By SANDY BARNOSKY
The Pet Lady
Ellie, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, didnâ€™t need encouragement from the chorus of dogs barking at the shoreline as she raced down the dock and leaped into the air to retrieve a toy suspended on a pole high above the water. She hit the water with a splash and swam back to her owner, Tina McLaughlin.
Around the lake more than 50 dogs barked, pranced and waited their turn to jump off the dock at the Letâ€™s Try DockDogs event at Forever Friends Pet Care Center.
In 2000, Big Air Dogs was promoted as a â€œfillerâ€ event in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. It wasnâ€™t expected to be a very popular event, but it proved to be all the rage, and DockDogs was established as a national sport.
McLaughlin was drawn into the sport by Ellie, who would run off their dock and dive into their lake to retrieve her ball. When her husband, Glenn, saw a DockDog event on TV, they decided to try it with Ellie. After their first event, they were hooked, and it led to Tina helping to establish the local Buckeye DockDogs chapter and becoming the president.
Most of the dogs in the club are Labs or retrievers, but they also have a Dalmatian and a couple of Boston terriers.
Three separate and different competitions comprise the Dock Jumping program: Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve.
o Big Air is the long jump equivalent for canines, in which dogs propel themselves off the end of a dock to retrieve a floatable object, like a toy. Jump distances are measured from the end of the dock to where the base of the dogâ€™s tail breaks the water.
o Extreme Vertical is a high jump contest in which the dog launches upward to knock down a bumper suspended over the water.
o In Speed Retrieve, the dog runs, jumps and swims to retrieve an object in a race against the clock. It is a great sport for all dogs. Most dogs practice in a lake or pond, but for competitions, DockDogs brings and sets up a 4-foot deep 40- by 20-foot pool and a 40-foot long Astroturf-covered dock.
â€œFolks that donâ€™t have their own ponds or know someone with a pond sometimes see a pond while driving down a road and ask permission from the owner to bring their dogs to practice,â€ McLaughlin said. â€œOften the owner says â€˜yes,â€™ and has a good time watching the dog jump.â€
Any dog that likes water and fun can be a DockDog, regardless of breed, size, shape or ability as long as they are at least 6 months old. The next competition is July 18-20 at Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field in Moreland Hills. Dogs can sign up for any or all events when they come to a competition, but the slots fill up quickly, so pre-registration is always a good idea, McLaughlin said. The sport is one of fun, entertainment and camaraderie among dog owners.
â€œThe people were all so nice and helpful. Itâ€™s like a big family,â€ she added.
Give it a try
To introduce a dog to this sport, start by playing with his favorite toy on dry land. Encourage him to chase it while itâ€™s in your hand, then hold it higher in the air so he has to jump for it. Itâ€™s not, however, recommended to jump a dog on dry land before heâ€™s 12 to 18 months old to avoid injury to his developing bone structure.
Next, go to a shoreline where the water isnâ€™t too deep and allow the dog to splash and play in the water with you. Make sure thereâ€™s plenty of splashing as his confidence begins to build. When heâ€™s comfortable playing with his toy in the water, make him sit and stay on dry land, while you stand in a few inches of water with a toy held high enough that he needs to jump to get it.
As he jumps for the toy and lands in the water with a splash, give him lots of praise to keep it fun and exciting. Once the dog seems at ease and confident, itâ€™s time to try a dock. It can begin with a little platform a couple of inches off the water.
Position him at the very end of the dock and toss the toy in the water close by. If you toss it too far, he might not jump, but if itâ€™s close, heâ€™ll think he can reach it and be more likely to jump. If he refuses to jump, go back to the shoreline exercises and be patient. If he jumps, toss the toy a little farther and have him start a little farther back each time.
Remember to praise often and keep the sessions short and achievable.
If the dog shows signs of being tired or bored, call it quits for that session. It should always end on a positive note, leaving your dog wanting more.
Buckeye DockDogs will host a free practice and training session Aug. 2 at Forever Friends Pet Care Center, 36469 state Route 303, Grafton. Watch, learn and talk to members from 10 a.m. to noon, then introduce your dog to jumping from noon until 1:30 p.m.
Bring water, towels and a favorite floating toy. No retractable leashes or females in heat.
For more information, go to www.buckeyedockdogs.com or call 216-990-2616.
For more information, go to www.buckeyedockdogs.com.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing
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