As I've previously reported, I may have the world's only landlubber Lab -- Buddy, a Labrador Retriever who's afraid of the water -- and it's served him well during our recent cold spells.
The day we brought Buddy home, we took him down to a creek that runs behind our house. We expected him to go bounding down and jump in. Instead, he ran the other way.
Fourteen years later Buddy hasn't conquered his water phobia. The biggest body of water he'll go near is in his water bowl. We have to tie his leash to a tree to give him a bath.
We can't decide if Buddy's extremely dumb or extremely smart. On one hand, it seems odd that a Labrador Retriever -- bred to plunge into icy water and retrieve ducks -- refuses to go near the water.
On the other hand, maybe that shows how smart he is. Why would anyone in their right mind want to jump into freezing water and risk getting pecked by a mad mallard when they could be curled up in front of a cozy fireplace?
When we got Buddy, I imagined him being a faithful outdoors companion for many years, at my side in the woods and on the water.
But dogs, like life, don't always turn out the way we'd planned.
Not only is Buddy water-shy, he doesn't give a hoot about the outdoors. Maybe it's his allergies.
During his younger days, he'd occasionally chase a squirrel in the back yard, but you could tell his heart wasn't in it. After chasing a couple of squirrels up a tree, he realized the futility of his efforts and gave up.
Again, does that mean he's extremely lazy or extremely smart? He quickly figured out that he wasn't going to be able to catch a squirrel, so he quit chasing them. Our neighbor's dog Lucy, on the other hand, has been chasing squirrels for years -- and, of course, has yet to catch one.
Does that mean she's a determined little mutt, or just a slow learner?
Even though Buddy is a bust as an outdoors dog, we figure he makes a great watchdog. Its not that he's vicious and would attack an intruder, understand, but he's coal-black and sleeps on the floor, so there's a chance a burglar might trip over him in the dark.
Even on dry land, Buddy refuses to retrieve. Every time I throw a ball and tell him to "Fetch!" he arches an eyebrow and gives me this look: "You threw it, you fetch it."
A time or two I've threatened to take him to the pound, but he knows I'm bluffing. Whenever I use my drill-sergeant voice, he wags his tail and looks up at me with those big brown eyes. The training session turns into a tummy rub.
Buddy's my dog, for better or worse, and we've reached an understanding: I forgive him his shortcomings and he forgives me mine.
Buddy's 14, and you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Shoot, I couldn't teach him new tricks even when he was young.
And so he dozes on a rug by the fire on these cold winter days, warm and dry. Meanwhile, his fellow Labs are outdoors, plunging into frigid waters and retrieving downed mallards, ice-crusted and shivering.
Maybe it's my imagination, but it looks like Buddy's smiling.