Inside Events: Dock Dogs® | Sports Destination Management

Inside Events: Dock Dogs®

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Nov 05, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Chas St. George, Communications Officer

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Dock Dogs® is a trademarked event in which dogs (who love being in the water) compete in various disciplines. These include the following:

  • Big Air: Big Air can best be described as the long jump for dogs. The dog, which may start anywhere on a 40-foot dock, runs and jumps into the water after a throw toy (provided by the handler) is tossed. The distance is judged from the end of the dock to where the tail set of the dog breaks the water’s surface.
  • Extreme Vertical: Extreme Vertical is a high jump for dogs. The dog starts off at the 20-foot mark on the dock and jumps up to grab a bumper toy extended out 8 feet from the end of the dock over the water. The starting height for Extreme Vertical is 4’6” and goes up in 2-inch increments as the competition progresses.
  • Speed Retrieve: This is a timed event. At the far end of the pool, a bumper toy is suspended two feet above the water with a starting indicator light above it. The dog is then placed at the 20-foot white starting mark on the dock. When the light turns green, the handler releases the dog. The time clock stops when the dog has pulled the toy from the Speed Retrieve bracket.

Dogs may compete in one, two or all three events. The Iron Dog Challenge was invented to incorporate all three of the Dock Dogs® competitions. Competitors in Iron Dog participate in Big Air, Extreme Vertical, and Speed Retrieve at a single event. Event organizers compile the best run in all three disciplines for each team and the team with the overall best score wins.

Because of the demand for its events, Dock Dogs® recently partnered with a streaming service, DOGZ. With so much going on, with events across the U.S., and with national coverage, there is a lot to learn about Dock Dogs®. SDM interviewed Chas St. George on the organization’s management team to find out more.

Dock Dogs-Inside EventsSports Destination Management: Dock Dogs just completed a big event.

Chas St. George: Yes, we hosted our World Championships from October 12 to 16 in Dubuque, Iowa.

SDM: What do you like about that location?

St. George: It’s in the center of the country, which means that people from both coasts can get there. We use Five Flags Center, which has been just great for us. We are returning to Dubuque next year, in fact; we have an agreement in place so that people who are checking out of hotels can reserve their rooms for next year at the same time.

SDM: Do you bid out the event?

St. George: We have competitive bid processes in the past.

SDM: Can anyone enter Worlds or do you need to qualify?

St. George: There are events throughout the year that lead up to the Worlds, and those enable participants to reach a certain level of participation. I’d say the rubber hits the road the last few weeks of summer, when handlers really get busy in order to get that level.

SDM: Are events offered independently, or are they rolled into other events?

St. George: Both, really. I was at an event that was held in conjunction with a county fair in Walla Walla, Washington, and we were setting up the pool, and people just formed a crowd to watch because really, they couldn’t believe that we were setting up a pool for the dogs to jump in, and they found it pretty funny. But the good part of that was that it gave us the opportunity to invite them to participate – or at least watch. We got some really good amateur participation as a result.

SDM: Obviously, Dock Dogs® has built up quite a community of followers.

St George: It has. That is one of the things the people who participate in it really enjoy. It’s not about winning; it’s about participation, the community and of course, the dogs. The bond between the handler and the dog has to be very strong, and that bond is built on trust and understanding.

SDM: Do you think a lot of people who participate start as spectators?

Dock Dogs-Inside EventsSt. George: Oh, we know they do. In fact, when we are putting on events, like the one in Walla Walla, we reach out to the community and let them know, “We’re going to be hosting this event tomorrow; if you have a dog that enjoys jumping or swimming, please come by and sign up.” Our handlers are great ambassadors for the sport, and for some dogs, the sport just resonates, and they really love it.

SDM: Are there any misconceptions?

St. George: Not so much about our event but about how you train the dog. Most importantly, the dog has to enjoy the experience of being in the water. But sometimes, even if they do, not all dogs perform well with a crowd, particularly when they’re first starting out. That’s what practice is for, and you’re encouraged to do regular practices with your dog, and to reward and praise them, and then to try competing. If the dog doesn’t enjoy it, you don’t force the issue.

Our events have policies and rules; one of those is that even if you’re trying this for the first time, you are not allowed to pick your dog up and throw them off the dock. That does not create excitement or a feeling of accomplishment with the dog; that is fear and you don’t want a dog to experience it. In fact, nobody wants to see that. If we see someone doing it, we can ban them.

SDM: Are there any certain breeds that do better at dock diving than others?

St. George: There is not one particular breed that is preferred for everything but there are breeds we’re seeing a lot of. Right now, there are a lot of whippets in competitions; they are able to jump high, jump far and swim fast, and they were very, very prevalent in their year’s Worlds. But really, there are all kinds of different dogs: sheepdogs, Australian shepherds – some of those are absolutely legendary in terms of leaping and swimming. Then, of course, you have labs and spaniels who generally love the water. We have events that are designed to allow different dogs to show what they do best.

SDM: So, no breed requirements?

St George: No, but we do have rules governing the age of the dogs – no dog under six months is allowed to compete, and dogs have to be at least 18 inches high.

SDM: It sounds like, for the right dog and owner, it would be a whole lot of fun.

Dock Dogs-Inside EventsSt. George: It is a great workout but it’s also good socialization for dogs. They learn how to behave around other people, other dogs and even crowds. You really need to work on that part because you don’t want a dog that nips at another dog or human because it's anxious or nervous.

SDM: Do you think kids can learn a lot from watching an event and maybe even participating later on?

St. George: That’s probably one of the most important questions of all: getting the next generation involved. We need them to know how important it is to interact and bond with their dog; in fact, that is critical in the sustainability and relevance of dogs. A dog is a member of your family and is a direct reflection of you, from sled dogs in the Iditarod to dock diving dogs to your family pet who does not compete in anything. They should be connected to you, should trust you and should be taken care of by you. All canines have the capacity to benefit the human’s quality of life.

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