For the last five years, Riley and I have been unstoppable: we hike, bike, swim, run, do agility, read to children at the library, the list goes on and on. There’s little we don’t do as a team, and even less that Riley can’t do, he’s fast and smart, and willing to try anything. While out bouldering with Riley I’d look up over the top-out to see him waiting for me to finish, as if to say, “You know there’s an easier way up the back, right?” After each adventure we’d race each other back to the car, share the last bit of water and granola in my pack, and head home tired and a little bit closer with one another.
Last summer I needed a new outdoor hobby. It had to give me a good workout and I wanted to have Riley along. Standup paddle boarding! I loved the idea of being on the river, and Riley might be into it as well (since I think he’s part fish). After hours of research, I chose an inflatable board for our duo. A week before Memorial Day the box arrived, I unrolled the board in the living room, inflated it and went right to work on introducing Riley to the new gear. All week we sat on the board, stood on the board, jumped on the board, jumped off the board, and did everything I could think of to make sure Riley thought that board was the coolest thing ever. That weekend we headed to the Shenandoah River. I was nervous: I had never tried this before; what if Riley had a bad experience; what if he hated it? Riley’s whole tailless body wiggled and howled as I put the board in the water and tried it. What a sensation: I was walking on water! The glide, the closeness to nature, the quiet sound of my paddle pulling through the water, it was magical. Now came the true test: would Riley like this? Could we stay balanced on the board together? I called Riley and he immediately jumped right on just like we had practiced in the living room except the board moved! He did a whole Bambi-on-ice maneuver and immediately fell off. “Oh boy”, I thought, “let’s try again”. I sat on the board and pulled out a handful of treats. Riley hesitated but with some coaxing he got back on! We sat on the board and floated until he seemed relaxed enough for me to kneel, then stand. The rest is history – from that first time I stood up and paddled us down river, he was so relaxed so calm, it was clear he had the exact same feeling – like me he was completely taken by this new sport.
After Memorial Day, we were on the river every weekend. I paddled down river; he jumped off and swam then ran along the banks to catch up with me. It was a perfect summer! By the end of the season, our beloved inflatable board was leaking, and I noticed Riley was slowing down a little. Oh, well, I wanted a faster, newer board anyway; I wanted to push myself and paddle farther and faster. So I upgraded to sleek and narrow race board – something not dog friendly – but I would buy a new board for Riley next summer.
About a week after receiving the new board in the early fall Riley had had his annual visit to the vet. I told the vet that Riley seemed less eager to run by the end of the summer, and something seemed off. After his exam and some X-rays we got horrible news, news that swallowed the air in the room and filled my eyes with water, Riley has hip dysplasia. Wait? What? How can that be? He’s so athletic nothing stops him from doing anything! I felt awful; his slowing down was a result of arthritis that was developing in his hips. The best thing we could do for him, the vet said, was too keep his legs strong and muscular, and the best way to do that was swimming. Suddenly paddling without Riley didn’t seem fair or much fun at all. I had to trade the new board in and get something that we could paddle on through the fall so Riley could keep swimming. I told this story to the retailer that I purchased the board from, and through some wonderful customer service they let me exchange the race board for a fast and stable dog-friendly board. Good thing outdoor retailers tend to be dog lovers too.
Now Riley sees a specialist who prescribes anti-inflammatory meds, and we supplement with wild salmon oil. He’s doing remarkably better, and we’ve been paddling and swimming well into the mild Virginia fall. Riley still has miles of adventure ahead, but we just might need to slow down a little. I realized it’s not how far or how fast you go, it’s the company that you are with that makes the adventure special. I wouldn’t trade a day on a super-fast board for a slower day with my best friend. Seeing him dance in circles and howl when I put the board on the car fills my heart and makes me smile.
When out paddling Riley always wear’s his K-9 Float Coat, it looks good on him and I can easily spot him when he’s running on the banks. Plus that big handle makes it easy for me to help him back up on the board. Thank you Ruffwear. Your products help keep us going!
Photos by John & Maria Schultz and Shawn Young
Maria recently published “How to SUP with your POP: A guide to stand up paddleboarding with your dog”. If you’ve been thinking about trying this great activity with your dog, get this great resource! You can get it HERE: http://amzn.to/12gOekP