As most regular readers already know, I'm a fierce advocate for dogs having activities, or "jobs," to give them an outlet for their physical and mental energy, because as the old saying goes, "A tired dog is a good dog."
Many common behavior problems such as barking, digging and jumping are a direct result of boredom and a lack of exercise, which is a sad fact since there are so many fun and energy-burning sports in which dogs and their owners can take part.
I know, there are lots of excuses not to get involved in dogsports. Competing in the conformation (show) ring requires purchasing a show-quality dog, skillful handling and money. (Make that lots of money if you hire a professional handler and advertise). Obedience competition takes patience, practice and more practice, and charging alongside a dog at breakneck speed on an agility course is not for the faint of heart, let alone body,
But I recently got an inside view into a relatively new dogsport that's open to dogs of any age, breed and size and not only encourages a dog's natural desire to run and jump, but also allows handlers of any age (7 years and up) to physically and successfully compete. And who knows, it just might be the activity for you and your dog.
In October, Nancy Bauman, a dog groomer here in Bakersfield, told me that she and her high-energy, 4-year-old black Labrador Retriever, River, had earned an invitation to compete in the 2012 World Dockdogs Championships in Debuque, Iowa.
Although I had seen Dockdog competitions on TV a few times, I knew nothing about the training, qualification process and judging of the events, so wishing Nancy and River good luck and a safe trip, I made her promise to call me upon her return and let me know how they did.
So what's a Dockdog?
Dockdogs is a dock jumping sport consisting of three events: Big Air (long jump), Extreme Vertical (high jump) and Speed Retrieve (race to the duck).
Dogs jump from a dock that is 40 feet by 8 feet and 24 inches above the water. The pool is 40 feet by 10 feet by 4 feet. And here's the best part: Any breed or mixed breed dog 6 months and older that likes water and has a strong toy drive can compete. (There's even a lapdog division for dogs 17 inches and under!)
Dogs can specialize in one event or compete in all three, which have ascending levels based on experience and ability.
The following is a description of each, according to SoCal Dockdogs:
* Big Air is the long jump equivalent for canine athletes. At speeds more than 20 mph, dogs catapult themselves off the end of the dock and into a body of water to retrieve their favorite toy. Jump distance is measured from the end of the dock to where the base of the dog's tail breaks the water. (The Big Air world record is held by a Whippet with 31 feet.)
* Extreme Vertical is a high jump contest. The dog launches upward, nearly seven feet in the air, to play fetch in its extreme form. Rather than clearing a crossbar like in track and field, the dogs knock down a bumper, which is suspended over the water eight feet from the dock. (The world record for Extreme Vertical is held by a Belgium Malanois at 8 feet, 4 inches.)
* Speed Retrieve (which Nancy describes as "drag-racing for dogs") tests canine quickness. Dogs are lined up at the 20-foot mark on the dock. Handlers release their dog on the start command and the dogs then run, jump and swim to the end of the pool to retrieve a Dokken Dead Fowl trainer. The quickest dog to detach the DFT wins. (The world record for Speed Retrieve is 4.831 seconds held by a Lab-mix.)
* Iron Dog is a dog that competes in all three disciplines with points based on scores. (The world record Iron Dog is Taz, a black Lab, with 3,120.59 points.)
So how did River do? Having already earned the titles of Master in Big Air, Turbo in Speed Retrieve and Cadet in Extreme Vertical, River was invited to the competition based on his ranking as one of the top 20 dogs in Extreme Vertical (Cadet division) in the United States and Canada. The top four dogs in each geographical region were selected and competed in two qualifying runs to move on. River won his first round with a jump of 5' 10", moved on to the finals and placed fourth overall in Extreme Vertical.
Nancy is rightfully proud of River's achievement, and says, "I've never done anything like this before, closed my business for two weeks and driven across the country, but it was such an honor to be invited that I just couldn't not go." She went on to say, "I met so many friendly and helpful people and saw so many beautiful and clean cities. I had the time of my life."
Finally, if hearing about this sport is not enough to get you off the couch, and your dog out of the backyard, maybe this will: Dockdog events have raised $688,000 in the fight against canine cancer for such organizations as The Chase Away K9 Cancer Fund and The National Canine Cancer Foundation. To find out more, go to SoCalDockDogs.com.
-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.