Kal has learned to swim! Took him to Holland Lake last week and he helped me walk a short way along the trail, providing stability and bracing as needed. When I got too tired, we found a spot where the lake was shallow for a good ways out and I discovered that my fatigue and pain are noticeably reduced when I am in the water. Took off his vest and let him play around and he learned to swim quite well. Knowing that shepherds are often not strong swimmers, I had brought a dog life-vest to help him stay afloat and get comfortable int he water. Though he was doing well without it, after a while I put it on him just to give him an edge up. I don't know if he interpreted the life-vest as a working vest and thus thought he was working now, or if he would have done this anyway, but after I put the vest on him, I ventured a little deeper out into the lake for some swimming. He would let me get about 20 feet away and then he would swim straight to me. As soon as he got to me he would herd me around and push me towards the shore, clearly trying to lead me back to land. A couple times I grabbed the handle on his vest to see what he would do, and he hauled me back to shore under his own power.
Kal has been home and working with me for two months now and he is doing great. He still wears his "In Training" stickers and a lot of people ask me how long he has to go before he is fully trained. It is my opinion that most of our first working year together will still involve training which we will need to get through before I consider him "fully trained." He is working and making a big difference in my life already, but there are still rough edges. Once in a while he still gets board and wants to be entertained during long waits and there are still a few commands we need to get figured out. We will spend the rest of the summer shaking down the training he already has, in the hopes that we can identify any holes that we need to fill. (For instance, we are discovering that we need a "back yourself under the table" command to help get him out of the isle in crowded restaurants.) And some of the commands we have planned on from the beginning need more work to be use-ready (For instance, we began the Go Get Help command, but have only had a few sessions with the trainer in perfecting that one.) By the end of the summer, we should have a good idea of exactly what still needs to be taught and improved upon, and we will send him to the trainer for some additional, intensive training. This also gives us the rest of the summer to do some more fundraising for this last part of his training.
In the mean time, Kal is working when I need him and playing when I don't, and it is wonderful to see how clearly he can switch between the two. Even at home when our other dogs are chasing balls and jumping in the pond, if I pull out his vest, he stays by my side. If I don't pull out his vest, he is the first one in the pond and the last one to tire of chasing the ball all over the ranch. And whenever I leave the ranch, he is right by my side, providing stability support for walking, help getting up and down, and an early warning system when my energy is going to crash.
Here are some pics of him from this summer - he has grown into such a handsome boy and a great partner.