Teaching Tala to Love the Water
Story and Photography by Ruffwear Ambassador Becca Bredehoft
Our pup Tala hails from the high desert of the Navajo Reservation along the Arizona/New Mexico border. She’s a rescue dog, so we don’t have a lot of solid information about her history.
Although there are a handful of desert rivers (and reservoirs) that wind their way through the Four Corners region, we have a sneaking suspicion that she probably wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of moving water in her first year and a half of life.
When we scooped Tala up in Arizona and whisked her up to Wyoming, it was mid-May – right at the start of a glorious Jackson Hole summer. One of our favorite ways to beat the afternoon heat is to get on the water, and we knew we had to get Tala comfortable riding with us on our paddleboards and friends’ rafts so she could accompany us on hot days on the Snake River.
As with all new activities, we started slow – throwing her favorite toys for her in calm, shallow water. She loves playing ‘ball’, so it was good motivation to work her way up to short easy swims. As she grew more comfortable and the days grew warmer, she dove into longer retrieves and ferrying across mild current. We also introduced her to her new life jacket early on, always keeping things positive, offering lots of praise, and of course rewarding her with treats.
After a few weeks of letting her get acquainted with moving water, we decided it was time to test out Tala’s balance on a paddleboard. Again, we started easy – first letting her play on the board on dry land, then working our way onto water that was very low-consequence and comfortable. We eased her onto the board on flat water on the lake, then tried floating down shallow creeks where we were never further than a few feet from shore. She immediately took to it.
By the end of the summer, she was hopping from friends’ rafts to our boards as we made our way flotilla-style down the Snake, and testing her balance on bigger and bigger waves as she got braver. We did our first overnight trip through Hell’s Canyon at the end of that first summer and Tala aced her first big rapids on the raft we borrowed from a friend.
This spring, with two full boating seasons under her belt, we felt confident enough to bring Tala along with us on a Salt River trip in Arizona. This was by far the biggest and most consistent whitewater she had seen yet, and all three of us managed to make our way through 5 days of solid class III/IV rapids with no swims or flips! She loved snugging up close to us on the raft, making sure one of us always had a firm grip on the handle on her life jacket, and hanging with the crew at camp. In the morning, she loved to go down to the boats, hop on my paddleboard, and sun herself as we make breakfast and rig the rafts for another day on the water.
After our Salt River trip, I took her along on a few more multi-day paddleboarding trips on the Rio Chama (in New Mexico) and the Lower Gunnison (in Colorado). She spent all day balancing on my paddleboard, shifting occasionally from front to back, or from standing to sitting. When the water gets totally flat, she’ll even lie down and let her eyes drift closed, signaling to me her trust that I will keep our ship afloat as we drift downriver.
From a desert dweller, to a class IV whitewater dog, our little wolf princess has seen quite a bit in her first 3 ½ years of life. And I think we’re all looking forward to another season on the water, testing our skills, and going with the flow.
Follow all of Becca, Cade, and Tala’s adventures on Instagram.