Dogs love it, their people love it, everybody gets wet
By KL Snyder
Photography by Dan Mussell, Briodan Photography (www.briodan.smugmug.com).
Since the dawn of dogs and lakes, the former have been jumping into the latter. Millennia of splashes later, Purina’s 1997 Incredible Dog Challenge made the game official.
Such a frolic is dock jumping, a dog sport on the upsurge, that canines put up with wearing swimsuits and humans hardly notice the parfum de wet Fido.
THE SPORT OF DOCK JUMPING
Dock jumping, aka dock diving, aka dock dogs, is making a global splash. DockDogs®, established in 2000, has affiliates in the U.S., Canada, UK and Australia. The first club to join DockDogs, DockDogs Northern Stars (DDNS), is based in the Twin Cities.
DockDogs features three disciplines: Big Air, a long jump; Extreme Vertical, a high jump; Speed Retrieve, a jump-fetch-swim race. Canines launch themselves off a dock covered in traction-aiding material such as artificial turf. Rules state that jumpers be at least 6 months old and handlers at least 7 years old.
WHAT BREEDS DO BEST?
“All breeds do best,” says Linda Ruiz, dock dog devotee of 10 years and past DDNS president.
Doggy diversity held sway at the DDNS pool at Pet-A-Palooza 2014. Before the competition, canines—some contestants, others just testing the waters—lined up for jumps. There were Border Collies, a Basset Hound, lots of Labradors and mixed breeds. And Shepherds—German, Dutch, Belgian, Miniature Australian.
Golden Retrievers, Chesapeakes, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a Boykin Spaniel, Weimaraners, an Australian Cattle Dog.
A Boston terrier and a Whippet and a Rhodesian Ridgeback.
And a Rottweiler in a pink bathing suit.
Some teams compete with intensity; others play just for the fun of it. Either way, the play’s the thing. “The sport is all about having fun and building teamwork with your dog,” Linda says. “How far dogs jump doesn’t matter. What does is, are you and your dogs having fun?”
Dock diving is one of the safest canine sports. Although the leaps dazzle, the splashdowns don’t jolt limbs and joints. “We’ve never had an injury in Minnesota as far as I know,” Linda says. “We’re careful and safety conscious.”
The soft landings make it an ideal game for senior dogs and help extend careers. Linda’s leaping Labs, Lita, 11, and Daisy, 10, don’t jump as far as they used to, but they get as excited as ever. “As long as they’re having fun, we’ll continue.”
GIVE A DOG A JOB
The soggy sport satisfies working dogs’ ambitions and challenges the vigor of bounce-off-the-walls canines. In dock jumping, high drive is an asset sought by handlers who are often willing to accept the challenge of taming rowdy rescues. Linda estimates that a third of DDNS jumpers are rescues.
Before he achieved DockDogs stardom, Remi was a problem pup. The German Shepherd/Lab mix had confounded five foster caregivers and was slated for euthanasia when Tom Dropik agreed to give the rambunctious boy a temporary home. Tom, the first president of DDNS, had lost his first dock diver, Tucker, a few months earlier.
Tom and Remi’s temporary arrangement was temporary indeed. “My foster idea lasted about three days,” Tom says, “and then because of the personality and athleticism I saw in him, became an adoption plan.”
Now for the fifth straight year, Remi is ranked first in the world in Speed Retrieve. In 2014, he was ranked second in Iron Dog. Iron Dogs compete in all three disciplines.
Best of all, Remi’s success hasn’t gone to his head. He’s a great family dog, Tom says.
MORE DUNKIN’ DOGS
You’ve met Lita, Daisy and Remi. Here are some other members of the DDNS canine crew.
Many dock dogs jump au naturel, but the Rottweiler in the pink one-piece prefers haute couture.
“Diva is – well, a diva,” says her owner, Danielle Hansen. “Pink and sparkles are her signature colors.”
Diva, also “water crazy and full of energy,” entered her first competition in June 2013 and has already won titles in all three disciplines, ending 2014 as an Iron Dog World Champion.
Swimming pools aren’t Diva’s only milieu. She participates in rally, obedience, agility and weight pulling and is learning herding. The chic Diva has a pink tutu, too, but hasn’t taken up ballet. Yet.
Beau came to Gregory’s Gift of Hope Animal Rescue (www.ggohinc.com), New Richmond, Wis., as an abused 4-month-old puppy. He had to drag himself around because his back legs were fractured. His jaw had been broken, too, and had healed unattended and not quite right.
Shelter volunteer Katie Chevrier adopted the Chocolate Lab/Springer. “He was such a lover, I couldn’t see him going to another home,” she says.
Upon his recovery, Beau let her know he’s one of those dogs whose high energy needs a channel, and when she introduced him to water, it was delight at first splash.
Beau, who will turn 3 in July, launches himself off the dock (and over the couch and onto the counter) with grace and gusto. You’d never guess he has pins in his back legs.
A high-drive dynamo Pit Bull, Malcolm had been adopted and returned several times before Sherry Olson-Justice agreed to take him. That was in 2013, a year after she and her yellow Lab, Shaylee, had joined DDNS.
Now Sherry’s husband, Bryan Justice, handles Shaylee, and Sherry handles Malcolm. Sherry is DDNS vice president, and Bryan serves on the board. Dock jumping can grow on you.
Here’s another example: When she started, Sherry intended to participate just for fun. No competitions.
Except local events, but no traveling.
At least not out of state.
Except to Wisconsin.
That was 2013. Last year the game lured Sherry, Bryan, Shaylee and Malcolm to Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Illinois. “This year,” Sherry says, “we’re going to Kentucky.”
Before he was a champion DockDog, Tom’s Black Lab, Tucker, picked apples.
When Tom discovered dock diving on ESPN’s 2000 Great Outdoor Games, he knew Tucker could play. Tucker, then 5, had proven his upward mobility by stripping apples from tree branches eight feet off the ground.
Apple harvesting did translate to the pool, and at the 2001 Great Outdoor Games, Tucker won the bronze medal, just the start of his brilliant career.
Tom Dropik is a DockDogs guru/trainer/handler who has a corporate sponsor, Stihl, and travels to far flung competitions. You can see his teams’ accomplishments at
JUMPING INTO THE GAME
Requisites for the canines are swimming ability and prey drive. In dock jumping, the prey can be a bumper or a toy that floats, but it can’t be food or anything that’s alive or ever has been alive.
Humans also have a role and it’s more than chauffeuring dogs to events. “Dock jumping is a team sport that you and your dog work together to succeed at,” Danielle says. “We’re there to keep control of the dogs and give direction on what they’re supposed to do.”
It takes a person, too, to apply dog’s war paint and nail polish (pink for you-know-who) and help pup slip into swim wear. Beginners, though, need not worry about dog duds. That will come. What’s more important now is handlers’ attire: anything that can take a soaking.
A strong throwing arm is an asset, says Sherry, who practices her pitching because Big Air requires the handler to hurl the toy.
To get started in dock diving, contact DDNS (www.dockdogsnorthernstars.com). The people are friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, and do they ever have fun.
Okay, but does the fun override the stink of soggy canine?
“Oh, most definitely,” says Danielle. “You’re not having a good time if you don’t go home smelling like a wet dog. Spectators, too.”
KL Snyder loves dogs and loves to write, too, especially for The Wagazine.