Bailey loves short walks and long naps, preferably with her furry head resting on a soft pillow.
And, unlike most dogs of her pedigree, our family’s yellow Lab (mix) does not like water.
Our last yellow Lab, Lucy, was a purebred who would jump gleefully into any body of water, including a kiddie pool with children in it.
Bailey, on the other hand, is a true landlubber. This dog will poke her head out of the doorway and give us a skeptical look at the slightest hint of rain or snow.
So I was a bit concerned when Michelle Filler offered to let Bailey try out Duke’s K9 Dash N’ Splash in Portage County. This is a place where dogs run after a favorite toy, and hurtle themselves off a dock into a pool.
Bailey was in the midst of her second cat nap of the morning last week when I uttered the word we normally have to spell out.
“Does someone want to go for a ride?”
Bailey quickly lifted her sleepy head from the pillow and her tail was sent a-waggin’.
The trip from Medina to Mantua was pretty much spent with me cajoling her to sit down as she paced from one side of the backseat to the other, shedding more hair than I have on top of my noggin.
And when we finally arrived at Duke’s K9 Dash N’ Splash she was excited — at least at first — at the sight of the fun spot reserved for dogs. It’s tucked in a corner of the Roundup Lake Campground off state Route 82.
Michelle was quick to greet Bailey and let her roam a bit in the fenced area around the blue, above-ground pool. Bailey was happy to run around, sniffing anything and everything, leaving a trail of yellow dog hair in her wake.
Our girl was oblivious to the show being put on by Pilot — a Belgian Malinois — flinging himself off the dock into the water.
Owner Penny Clark would throw his favorite toy high in the air toward the far end of the pool, and Pilot would leap some 28 feet to catch it, creating a giant splash. And faster than you can say “good boy,” Pilot was back on the deck to drop the toy, ready to leap again.
Penny and Pilot travel from North Canton once or twice a week to play in the dogs-only pool and work on their fetching techniques.
“This is his thing,” she said, looking at her wet friend. “Sometimes he won’t come out of the pool.”
I was fairly confident that would not be the case with our Bailey.
At Michelle’s insistence, my wife Jennifer wrangled a lime-green life jacket onto Bailey. She didn’t seem to mind. I suspect Bailey was oblivious to what was to come next.
Michelle insists first-timers wear a life jacket so they don’t “sink to the bottom” — as she explains, not every dog can doggy paddle.
There’s another rule that Michelle strictly enforces: Whether or not a dog gets wet is up to the dog.
I should note, this rule does not apply to the owner.
“We don’t want the dogs scared to death,” she said. “The whole point of this is to have fun with our dogs.”
When Michelle opened the gate to the pool deck, Bailey was more than happy to run up the ramp. I suspect she thought she was on a cruise and it was time for all-you-can-eat biscuits on the Lido Deck.
After thoroughly sniffing around the deck, Bailey was good to go … back to the air-conditioned SUV.
There we stood at the top of a ramp that leads into the pool, all talking in oddly high-pitched voices as we tried to convince Bailey to take the plunge.
She simply looked at us with her big brown eyes telling us, “you’ve got to be kidding.”
At one point, she positioned herself across the entrance to the ramp and wouldn’t budge.
Michelle suggested I get into the pool to show Bailey how easy and fun it is.
Let’s just say, Bailey was right. It wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t fun.
For one, the sloping ramp is best navigated on four feet — not two Webb feet. I stumbled trying to navigate around Bailey, who was still standing firm blocking the way.
And oh, yeah, watch out for the step at the end of the ramp.
I swear I heard Bailey laugh along with my wife, Jennifer, as I made a very ungraceful splashdown.
The good news is my 50-year-old ticker passed another stress test. The bad news is I was hardly a role model for Bailey. I think Pilot would have been a better barking inspiration for my dog.
The standoff continued.
I stood in the pool urging Bailey to give it a shot, while Michelle offered words of encouragement from the side.
Bailey simply wagged her tail and stared at my wife with a look of “you are not serious, are you?”
She would dip her toes in every so often and used her tongue, which looked to be about 4 feet long by this point, to slurp up a gallon or two of water.
She would try to turn herself around on the ramp and come precariously close to tumbling over the side.
