I am the beneficiary of a rather excellent childhood. My family lived directly across the street from my grandparent’s dairy farm. I shared my days with cows, horses, cats, dogs, pigs and even the occasional goat. No chickens though. My grandmother didn’t think they were “clean” animals. Although she never showed much concern when the dogs ate the cow placentas during calving season. Her Finnish frugality was no doubt pleased with the reduction in the kibble bill. Of course these days, I can only imagine what the “raw food” feeders would pay for a decent cow placenta! Let’s talk about that in another blog.
As a farm kid, I had a lot of chores. My grandfather felt that if one hadn’t done a full day’s work by noon, there was a serious problem. Most of my favorite chores involved the farm dogs and if I could ride a horse while doing that chore my day was complete. Moving the cattle from one grazing pasture to another or riding out to the back forty to see if there were any new calves or even rat removal in the corn crib was more fun if I could team up with the dogs. Best of all, was taking a swim in the pond during the hot, humid Ohio hay baling season. Whenever I take the dogs to Dock Diving competitions I wax nostalgic and remember watching the dogs race off the dock and jump into the water after sticks or other equally unsafe objects.
Dock Diving, as an organized activity, debuted in 1997 at the Incredible Dog Challenge sponsored by Purina Mills. The concept was a hit and several organizations throughout multiple countries have sponsored competitions over the past decade or so. The competition dock is a far cry from the homemade floating dock of my childhood. Today’s docks are typically over 40’ long while the custom, rectangular swimming pool is 40’ long and getting longer as the world distance record keeps getting shattered. The dock is covered with a non-slip surface and there is a ramp which extends into the water for comfortable egress.
The most common game is the distance jump. The handler places the canine half of the partnership in a Sit at the far end of the dock while the human half proceeds to the other (water) end of the dock with a favored water toy. Doggy gets the “start” cue and the handler carefully times a high toy toss into the air over the water while Doggy races down the dock and strives to grab the toy out of the air. The purpose of the toy toss is to encourage the dog to jump high which also means jump long. And, while catching the toy in the air is not required in this game, it does make for good “show” when they do.
Baloo, my Belgian Tervuren, is an excellent dock diving dog. I am the weak half of the team. My toy toss timing is erratic at best, which is a problem because Baloo launches himself into the air from wherever he may be when I toss the toy. Therefore, some of his jumps are 10 feet dock and only 17 feet water. Not good. Therefore, we employ the “Place and Send” method. Baloo is placed in what can only be labeled a “Barking Sit” while I go to the end of the dock and toss his giant orange water Chuck It toy as far as I can. Then, I give Baloo the “go” signal and he handles the rest. Fortunately for me, Baloo is the rare natural jumper who gains all kinds of air without needing to track a thrown toy. Baloo wins rather often because he doesn’t have to contend with toy toss errors. Most of the other competitors hate me. “Place and Send” is considerably easier than timing a toss. Oh well.
Baloo is not, however, even close to matching the world record. Take a moment, close your eyes and try to guess which is the most successful dog breed in the world of dock diving. Are you guessing Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever? Not even close. A four-year-old Whippet from Washington named Sounder (well, that makes sense) holds the Guinness World Record at 36 feet, 2 inches. I was in attendance at the Michael Ellis School on September 22, 2019 when Sounder broke the world record. It was a truly amazing athletic feat. Sounder only needed half the dock length (whereas Baloo takes the entire dock to build up his head of steam), gets the “go” signal, canters gracefully (and quietly) down the dock and then achieves lift off while languidly snatching his toy out of the air. There is no apparent effort exerted but Sounder FLIES! It literally brought tears to my eyes. I can only contrast this with Baloo’s noisy, thundering, screaming run down the dock, huge collection of bunched muscles as he launches skyward with water and spittle dripping off his fangs as he lands with a gigantic explosion of water to make a 28 ft. jump. Nice, but not Sounder level.
There are many different games in dock diving with enticing names like Dangle Snatch, Catch and Snatch and Money Grab with variations on whether the dog has to catch the toy in the air or grab the toy off a metal apparatus. There is also the highly entertaining Weiner Dog Division. A Weiner dog is hardly aerodynamic. Let’s face it, they barely even have legs! In the Weiner dog division, it isn’t uncommon to see the human handler lying belly down at the end of the dock beside her Weiner dog gazing down at the water. A spirited pep talk ensues then the game little Weiner dog gathers himself for a heroic thrust off the dock for a two-foot jump. Weiner dog dock diving is a “must” for any diversified bucket list.
At one competition, they offered a “how many tennis balls can your dog retrieve in x number of minutes” game. Oh, I smugly thought I had that one in the bag as my whippet mix is a tennis ball junky and he can swim like a marlin fish. So, someone dumps about a hundred tennis balls in the pool, I send Velo off the dock and prepared to grab dozens of balls as he brought them back. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that the other half of his mix is border collie! The border collie brain couldn’t decide which ball to bring! When the time was up and I had zero balls retrieved, Velo was still madly grabbing one ball after another in the middle of the pool. Alas.
It is now dock diving season in California so check it out. One thing I can tell you about the amazing whippets and whippet mixes is that just because they CAN jump spectacular distances doesn’t mean they WILL jump. Whippets have almost no body fat so cold weather jumping is a strict “no go” for my whippet mixes. Hence, the custom designed wetsuits. Try to wrap your brain around stuffing a whippet into a wetsuit! On the other hand, one of the first dock diving experiences I had was at the Sacramento State Fair one year in August with a feisty red-headed Tervuren named Jiva. She jumped into the pool and declined to come out. Hey, it was 100 degrees outside and 80 degrees in the pool! I think the Weiner dogs did fine that day though.