Dogs Diving During Dog Days
by Julie Reardon
It’s that time of year again: the dog days, that time when “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.” The excessive panting of dogs at this time was once thought to be a disease, but that big dripping tongue just means your dog is hot and probably feels the same way you do about our area’s high heat and humidity. So why not try something cool you might both enjoy? Dive into the newest canine craze of dock diving. More people than ever are discovering the fun of getting involved in canine water activities, ranging from long jumps off a dock, to timed speed retrieves in water.
Dock diving has grown exponentially and competitions are held indoors and outside year round, but summer is one of the best times of the year for the events. Mel Phillips, who lives in Western Loudoun County, competes with her Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, including an elderly female who got a late start, but competed up til she was 14. “We have a lot of friends involved in dock diving and are always up for trying something new with the dogs. I found a local club, Chesapeake Dockdogs, and went to a few practices. From the very beginning, all three loved diving!” After a few training sessions, Phillips tried their first actual competition at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Md. two years ago. “[We entered and went] without really knowing what to expect”
Many of the events are held at large outdoor and sportsmen’s fairs; and they’re as popular with spectators as they are with the dogs and owners; the Easton Waterfowl Festival draw large crowds of enthusiasts. Phillips’ debut there last year was an instant success. “We had a great beginner’s weekend, Recce was First Place in the Junior Division Big Air and Dee Dee finished Second in Senior Division Big Air. We were absolutely hooked!”
As dock diving has increased in popularity, different groups offering doggie water sports have evolved, all with similar events and rules. Dockdogs, www.Dockdogs.com , is one of the oldest; it offers titles and awards as well as regional, national and world rankings. Big Air is the best known; this is their signature long jump where dogs launch off a dock. The world Big Air record is 31 feet and the current top ranked Big Air jumper has an average of 28 feet, 11 inches (Rankings are determined by averaging a dog’s 5 best scores). The record holder isn’t a retriever or even a sporting breed; it’s a 10 year old whippet! Close in popularity to Big Air is Extreme Vertical, or the canine high jump. The dogs launch from the dock, but they must grab or dislodge a bumper that is suspended above the pool. A Belgian Malinois leads these rankings with an average height of 8’8”. The speed retrieve is a timed event; a bumper is placed at the end of the pool. The dog is released by the handler, and the clock starts, at a line 20 feet back from the edge of the dock; the clock stops as soon as the dog grabs the bumper (the return is not timed). Iron Dog is the awards program for dogs that compete in all 3 Dockdog events.
Other groups that host events and offer titles and rankings are the North America Diving Dogs, and Ultimate Air Dogs. NADD awards are recognized by the American Kennel Club; divisional titles can be earned for novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite. NADD’s distance jump and vertical retrieve divisions are very similar to Dockdogs’ Big Air and Extreme Vertical; however their Air Retrieve division differs from Dockdogs’ speed retrieve. In the air retrieve, the dog isn’t timed but distance is measured as it jumps out and either grabs or dislodges a bumper hanging 4 feet above the water. UAD was started in 2005 by Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Milt Wilcox and his son Brian; and prides itself on a grass-roots background, and ability to make every competitor feel welcome; it’s all about family fun. UAD offers titles in several different divisions; theirs are recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC). In both NADD and UAD, dogs do not have to be purebreds nor is registration with AKC or UKC required to compete.
Phillips’ dog Dee Dee is a rescue dog she and her husband adopted. She’s working on titles for Speed Retrieve and Air Retrieve. While many of the best jumpers are retrievers, especially Labs and Chesapeakes—other breeds and mixed breeds, excel too. Little dogs and senior dogs even have their own divisions; NADD has a separate division and awards for lap dogs (anything under 14” at the shoulders). “You see people clapping and cheering just as loudly for the little guys and the ones that barely plop in,” said Phillips.”Dock diving is a very social sport and everyone cheers for everyone, no matter the distance. “.
Could your dog dock dive?
Most events use a portable, aboveground pool filled with 30,000 gallons of water, with a 40 foot dock that is actually a flatbed trailer. The owners use the dog’s favorite toy as a lure to entice the big jumps—sometimes this is a ball, bumper, or floating squeaky toy. Distance is measured from the end of the dock to the point at which the base of the dog’s tail enters the water. Dogs with the longest jumps, performed in what are known as “competition waves,” earn both numerical and honorary rankings. The longer of two jumps becomes the dog’s score for the “wave.” Waves also often allow non competing dog time to give the sport a try at events, and all the organizations have clubs that hold training sessions at area facilities
People active with dock diving dogs agree that breed and size matter less than certain characteristics. A good candidate is a dog that loves being in and around water; is a good swimmer, and has a high toy drive with desire to chase or retrieve. It helps if the dog is also healthy and fit and the owner is motivated and loves the sport.”While people are competitive and want their dogs to do well, it is also a friendly group,” said one competitor, adding that no one is ever allowed to push or throw dogs into the water, and absolutely no abuse or negative behavior is tolerated. Everyone cheers for each other, and newcomers are welcomed and given assistance in working with their dogs.
How to Get Involved
If you’re interested and think your dog could be a jumping star, try to attend an event or training session on a warm summer day. Most events allow interested people to jump their dogs, and this is an ideal introduction. For a fee of usually $20, owners can let their dogs jump in the pool between the actual competition waves. Those that are serious about dock diving join a local club; membership allows you to receive advance information about training days and upcoming events. Locally, Chesapeake Dock Dogs www.ChesapeakeDockdogs.com holds practices in Virginia and Maryland and a bit further out, Blue Ridge Dock Dogs (check out their Facebook page) near Charlottesville also holds practices and sponsors events.