Michelle mused that she’s never had a dog so eager to go off the side of the ramp, then surmised Bailey was trying to get to her “mom.” She suggested Jennifer move to the top of the ramp so we could encourage her in stereo.
The words of encouragement and shouts of “good girl” continued as I could feel the skin on my toes shriveling up from being in the water way too long.
At one point in the confusion of Bailey licking her mom’s face and whacking me in the face with her tail, she fell off the side of the ramp.
Bailey was in the water.
Her eyes locked on mine as she mouthed “Holy schnikes!”
The next thing I knew, I felt a shooting pain as Bailey madly did a combination breaststroke, butterfly stroke and doggy paddle toward me and dug her paws into my legs as she climbed up my frame.
It was a baptism by water.
One and done
I helped her back onto the ramp, and she quickly exited the pool and stood at the top of the deck.
After shaking off every single molecule of water onto Jennifer and me, Bailey stood there with a look of “I meant to do that, and can we please go home now.”
We, in turn, acknowledged the catastrophe with words of praise. “Good girl!” “We are so proud of you!”
I think this solidified Bailey’s long-held belief that her parents are nuts.
Michelle said having a dog fall into the pool is not the ideal introduction to the sport of dock diving.
But she added, it wasn’t all bad. For one, she didn’t sink to the bottom. And although she isn’t exactly ready for the U.S. Olympic Doggy Paddle team, Michelle said Bailey showed she can, in fact, swim.
Best of all, she didn’t run like Scooby Doo through the fence surrounding the pool.
She did venture back down the ramp a few more times, and stuck three out of four paws into the water.
I suspect Bailey did it for the treats — Michelle had some (I hear) yummy chicken liver snacks we placed along the water’s edge as encouragement.
Michelle said most dogs end up walking in off the ramp and jumping off the dock during a first session. Given another visit, she thinks Bailey would likely get both her ears wet.
Duke’s opened last May, and the record so far for the number of visits before going into the water is owned by a clumber spaniel who took 10 tries before its first plunge.
And that dog is now competing in the sport.
Michelle said they got the idea of opening a place for dogs to play and practice dock diving for competitions after trying it out with their own dog, Duke, a Belgian Malinois.
The breed is known to have boundless energy, and jumping into the pool can help tire them out.
“If they don’t have a job to do, they can be holy terrors,” she said.
With Bailey’s paws safely back on terra firma, Michelle brought out the place’s namesake to show off a bit.
Duke was a dog on a mission. And that mission was to seek and catch dog toys and create as big of a wave as possible in the process.
Jump after jump, Duke showed off his prowess while Bailey was more worried about chasing a butterfly fluttering around.
Off in the distance in the parking lot, Guinness barked his approval and, perhaps, impatience that Duke was horning in on his session that was about to start.
Sally Sherwin travels regularly from Chagrin Falls with her border collie for sessions in the pool. Aside from burning off energy, the jumping and swimming also burn calories.
Sherwin said her once pudgy pup had slimmed down to the point that her vet urged her to double up his food after taking up the sport.
“Guinness was delighted with that,” she said.
Michelle admits it took a leap of faith to open a seasonal business that is dedicated to encouraging its furry patrons to run on the deck and jump into the pool.
“We’re packed,” she said. “We are often booked a week and a half out.”
Michelle said they also host frisbee-loving dogs once a week and recently had a “puppy party.”
“It was so cute, there were puppies everywhere,” she said. “They all just wanted to get right into the water.”
Michelle said to introduce new jumping dogs to the sport and show off the skills of the regulars, they will have a portable pool at next weekend’s Mantua Potato Festival in Buchert Memorial Park.
Competitions will be held each day with so-called “try-it” sessions for newcomers from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. You do not have to sign up ahead of time, and it will cost $5 per dog to give it a shot.
At 7 years old, Michelle said, Bailey is an example of a larger dog who can benefit from the sport, as it allows her to exercise without putting too much stress on her hips.
Bailey might never become a dock dog competitor, but with time and experience, one day she might venture farther into the water and actually swim. As Michelle said, “You can teach an old dog a new trick.”
Craig Webb, who, if you look closely at the photos from this article, mistakenly wore his swim shirt inside out, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3547.