab, Tessa, acts more akin to your typical Lab. Or, at least she does in my mind. She’s always loved the water, and especially in the heat, she will almost always search out a running sprinkler in which to stand.
When she used to hunt with me, she would go out of her way to jump in a pond or river or creek. She definitely likes the water.
Now Bailey, my five-year-old black Lab, will actually do pretty much whatever she has to do to avoid water. Every time I see her stick her toes in a pond or stream and then turn and walk away, I just shake my head.
Watch her move through the back yard, or through the orchard when the sprinklers are running and you will see her running serpentine, like she is trying to avoid land minds. She hates it when she gets even a few drops of water on her back.
It’s as if she was waterboarded as a young pup. But nothing could be further from the truth. I exposed her to water at an early age, but never forced her in it. To this day if you throw her fetching dummy in a lake, she’ll make a dock dog look like an amateur with her high-flying, leaping plunges into the water. But if you are just walking along the bank of a pond or lake when out hunting, she’ll tippy-toe around the edge, not even touching the water when she ducks down to get a drink.
I’ve owned Labs most of my life, and several have been happy to lay in any water, including some pretty foul-smelling mud puddles, when they were of the mind to cool down. Some times in temperatures that were well below freezing.
Not Bailey. And if she does get wet, well, there will be plenty of effort to get dry as quickly as possible. If we don’t rush her into the laundry room when she comes in after getting rained on, or snowed on, or heaven forbid, had the sprinkler hit her as she chased a squirrel, Bailey will start rubbing on the furniture and squirming on the carpet to dry herself off.
Believe me, that does NOT go over well with the lady of the house. So, I will rush Bailey into the laundry room and give her a thorough drying. Unlike your average Lab, Bailey is not overly needy when it comes time for affection, but bring the dog towels out after she gets wet and she’ll stand for a good rub-down until the last drop has been wicked away.
By the way, and I am sure it is merely a coincidence, I have discovered the ragged dog-drying towels in my stack of shower towels after Bailey wandered through the house wiping her wetness on the couch, loveseat and possibly even some of our bed-clothes.
Last year when some friends and I were hunting in Montana, I discovered that Butch Schlagel’s little black Lab, a littermate of Bailey’s, also is not fond of being wet. As soon as we were back into the motel room after a morning’s hunt, Butch’s Lab Bella, ran over to him and enjoyed every second of a complete drying off with her special towel. Must be in the genetics.
You would think a black dog in this baking sun would want to get good and wet to get cooled down. I assume most do. Not my black dog. In fact, on the day last week that it was 115, I decided I would step outside for a couple minutes just to feel the record heat. Of course, whenever I go outside the dogs must accompany me, and while Tessa hobbled over to get soaked in the sprinkler (she is 13 with severe arthritis), Bailey laid down in the grass, 20 yards from the sprinkler, in the direct sunlight!
I looked at her and thought, surely she won’t stay there long, but she was there for at least three minutes. When I finally called her over to where I was standing in the shade, I could barely touch her back it was so hot. She didn’t seem to be bothered in the least.
When we do come back in the house after a perimeter check for grey diggers, Bailey will lay on a vent in the kitchen that blows cool, air-conditioned air. It didn’t take her long to figure out how to cool off in a waterless way.
Now, I’ve been around enough dogs over the years to know that no two are alike. But when you have a dog, with genetics that have been carefully selected through decades and decades of breeding to be a water dog, mine has decided genetics or no, she’ll just go ahead and avoid the water if at all possible.
Even if it is a record heat wave, Bailey is going to sidestep the sprinkler.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.