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Willy Becomes a Water Dog

Willy was six months old in February and it seemed almost crazy how fast he had grown. He still had a lot of filling out to do, but he was already a big, strong dog. I was so proud of him for all that we had accomplished in the previous months. He had quite a ways to go, but he was getting there.

On our nightly walks, we'd pass a beach and he'd play in the water, never going much more than knee deep. It was cold of course. This is northern Illinois and February means ice and snow and frozen or partly frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers. I started bringing a dummy along on our walks and down by the beach, I'd throw it out a little ways and he'd get it. Never getting very wet but having a great time splashing in the dog-knee-deep water.

One Saturday at the end of February, Marg and I drove Willy to a different park. It had a couple of ponds and one had partially thawed. There was a big hunk of ice in the middle, but the outer edges were clear for about 30 to 40 feet. We were throwing the dummy in the shallow water and Willy was going to get it. He had gotten pretty wet and as of yet wasn't showing signs of being too cold. In fact, he was steaming in the thirty-plus degree air.

Willy came out of the water and tried to dry himself on Marg's pant leg. She grabbed the dummy and he was ready to go. She threw it and it went just a little too far and landed in deep water.

Willy chased the dummy and stopped, shoulder deep in the water and turned around to look at me.

"Fetch!" I said. "Go get it!" Willy turned around, moved slightly forward and backed up. He looked back at me as if to plead for help.

For several minutes, we tried to coax him into fetching the dummy, but it seemed like he wasn't going to go. I was ready to give up and write the throwing dummy off.

Then one of those "Wish I had it on Video" moments occurred.

I called him back and for an instant, he looked so disappointed. His tail drooped and you could almost feel his feeling of failure. But then Marg said, "Go get it Willy! Fetch! Fetch it up!"

Willy turned around, reared up on his hind legs and went "A RowR RowW Rowr Ror Err Gror," and lunged straight after the dummy. He got about a foot away and lunged again, grabbed it and turned around to come straight back to shore.

Well. We praised and hugged and loved him up. Just for good measure, I threw the dummy one more time, not quite as far, but far enough he had to swim. He didn't even hesitate and went straight after it. I think I was so proud my shirt buttons popped. We dried Willy off with a big towel and took him home.

I've seen people talk themselves into doing something. I've seen people encourage themselves. I do it myself on occasion. "Come on Mike, get it on already you can do this." But I never saw a dog do it before and probably never will again. I just think there was no way Willy was going to leave his favorite toy behind and he said to himself "Well bud, you better go get it or you'll never see it again and never come back here with Mike and Mama." And then he went.

After that, there was no turning back. Willy had become Willy the Wonderful Water Dog and would love the water for the rest of his life.