Updated: August 6, 2013 at 11:20 am
Bonnie and Clyde are Labrador retrievers - a breed that traditionally loves the water.
Bonnie likes to swim. Clyde, not so much.
"Maybe if you put a UPS guy at the other end of the pool," suggested the dogs' owner, Marie Loerzel, as wet-suited Dan Spinato attempted to coax Clyde from the dock at the indoor pool at Peak Performance K9 Sports.
Soon after arriving for this private introductory swimming session, the 4-year-old yellow lab plunged in with Bonnie for a brief, chaotic splashfest before cycling back to the ramp. Getting him back in the water now was proving a delicate negotiation - two steps forward, one long step back.
Compelled forward by the treats in Spinato's palm, Clyde eventually waded in chest deep, seemed poised to leap, but then retreated.
"He's funny. He's like yeah...no," said Loerzel, who adopted the then-overweight, homeless pair of pooches after returning, with her four children, from a 21/2-year stint in Morocco, where Loerzel's husband served with the Peace Corps. "They are supposed to be water dogs, but they don't necessarily know that."
Leading a reluctant dog to, and into, water can be a delicate operation.
"We're not going to push them off the dock. We don't want to traumatize them by just putting them in the water," said Deb Spinato, who with her husband, Dan, owns the canine sports center on Northpark Drive in Colorado Springs. "We want this to be a fun experience for everyone."
In a 6,000-square-foot warehouse next to canine boarding and day care business Camp Bow Wow, Peak Performance is home to a pool (21 feet by 41 feet) and 40-foot dock that dog owners can reserve for private pool time for individual or group play, exercise or training in the sport of dog jumping.
The Spinatos train and compete with their two black labs, Huck and Ranger, and offer training and coaching services as well. Monthly dog jumping competitions are planned.
"Here in Colorado Springs, there's not a safe, controlled environment for a dog to swim. The closest would be Stratton Reservoir, that's open for dogs, but you can still have an aggressive dog come and join you while you are swimming and threaten your dog," Deb Spinato said. "This is really Colorado Springs' first safe, controlled environment to get your dog swimming and get them exercise and keep them in good condition."
Beside the pool is a $3,000 "yard" of fake grass, and, out back, a wide stretch of gravel to accommodate dog potty breaks - which are mandated every 15 minutes or so.
"We've not had any accidents in here," Deb Spinato said.
After searching for the ideal location for their dog-centered business for nearly three years, the Spinatos finally opened the center in June, and held an open house in late July. That's how the Loerzels, and Bonnie and Clyde, discovered the place.
"It was a rainy day, and we were just looking for something to do," Loerzel said. "We saw the ad, it wasn't far and we decided to check it out."
Pool play isn't all about fun. Just as it benefits humans, hydrotherapy is an ideal exercise for most dogs, and can be especially beneficial for aging, overweight and post-operative pooches.
"Basically at this point in time, the physical therapy we do on humans, we're now applying it to dogs," said Stevan Allen, a licensed physical therapist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist at Powers Pet Emergency clinic. "If we think it's appropriate after a dog has completed its formal physical therapy, we refer them to Peak Performance."
Water diminishes the pull of gravity, so can help a weak or deconditioned dog with the reintroduction to healthy play and exercise.
"Since the gravity eliminates a majority of their weight, they're able to exercise with less pain," Allen said.
"It's just a great form of cardiovascular exercise, just as it is for humans."