Sort of a Dog Flotilla

In what has become a little bit of a regular habit, we met Jill at West Thompson again, and this time, we were joined by not just Jill’s four, but three others who belong to friends of Jill, for a grand total of nine dogs, seven of whom are Golden Retrievers.

In no particular order:
Jax, Golden Retriever
Comet, Golden Retriever
Copley, Golden Retriever
Tango, Golden Retriever
Tally, Golden Retriever
Finn, Golden Retriever
Rumford, Golden Retriever
Yuki, Boxer
Leo, Portuguese Water Dog

This time, Tango was able to come along, and given how driven she is, it’s impressive that Jax was able to keep this stick away from her for as long as he did.

Finn, now seven, races around with the younger dogs. Sometimes he moves so quickly and smoothly that he barely looks like he touches the ground. And, sometimes, he really doesn’t touch the ground.

Sticks were definitely the toy du jour, and Leo the PWD more than held his own.

It was really a digital camera day, with perfect sun and a combination of dogs and action that was—not mathematically, but for all intents and purposes—infinite.

Jax isn’t a big dog, but he does everything with as much height as possible. He’s always springing and leaping about, and if he notices friends a few hundred feet away playing with a stick, the first thing he’ll do is rear up and get a better look before he puts on the afterburners.

Young Copley is growing up, but he’s still in the prime of puppyhood, which means zoomies are a key part of his experience on a walk. He’s at the age when total discombobulation is a common occurrence. Copley is a lot less awkward than a typical puppy just shy of five months, but he can still look pretty silly sometimes.

Rumford’s also in that gangly adolescent stage, and just as prone to zooming about like a crazed animal. Rummy also had his first real swim on this walk. It’s always a joy to watch a young dog go from deep apprehension about the water to an abiding love for it.

Tally was more than happy to show the young dogs how it’s done. One of many fun things about Tally is that he nearly always looks like he’s leaping off the page of an L. L. Bean catalog.

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Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing

Every time I take pictures of the dogs, I end up with a few silly, unflattering, and outright strange expressions on the dogs’ faces as gravity, momentum, and panting all work their strange magic on a dog’s loose skin. I set out to make an entry of these so I could make fun of them a little, and I remembered this Whitman poem:

I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a
     moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.

              -Walt Whitman
              “I Sing the Body Electric”

And then, suddenly, my enterprise of having a little fun with the dog’s silliness suddenly changed. Comet’s snowfoam lipstick seemed so packed with delight that he no longer looked quite so ridiculous. It was as if he came into focus, not as a goofball, but as beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh.

Once again, Whitman and the dogs make serious business of finding delight in everything.

Jax, finishing a shake, cleaning his nose, and gathering like a spring to explode off, stage right, is no exception. This is the kind multitasking I should do more of.

These pictures all come from another West Thompson walk I took with Jill. Andy had work, but she and I and our combined pack of six dogs had a great time.

Tango, who was visiting a friend when we last went for a walk, was in full force today. She looked quite lovely when she was in motion, galloping along with her stick, but I thought this particular frozen moment just caught how much fun you can have when you don’t care who’s watching.

Copley, only a few weeks older, is growing noticeably. I didn’t get enough pictures of him to catch anything truly silly, since he’s still being carried quite a bit, but I did get this cute, focused moment when I whistled for him, and he barreled towards the camera.

Copley also started pouncing in the snow. I have no idea what he was going after, but he pounced a few times and really shoved his nose in there. I’m not sure if he was just pouncing on the little rolling balls of snow he was making himself or if there was some rodent his nose led him too, but he was really focused on it.

Now, Golden Retriever puppies are always photogenic, and Copley’s a particularly good example of this principle, with his snowy nose and serious face.

But I like this shot even more because you can see in his fluffy puppyhood the shadows of the show dog he’ll one day become.

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Roll, Smell, Swim

Over the last couple of days of my spring break, Andy took off of work, and we went up to Maine to visit my old friend Jill. Jill has three Goldens of her own, the oldest of which, Finn, is Gus's littermate. While this isn't the most dramatic and wonderful of pictures, it is the only one in which I got all five dogs in frame.

On the left is Comet. The little puppy close to center is Tango. The light, handsome boy front and center is Tally. The next, as you move right, is Finn, and the last dog on the right is Gus.

Tally and Gus aren't really facing off in the surf here. Finn led the charge out to chase some seagulls, and Tally and Gus followed and then played in the shallows. Goldens have truly amazing coats. The undercoat provides a kind of wet-suit effect, and the dogs can handle very, very cold water for quite a while with no problems.

The puppies, with their fuzzy coats, are a completely different story. They can't go in the cold water, and they definitely don't want to.

Comet did splash around a bit in the shallows, and having your nose constantly in the salt and sand requires a lot of licking to clean it off. Here, he's taking a two second break from exploration to check in and make sure he's a good boy. He has to check because, on a beach, he's told to drop something or other almost constantly (e.g., dead crabs, smelly shells, rocks, you name it).

A beach also gives you lots of opportunities for great action shots. The dunes are covered in snow, and it's low tide so there's an expanse of sand to jump down to before the water. Gus had one of his trademark spiritual experiences for the whole walk. He ran down to the water, back across the sand with his nose down to hoover up the smells, up to the snow for a good roll, and back to begin again.

I'm glad he turned out so athletic; I don't know he'd keep up with his own joy otherwise.

Comet experienced similar joy. Just not as...athletically. He's still growing into his new legginess.

Finn, of course, lives with similar gusto (the joy's in the genes, remember?). I caught him in the middle of a rather enthusiastic post-chase shake.

This is Tango, the newest addition to Jill's dog family. She comes from some intelligent, agile, champion stock, and you can already see it in her movement and in her looks. She's a beautiful, cute-as-hell, fluffball Golden, but the joy in watching her goes far beyond her cuteness.

Not to be outdone in cuteness, Comet got his share of rolling in. The beach really did provide the three ideal zones of a dog paradise: a rolling zone, a smelly zone, and a swimming zone.

There's no time to waste. Once the roll's over, you have to rush back to the smells. No indolence, no pause, and certainly no resting.

Gus, of course, is the one who taught Comet that rule of enjoying a walk, or he at least knew it first. The closest Gus came to resting during our hour at the beach was begging for treats from Jill. It's a crucial, non-negotiable skill for a dog to come back when called. If they don't have it, they can't run off the leash and have all the fun of determining their own course across the beach or any other open space. How can you swim, smell, and roll if you have to be within twenty feet of a leash holder?

It's not too difficult to teach a retriever to come back to you: they're bred for recall. Still, an important part of that training is making the recall fun, and periodically rewarding it helps to ingrain it. The treats were brought along primarily to help Tango learn, but the other dogs got a couple too.

Tally comes from showdog stock, so he's a pretty different retriever in terms of his build and coat. Of course, he loves the sand, surf, and snow as much as the rest of them. He does have his own, particular brand of handsomeness, though.

Finn, like his brother, takes a good picture. According to Jill, he likes to go up to the dunes to check on colonies of moles. I'm not sure the moles are all that enthusiastic about it, but Finn certainly loves to smell around those dunes. Once the plover nesting season starts, they're off limits, but the moles can certainly handle a little doggy inspection.

We're already on the way back to the car when this was taken, and then we headed back to Jill's to relax a bit. We were only out for an hour, but it was biting cold and windy, so that's all we humans could handle. The dogs would have stayed for the day, especially the dogs with the grown up fur coats.

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