Dogs Make a Splash at Ocean County Duck and Decoy ShowDock Diving Growing By Leaps and Bounds
It’s amazing how quickly a new sport can grow. Dock diving, also known as dock jumping, in which dogs leap off a dock trying to catch a toy and outdo their canine competitors in either distance or height, has been around only since 1997, when it made its first appearance at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. In 15 years it has spread across the United States and to Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The sport’s largest organization, DockDogs, now boasts clubs in 42 states and four Canadian provinces. It held more than 200 sanctioned events in 151 cities and towns in 2011 and has more than 18,000 registered teams (dog and trainer/handler). DockDogs also has competition, such as X-Treme AirDogs, Splash Dogs and Ultimate Air Dogs.
Dock diving has all the trappings of a big-time sport. It has a Hall of Fame, plenty of TV coverage (ABC, ESPN and the Outdoor Channel), and celebrities (champions have appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman”). The organization hosts regional championships and a national championship meet.
This past weekend, dock diving made its second appearance at the Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show in Tuckerton, and the sport is proving a crowd favorite. Spectators cheered when dogs turned in top-of-the-line, 20-feet-plus performances. (The world record for “big air,” or length, is an amazing 31 feet, set by the Babe Ruth of the sport, “Taz,” owned by Mike Chiasson of Clayton, N.Y.) They gently laughed when rookie canine performers hesitated at the edge of the dock, fearing the height of the drop and the cold water, looking like a combination of swimmers approaching the Atlantic for an inaugural swim in early June and an 8-year-old tackling a diving board for the first time.
The decoy show competition was organized by a DockDog club from Delaware, Delmarva DockDogs. The club is holding five sanctioned events this year, in Delaware, Maryland and, of course, New Jersey.
“Our motto is ‘Jumping too big for one state,’” said club President Mike Galloway.
The Decoy Show competition, said Galloway, is catching on with not only spectators, but competitors as well.
“We had about 240 owners sign up this year,” he said. “Of course, some dogs jump two or three times (events were spread out over the two days of the show), but still, that’s up from about 170 last year. It’s catching on here; a lot of dog owners are becoming interested.”
Yes, more and more dogs are testing the waters of the sport. Dogs from Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and even Ohio competed. More-established meets draw even more entries. A club event in Easton, Md., Last year featured 345 dogs.
Meets, said Galloway, can be stand-alone events. They also tack onto baymen- or hunting-related get-togethers such as the Decoy Show and Easton’s Waterfowl Festival. The mid-Atlantic seaboard states are a hotbed of the sport, which is also big and growing in the South.
The sport of dock diving features four events: Big Air, in which dogs leap for distance; Extreme Vertical, in which dogs leap for height; Speed Retrieve, in which dogs leap off a platform and swim to a toy that is anchored 38 feet from the dock; and the Iron Dog, a combination of the previous three events, which is not held at the decoy show. Big Air remains the granddaddy of them all.
The dock is 40 feet long. In each “wave” of a competition, a dog gets two round robin jumps, and its highest score, as determined by two judges, is kept. Dogs jump (no pushing or pulling by handlers is allowed) into a pool that has distances in feet and inches marked on its rim. DockDogs measures a jump from where the tail meets the body, saying it is fairer than the Incredible Diving Dog’s system of measuring a jump from where the dog’s nose hits the water – there’s no advantage for longer breeds. By the way, although the fields are usually dominated by retrievers and Labs, the competitions are open to any breed, even mutts.
Pretty simple, until, that is, the various divisions are brought into play, allowing more dogs to earn ribbons and, in some instances, cash prizes. The novice division includes dogs that leap anywhere from 1 inch (hmm, tough calling that a leap) to 9 feet, 11 inches. The junior division runs from 10 feet to 14 feet, 11 inches. Seniors jump between 15 feet and 19:11; the master’s parameters are 20 feet to 22:11; elite dogs spring between 23 feet and 24 feet, 11 inches and super elite dogs, such as the aforementioned Taz, jump 25 feet and farther.
Then there are the age divisions.
“First of all, you have your dogs up to 8 years of age,” said Galloway. “At 8 it becomes a Vet. At 10 it is considered a Legend Dog.”
Dogs must be at least 6 months old to compete. Only 4-foot-long leads and flat buckle collars are allowed on the dock. And because dock diving is as much a social event as a competition, allowing both dogs and dog owners to mingle, certain rules of etiquette apply –dogs must be up to date on all of their vaccinations, they must be on a leash at all times except when on the dock, no bitches in heat are allowed in competition and practice areas, and, of course, owners must clean up after their charges.
It’s starting to sound complicated, but in reality, it comes down to this: The dog that jumps the longest wins.
DockDogs clubs support themselves, said Galloway, with entry fees, club memberships and donations. The fees and dues are reasonable.
“If you preregister for an event online, the entry fee is $25,” he said, “and it is $30 onsite. Onsite registration always begins at 8 in the morning. Membership in our club is $35 for an individual (up to two dogs are allowed with $5 for each additional) and $50 for a family.”
Membership includes practice at the club’s practice sites, window stickers, a Christmas party/awards dinner and a yearly club picnic. Volunteering to help run a competition can earn “Backdog Dollars,” which can be turned in to waive fees at club competitions.
So, it seems like an inexpensive sport, with a minimum of equipment and fees. But caution is in order – the competition and camaraderie can be addictive.
Dee Williams of Aberdeen, Md., has been involved in the sport since 2009. “There was an event five miles from my home. My dog did really, really well for the first time, and I was hooked.”
Williams is currently on the circuit with her 5-year-old mixed-breed “Grubbs.”
“His mother was a golden retriever,” she said, laughing, “daddy was a stranger in the night.”
Williams no longer limits her travel to 5 miles.
“I go to 10 to 15 events a year,” she said. “I’m going to the World Championships in Iowa in November and to Wisconsin. It’s my new addiction.”
She loves the circuit.
“A lot of the competitions are at state fairs, county fairs. It is a lot of fun. My husband encourages it, except for the money I spend.”
Williams estimates she’ll spend a thousand dollars this year attending events. She keeps costs down by picking meets that are close to friends and family.
There’s also a training time commitment.
“His (Grubb’s) brother is a natural,” said Williams. “But he requires a lot of work. I spend a lot of time at our training dock in Delaware. I also have to take him on a lot of hikes; weight control is important in this sport.”
She loved the decoy show, saying, “We had a great time here!”
That was the general consensus among both dog owners and casual observers. They may need a larger spectator area by next fall.