A dog launches through the air, landing in a pool with a crowd-drenching belly flop. Another dog sprints to the end of the dock, screeching to a halt in a moment of fear.
This is Dock Dogs, a traveling show dubbed “the world’s premier canine aquatics competition.”
We caught up with one of the dog-athletes this week. Jasper, a 12-year-old black lab and veteran of the Dock Dogs circuit, has competed in dozens of events, including three World Championships and six Mountain Games in Vail.
Jasper is one of the many four-legged athletes who will take part in the GoPro Mountain Games next month.
Through the aid of his humans, Rich Schafer and Yvet Motiel, Jasper shared some tips on how he excels at run-and-leap contests around the country. Roof! —Sean McCoy
Start Small — When first teaching a dog to leap after the bumper stick, short throws and success breed confidence. “Start small so the dog can run, jump and grab the bumper in the air,” Schafer said. Move to bigger throws as the dog gains confidence in his or her ability to leap and catch.
Teamwork is Key — “With my dog, the throw is very important,” Schafer said. “The dog is 90 percent of it, but that last 10 percent is the throw.” The key is to keep the bumper a foot or two in front of the nose of the dog as they leap full-blast off a dock.
Choose a Throw Method — Handlers entice dogs to jump far in one of two ways: The “place & send” method, or the “chase” technique. Most dogs respond well to place & send early in their careers, Schafer said. In this technique, the handler throws the bumper into the pool and shows the dog the placement. He then backs the dog up the dock and sends it after the bumper for a long leap.
More experienced dogs and handlers use the “chase throw” move in which a handler lobs the bumper just in front of the dog as he or she jumps off the end of the dock at high speed. The key to this technique is to make the dog think it can catch the bumper in the air. The dog will run harder and jump higher resulting in a great leap.
Start with Big Air — In Dock Dogs, canines can participate in different competitions, including “big air,” “extreme vertical,” and the “speed retrieve” events. “Typically, people start out with big air,” Schafer said. Big air is the classic Dock Dogs event and plays off a dog’s instincts to chase and retrieve. Jasper’s first competitive jump was 12 feet, 5 inches. Now he can leap past 26 feet!
Training Time — At 12-years-old, Jasper is a mature dog who needs to train just like any athlete. Some workouts that have given him a long, successful career include repetitive retrieves of 50 to 150 yards, lots of swimming for core strength, and even stability ball workouts. “We put his paws on the ball and then move the ball around,” Schafer said.
As a senior competitor, Jasper now also uses low-impact training at the K9 Body Shop, a physical-therapy practitioner for dogs in Arvada, Colo., where he runs on an underwater treadmill to build strength.
Dive In — If you and your pup are interested, just show up at a Dock Dogs comp and ask for help or a tutorial. The competitors are friendly and good about sharing tips. Schafer said the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail are a great place to compete for newbies or veterans. “The Games are always fun. The crowds are really big, and it’s a great place to watch. It’s a good event.”
—Learn more about Dock Dogs and the GoPro Mountain Games’ comp at www.mountaingames.com.