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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

First Swim--Time Out From Panic

Puddles and Ms. Khaki

I planned carefully, so Ms. Khaki wouldn't panic while "we" took baby duck Puddles up the hill to the stock tank for his/her first swim. I asked Kiebler and Ms. Ritz to go in a bit early from their morning swim. Then I opened the wide door to the nest box from the outside, set up a miniature ramp to the ground, and ushered Ms. Khaki and baby into the nest so they could see their new exit. They didn't. They didn't rush into the scary world outside.

I waited. No go. Finally I picked up baby Puddles (who needed a bit more handling to accustom him to it, in case of need some day). When I held him outside, Ms. Khaki rapidly followed. They paced around the pen a bit. Mom was obviously distressed at finding herself in the yard with her offspring. Then the urge to graze took over. She dug in the weeds for a few moments, worried again, paced around the pen again. I kept pointing and repeating, "Go swimming. It's okay," trusting to her knowledge of English.

Something told me to keep my distance, and soon Ms. Khaki spotted the path to the stock tank. She took off, Puddles following behind. She had to do it herself. I could see her brain self-organizing around the idea, "It's okay. I've been here many times before. A swim would be nice for us both." If I had tried to lead or usher her there, the worry would have taken over, smashing the comfortable circuits of her own experience.

Ms. Khaki and Puddles enjoyed a brief swim, a few dabbles of mud, then hurried back down the path to the security of the pen--not in through the new ramp to the open nest box. She went to the familiar pen gate. Given enough happy swims, the ducks might learn the new route--or not. Before that happens, Puddles will probably be large enough to join the flock.

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