Consider the case of Gator, an eight-year-old Labrador retriever that is excelling at the sport of dock diving after two years of training.
Dock diving, as the name suggests, involves various events in which dogs dive for and retrieve objects at varying degrees of difficulty.
In her first year of competition, Gator, who is owned by Rosedale resident Ray Smitherman, has the top ranking in the country in the Veteran dog category.
“It’s always fun to do well,” Smitherman said. “But to see the improvement over the course of the year is always good.”
At Gator’s most recent event, the Dixie DockDogs competition in LaGrange in May, she turned in an average jump of 21-feet, 3-inches (the world record is 29-feet).
She has also won titles in the Senior, Express, Cadet and Warrior categories during her short career.
Though Gator is a newcomer to the sport, her background made her a natural.
“I’ve raised and trained Labs for several years,” Smitherman said. “Gator is the fourth of five Labs I’ve raised. We’ve always taken her bird hunting and duck hunting so she’s used to the retrieving part of it.”
The leaping part, which is critical in the distance and vertical Dock Dog events, is something Smitherman learned through a course on dog training.
“There’s a lot of practice involved,” he said. “We go to certified docks, but even an above ground pool can measure how far a jump is. There is timing involved and luck.”
The dogs compete in the Big Air event, which measures the mid-air jumping distance of a dog in pursuit of a toy.
The Extreme Vertical event measures the vertical leaping ability of the dog.
In Speed Retrieve, the pace at which a dog can fetch an object and return it to the handler is measured.
Finally, the Iron Dog competition challenges the participant in all the events.
The DockDogs competition is open to dogs of varying types, ages, and skill levels.
While retrievers might be the most naturally suited participants — the world record holder is a Lab — all dogs are accepted. In fact, there is an entire category for “lap dogs.”
Gator’s next event is the National Dock Diving Competition at Stone Mountain on July 27-29.
“We’re gunning for a 25-footer (Big Air jump),” Smitherman said. “That will be a short-term goal. I plan to keep going as long as we can.”
For more information on DockDogs or to register a dog for competition, visit www.dockdogs.com.