A Hudson Chrysler technician and his family first saw water jumping “Dock Dogs” at Hastings Rivertown Days in 2007. By 2012, they were national champions in the sport.
Competitors call it “big air,” the gap between the dock and a dog’s splash landing. Wayne McClaine’s two Labradors jump for hand launched, foot-long round rubber toys called bumpers. The setting is always the same, a 40-foot dock and 40-foot pool.
“I think what keeps me going is the excitement of seeing how far the dog can get out there,” said McClaine. The family’s 60-pound black Lab, “Fire,” and 47-pound Lab mix, “Splash,” have leaped for personal bests of 21 feet 4 inches and 25 feet 6 inches, respectively.
There are multiple events, such as the extreme vertical and speed retrieve drag race. For the latter, judges place a bumper at the end of the pool and a 20-foot mark on the dock for the launch. Reaction times are important, as well as each dog’s quickness in reaching the bumper. Both dogs can jump six feet in the vertical competition.
After much practice and competition, McClaine’s daughter, Miranda, is ranked number one in world for youth handler and won the “Big Air” youth division at the world competition last year. Wayne won the elite class.
Training is relatively simple, with no special foods and regular walks, the technician explained. A chase technique is used with ball fetching where the dog is set back about 20 yards and the toy is popped up in front of the nose to produce a jump. Frisbee catches are also effective and both dogs are used for bird hunting.
At competitions, which are often held at county fairs, most any dog breed can compete, according to McClaine. Competitive gatherings are like a big family to the McClaines. “Everyone is willing to help you out, help the newcomers,” he said. Competitions are open to all, as long as the dog is at least six months old. McClaine has a friend with a Boston terrier that jumps 20 feet. The competitions are a natural for the McClaines, who have had dogs all their lives and take the animals in for foster care. That’s how they found world champion and aptly named Splash. See more on YouTube.