Summer swims = fall and winter fitness

It’s about as far from the frigid days of December as we can get. It’s more than 80-degrees at 6 a.m. Hank’s panting just walking around. But what we do some mornings helps him greatly on morning’s when we’re both shivering.

Summertime swims let dogs exercise while staying cool. It's also easy on the joints, tendons and muscles of older dogs, too.

Two or three mornings a week Hank and I are at the water by the time the sun’s fully up. With decades of practice I’m splashing¬† plastic retrieving dummies 60 yards or more into the water and making shorter tosses into knee-high weeds along the shore with bulls-eye accuracy.

So it’s gone for every summer of Hank’s life. Water-work is a way for him to exercise without getting too hot. Swimming also puts no extra strain on his joints. That’s really important now that he’s 10-years-old.

Like taking a kid from a bathtub, Hank’s leaving the water re-energizes him and he romps around like a dog half his age as he makes dry fetches. I give him a few minutes between retrieves to just be a dog, which in his case means peeing on things at a mind-bobbling rate.

(I swear, the dog’s claimed more ground than Lewis and Clark and the Spanish Conquistadors combined.)

Though far from the tougher work sessions we’ll have when it’s cooler I’m able to use whistle commands enough to keep him in-tune and listening. Summer hand-signals are simple but it makes sure they’re far from forgotten.

Sometimes we have an audience. Kids often stop and watch. Sometimes I’ll let them toss the dummy a time or two. Most laugh the first time Hank showers them with a good shake.

Ducks and geese often swim over to see what’s going on. Hank¬† weaves in and out of their midst to get to the dummies. He has no interest in the birds until shotguns are part of the game.

Unlike most Labs he keeps his weight in-check through the year because of the morning swims. As he was when he was a two-years-old he hits the scale at about 84 pounds, is deep-chested and slimmer in the hips and middle than the shoulders.

Physically the exercise puts him at ease for the rest of the day. Having had a chance to do his job for the pack leader (me) mentally mellows him for a while, too.

He spends most of the rest of the day snoozing. Sometimes when I see his paws twitching I wonder if he’s dreaming of ducks or pheasants this fall.

At least he’ll be in as good of shape as possible for a guy his age.