Dogs remember. I am certain that this is no great revelation to you, but seeing what my dogs remember gives me joy.
Consie and I and our Newfs returned to the Upper Midwest this past summer. We visited places we had not seen and did things we had not done for a year. The dogs acted as though they had not been gone for a day, except for Nokomis, who matured much over the year and took up as a 16-month-old where she had left off as a 4-month- old. This summer, Nokomis rode in the middle of the canoe when we went on day-trips, but she remembered what she had learned last year as a pup, sitting in the bow in front of Consie: be calm, don't move quickly. She acclimated quickly to my moving her to balance the canoe and she began to feel the balance of the canoe herself.
On a day-trip to Clear Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota with both Ishkoodah and Nokomis, both girls remembered canoe and portage manners: don't climb in or out of the canoe until told; stay behind your people on the portages. At the mudhole in the middle of the half-mile portage to Clear Lake, both girls remembered to walk along the logs laid over the mud and not to flounder through the mud itself. At the end of the portage, however, Nokomis took a dip rather than wait to get into the canoe. After proper discipline, she stood, waiting to be told to jump into the floating canoe. Ishkoodah remembered perfectly how to jump into a floating canoe from ankle-deep water without pushing the canoe to the middle of the lake. I expected that because Ishkoodah is an old pro at canoeing. She is often the bow weight when Consie heads off by herself. A few years ago, Ishkoodah joined Consie, Virginia and me for her own canoe trip of several days into the BWCA. But Nokomis remembered, too, which I also expected, because she had learned the trick well the summer before. I smiled as I watched her. Our dogs like to do things with Consie and me. And they like to please us while we do those things. And when they are good, I am pleased and I smile. Consie and I ate lunch on a small point jutting into Clear Lake and the dogs swam: At one point, Nokomis decided to swim to the center of the lake. The dogs returned to us regularly, to "check in." And they shook.
I think that shaking is a social behavior for dogs. Dogs seek other dogs or people before shaking. What does shaking next to a companion mean? You tell me; I would like to know. The real star of the swimming team this past summer, however, was Milakokia. As summer approached, Consie and I had worried dearly about Milakokia. She was pushing 12-years-old and was having trouble getting up. She also refused to go down the steep, hardwood stairs in our house. She would go up the stairs, slowly, one step at a time, but she would not go down for fear of falling. As we headed North, Consie and I feared that Milakokia might not come' back with us. We feared wrong. Before reaching Minnesota, we stopped for two days at property my brothers and I own in northern Wisconsin. Milakokia has known this property on Heart Lake since she was a pup and she loves being there. The drive from North Carolina had been long, but when we arrived, Milakokia visibly perked up. She decided to walk down the steep path to the lake. She remembered the lay of the land and she wanted to go for a swim. That evening, she refused to be left behind when Consie and I started on a walk with the other girls. So, we walked slowly.
That swim and walk began Milakokia's self-imposed exercise regime. As the summer progressed, she increased her exercise. She walked longer and longer distances. And she swam. When Consie and I took the dogs swimming, Milakokia no longer just waded in the shallows watching Nokomis fetch sticks. Each time Consie or I threw a stick way out into the lake for Nokomis to fetch, Milakokia would look at us to say, "What about me? Throw one for me."
And then she would talk to us: Thr"wooooo"w it, she would say. I would ask, "What do you want me to do?" Thr"wooooo"w it, she would repeat. She makes her mouth into an "0," puts her head up, and talks to us in her hoarse, old-dog voice. So we would throw a stick for her, not too far and off to side away from where Nokomis was swimming. Milakokia swims hard for an old dog.
Before we returned to North Carolina, Milakokia started climbing all 46 steps from the dock to the living room of our cabin in Minnesota. Early in the summer, she would take less steep paths through the woods to avoid climbing the steps from the dock to the deck. At the end of the summer she insisted on climbing up, and down, all the steps. We watched her lose age through the summer. Milakokia will be around to remember her favorite swimming holes again.
This coming summer, swim often with your dog. Let her come back to you and shake by your side. Then give her a hug from me.
reprinted from NewfTide 1997