SOPHIE'S WORLD: Sophie at the Lake

By Gene Titus ©1993

I took Sophie and my two oldest daughters to the lake for a Sunday morning outing. We parked the Sophie-Mobile ( - my - I mean - Sophie's new mini van) at the head of the hiking trail. It was a 1-mile hike down to the water through good old Texas scrub brush and cedar trees. The trail was clearly marked and in good shape. On the hike down to the lake, It took some effort to keep the jubilant Sophie on the trail and out of the cactus that grew all around. Sophie was in her element - "The great outdoors." She had her nose to the ground sniffing new smells and her ears perked up hearing new sounds.

When we got down to the lake, Sophie's eyes went wide. I knew she was thirsty and this was the biggest watering hole she had ever seen. I led her down to the water and went in ankle deep. Sophie cautiously followed. She stood in water to her knees, had a drink, and looked around for a while. Then she walked out into the water until it was up to her tummy. I'm sure she was a little apprehensive. Whenever this much water is around, a bath usually follows.

After a couple of minutes of just standing, Sophie started pawing at the water. Why? I don't really know. She might have been trying to find the bottom. She might have been attempting to rescue a stranded bug on the surface and push it to shore. She might have been trying to get the water to pet her. Maybe she was trying to tell me the water was just a little to deep for comfort. Personally, I think she was trying to swim. Having never swum before, she was just trying to figure out how it all worked. Kind of like a baby bird flapping its wings in the nest. Sophie was trying to dog paddle with only one oar in the water.

While she was experimenting, testing different paw-to-water angles of attack and gauging their splash potential, she noticed a ski boat going by. She watched the boat with keen interest, then just stood there, waiting for another boat to appear. There was no one else on the trail or the shore line so I thought this would be a great chance to let Sophie run free. She seemed quite happy to just stand in this big water bowl and watch the boats zip past. I've always wanted to let Sophie run and play off lead but never dared. I decided it was time to give it a try. I unsnapped her lead.

Sophie took one look at me, smiled, then headed straight out to join the ski boats. I mean, she swam (for the first time I might add) in a straight line away from the shore at full dog paddle. She brought all paws to bear. She did not look back. I started to get a little worried when she was 30 feet out. When she was around 40 feet out (what was that command we learned in obedience class, SOPHIE COME BACK RIGHT NOW!) she finally turned right and started swimming parallel to the shore. "SOPHIEEEEE, COME HERE SOPHIEEEE!" I had no idea how long she could swim. My usually scientific mind was degenerating to a 4th grade level. Will a wet Pyr sink fasterthan a dry Pyr? Will all that hair make her float? I was prepared to swim out and pull her to the surface if she went under.

After a while she finally turned toward shore. I quickly waded out to my elbows and caught her before she could change directions. It turns out you can wade in waist deep water a lot faster than a Pyr can swim. And I thought dogs were supposed to lower your blood pressure.

I decided to let Sophie continue swimming but this time with lead attached. So, Sophie swam in circles around me while I held the lead. (Do we get any kind of obedience credit for this trick?) Now that I could relax, I noticed that Sophie looked pretty neat in the water. Her head and the top of her back were above the water. White hair floating out in all directions. Her front paws breaking the surface every once in a while as they paddled away. Sophie loved the water! She had fun trying to bite the water as she swam.

After a dozen or so circles, I dragged Sophie (pretty easy when her feet aren't touching the ground!) out of the water. Sophie, wanting us all to experience the wetness, did her best to shake water in our direction in even measure. We sat on the shore and had a drink and something to eat. Sophie watched the boats. Some animals look great coming out of the water. They were meant to be seen coming out of the water. Lizards and snakes look just fine coming out of the water. Tarzan and Jane always looked great. Elephants look even better coming out of the water than going in. Even a yellow lab looks brand new after a single shake.

A (dry) Great Pyrenees, at the ready, is a very impressive dog. The noble head and the keen eyes that reflect the gentle nature within. The bear-like muzzle. The bushy tail up and around. The white mane waving in the breeze (What breeze? Shhh. This is the visualization part of the story, concentrate!). When they move, their grace and agility seem to defy their large size. This is the picture of the Great Pyrenees I fell in love with. I suspect the act of swimming causes a Great Pyrenees to go through some kind of strange metamorphosis. The nobility and grace are washed away. The bushy tail is diminished to a mere whip of its former self. The mane all but vanishes. Upon exiting the water, the "Great Pyrenees" has transformed itself from the noble creature it was, to something on the resembling an albino baby moose. And to make matters worse, they seem to know they look like an albino baby moose.

I was sure Sophie would dry out on the walk back. I hoped we didn't run into any other hikers, Sophie being in her early moose guise and all. It was a 45-60 minute walk in 85 degrees of sunshine.

During the hike back, the girls collected rocks and other neat wilderness hiking treasures. This helped to delay our return to the Sophie-Mobile and give Sophie more time to dry out. As we were walking back, I let my 9-year-old (Sophie's co-owner, in name only) walk Sophie for a while. Sophie was rather tired and, I thought, no trouble for a little girl to handle.

Sophie's nose, having dried out first, returned to its former, noble state and started concentrating on sniffing the trail. My daughter, more interested in finding the perfect piece of flint, started concentrating less on Sophie. Finally, one of Sophie's sniff-drawn pulls coincided with my daughter's grab for a rock. I should have known what would happen next.

Sophie took a couple of tentative steps to verify that she really was a free dog at last, then decided to investigate the trail at "Sophie speed" rather than "little girl rock hunting speed." She was oblivious to her appearance and the fact that she might run into a stranger who would scream at the sight of an albino baby moose. Off she went.

My daughter, in an attempt to help, dropped her rocks and took off after Sophie, yelling for her to stop. Now the more experienced Pyr owners out there know what happens when you chase a Pyr. It runs! Sophie, being true to form, ran around the next bend in the trail and was out of sight.

Now I was worried. I got my daughters stopped and told them to wait for me to come back. I started walking down the trail. You can imagine all the images going through my mind. Wilderness in all directions and a 6-month-old Pyr all by herself... After a long few minutes I rounded a curve and there was Sophie, sitting about 30 feet down the trail, tail wagging, waiting for someone to chase her. I saw no indication that she felt guilty in any way about the agony she just put me through. Its also very hard to be mad at a happy, tail- wagging, smiling Pyr.

I stopped and tried to look as calm and relaxed as I could (I deserved an Oscar!). I knelt down, and got some food out of my backpack. Sophie realized I was not going to give chase and better yet, food was to be had. I guess at 6 months, Pyrs are still a little naive about owner motives. Sophie came trotting over to see if I would share my food with her.

Food in doggie mouth! - Lead on doggie collar! - Sigh of relief! - "Gooood Sophie!!!"

We got back to the car 1 hour after the swim. I learned a lot this first time at the lake. Bring a long lead to keep Sophie from swimming into the water skiers' path. Don't let little girls walk a dog and collect rocks at the same time. And the most important lesson of all: It takes MUCH longer than one hour for a wet Great Pyrenees to dry out.

"OK girls, who wants to sit in back with Sophie?"

Return to Library