My name is Clayton Dean, and I have a problem: a barking problem who thinks he is a virtuoso opera singer. He is never quiet: He emits all sorts of grunts, growls, howls and yips. If you live in Northern Virginia and have your windows open one night, you too may hear him serenading the moon. Yes, I have a dog. Truth be told he’s really more of a cross between a hungry T-rex and an overly snuggly manatee. His name is Trouble. No really. I’ll say that again: His name is Trouble. Over the coming months I’ll continue to recap his adventures in this column: the Trouble with Trouble.
Trouble is a cross between a Labrador retriever and foxhound. His paws are webbed, and he has the typical lab fur coat that is slightly oily and is therefore effective in repelling water. Clearly, Trouble should be a good swimmer who takes naturally to the water. As a longtime dog owner, I know well the joy and fun most dogs have in water. But this is Trouble Dean. Nothing comes easily when dealing with him.
We have a lake house in New England where we take the family for various vacations. During each drive north the kids and I would vow, “This is the year Trouble learns to swim.” And each time we’d be wrong. He’d sit on the dock, watching us but never venturing near the water. On one recent trip we thought we might have a breakthrough when Trouble spotted ducks in the water. With a tremendous spring evoking the agility and grace of water dogs, Trouble took a running leap off the end of the dock and … sank. He swam exactly like a cat. It couldn’t have been more unnatural and pathetic. Upon returning to the surface, he immediately turned around and, instead of taking the somewhat indirect but easier route of walking out of the lake, tried to climb up the back of our pontoon boat. As anyone who has ever tried to get out of the water on the back of a pontoon boat knows, they are scientifically designed to make getting yourself of the water impossible while making you look as silly as possible so that all of your buds can take pictures and post them to Instagram. If a semidexterous human like myself can’t manage to pull himself onto a pontoon boat, you can image Trouble, his little paws clattering on the metallic pontoons, as he tried in vain to climb on. Fearing for him (and perhaps a little embarrassed for him), I jumped in and boosted him up onto the back of the boat, winning several scratches for my effort. My face, chest and arms looked like I had wrestled a bobcat and lost.
Finally this year I threatened the kids, “No ice cream until Trouble is swimming.” Properly motivated, we loaded up on Trouble’s favorite food: pepperoni and cheese. We took him down to the dock, and in spite of several very baleful looks, Trouble quickly came to realize that pepperoni was on the line. He would put one paw in then crane his neck out over the water to try to nip a piece of pepperoni. My hopes started to wane. If pepperoni couldn’t lure Trouble into the water, nothing could. Then, after about 30 minutes of this whimpering hesitation, he decided he was hungry and simply jumped in. He proceeded to eat all the pepperoni and cheese. There was no struggling, no impersonating a flailing cat—just swimming and eating. Then just to show us it was no big deal, he swam to the raft, retrieved several balls and swam back, climbing out of the lake on the easy side rather than assaulting the pontoon boat again. Trouble could swim! He had been sandbagging all this time, holding out for treats. So the moral is: Never underestimate the power of ice cream and pepperoni, though preferably not together because that would be gross.