Go fetch: Dogs, owners take part in dock jumping day

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

BUFORD -- Fetching the newspaper seemed like child's play Saturday.

For the estimated 50 dogs jumbo and tiny at the Dixie Dock Dogs dock jumping day Saturday, retrieving a stick was amateur stuff.

"Really, there's a science to it," said Dixie Dock Dogs President Bill Akin, frenetically busy registering entrants and fielding inquiries about membership in his nonprofit organization. "You've got to have patience to teach a dog to do something like this."

Most who paid $5 to register their dogs at Saturday's training day were abashed upon arrival, typically first-timers uncertain whether their dog would take to jumping or conquer performance anxiety. Few dogs were seasoned dock divers. Some were avid swimmers new to jumping. Still others had done neither.

Jake, an adopted 50-pound hound mix, is an avid swimmer, but shied away from jumping. That was OK with Lawrenceville owner Sarah Nicole Ackerman, though, who left still smiling.

"We're trying to get him to experience new things," Ackerman said. "I didn't bring my swim suit. I'd probably have to be in the water for him (to jump)."

Later came 5-year-old chocolate Labrador Bennie, an expert dock diver brought by Sugar Hill's Angela Jergler. He's always been nuts about water and tugged toward it the moment he arrived.

"He's all about water and retrieving," Jergler said. "If he can combine both of those two, that's all the better. He'll do this all day long."

Amid Labs 100 or more pounds, one might have missed tiny Yorkie Dock Holiday, whom Lyn Stone of Buford brought while baby sitting the 5-year-old for her daughter. Dock's experience until Saturday had been limited to jumping off rafts when lake levels had been low during the drought. Hangin' with the big dogs Saturday, though, was a different thing entirely.

"We'll see how he does," Stone said upon registering. "He's never done anything quite like this."

Dixie Dock Dogs, a nonprofit affiliate of a national organization, DockDogs Inc., enjoyed Saturday's sun and breeze at Lake Lanier's Lake Harbor Marina, where turnout exceeded Akin and his wife Nancy's imagination. Lake Harbor was the newest of the 2-year-old club's four practice and competition venues that previously included only ones on Lakes Oconee and Lucerne and another in Villa Rica. The club began Saturday with an estimated 60 members and 75-plus dogs, but by day's end, was flirting with nearly triple-digit popularity.

"Once we found people who liked doing this," Nancy Akin said, "our club just mushroomed. We never expected it would be this popular."

The Akins, who live in Watkinsville, have four dogs of their own -- three yellow Labs and one chocolate -- some of which they've taken to competitions up and down the east coast. One of the yellow Labs, Spud, initially wouldn't get his feet wet, but within seven months was jumping and recently finished fourth in a national event in Montgomery, Ala. The Akins have high expectations for Spud and their chocolate Lab, Sally, at their most distant event yet, the National Championships in Dubuque, Iowa, in October.

Saturday's event in Buford was conceived not only to popularize the club's newest venue, but to create interest in next month's Pet Fest at Laurel Park in Gainesville, one of six events where Dixie Dock Dogs' plan exhibitions. In competitions, dogs compete in disciplines called big air (distance), extreme vertical (height) and speed retrieve. Bill Akin said the world record in big air is 28 feet, 10 inches. He said 8 feet is the extreme vertical record, where dogs leap to reach a toy suspended from a boom. Remarkably, he said 4.6 seconds is the electronically timed record in speed retrieve, where dogs race down a 20-foot dock, dive in and swim to a toy 40 feet away.

Nancy Akin said Labs excel in dock diving, but Belgian Malinoises dominate extreme vertical competition. Then again, she recalls Jack Russell Terriers leaping 20-foot distances and even Yorkies clearing 7 feet.

Competitions and exhibitions aren't limited to only lakes and ponds. Provided a water source is near, Dixie Dock Dogs can bring a transportable 40-foot dock and a 28,000-gallon pool 40 feet long, 12 feet wide and 41/2 feet deep. That allows exhibitions and competitions virtually anywhere, with registration proceeds often benefitting a health organization, Chase Away Canine Cancer, and several pet rescue groups.

Saturday's training day was designed to create interest in Dixie Dock Dogs, believed to be the only organization of its type in Georgia. Had it been a competition, however, every dog would have been awarded a ribbon, regardless of performance.

"Even a dog who refuses to jump gets one," Bill Akin said. "He'd get the Good Sport award."