Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Australian Shepherd Zen and his owner and trainer Theresa Brantly of Lilburn will compete in the DockDogs World Championship Wild Card Event at Stone Mountain Park this weekend. DockDogs has three different competitions: big air, speed retrieve and extreme vertical. Zen and Brantly demonstrate a big air horizontal jump over a pool of water at Stone Mountain Park on Thursday.
Zen loves the water, playtime and chasing after toys -- pink toys, specifically.
"He'll jump for anything, but he gives an extra push for pink," Zen's owner and trainer Theresa Brantly of Lilburn said.
The 3-year-old Australian Shepherd has gained popularity as a 2011 DiscDog World Champion (frisbee), but he and Brantly are attempting to add something new to his resume: DockDogs Champion. The two are competing for the first time at Stone Mountain this weekend as part of the DockDogs World Championship Wild Card Event.
In April, the team competed at the Dixie DockDogs event in Cumming and they were hooked.
"We tried it out after a friend suggested it because Zen loves the water," Brantly said. "He jumped 13 or 15 feet on his first try. At the end of last year, he had a 19-foot jump. He's just excelled all year long and has gotten better and better. Every time he gets on the dock, he gets stronger."
DockDogs has three different competitions: big air, speed retrieve and extreme vertical. Big air is a long jump, speed retrieve is a timed event and extreme vertical is a tall jump -- all of which are performed over a pool of water.
Brantly and Zen practice six times a week, usually on T.W. Briscoe Park's soccer fields, and make it to a practice pool every other week to work on the pooch's big air performance.
This type of competition is more enjoyable, Brantly said, because Zen has so much fun with the water and toy retrieval.
"I love being on the dock with him and seeing his face," she said. "It sounds crazy, but I love to watch him enjoy himself. He's so much fun to be around and so exuberant in general, I sort of feel like when I'm on the dock with him that it reminds me to take things a little bit lighter."
Since it is the team's first time at the qualifying event, Brantly is excited but realistic about the competition.
"Is it going to be extremely difficult? Yes. This is going to be one of the hardest qualifiers that we'll see all year," she said. "We have such amazing talent in the this area. Will it be a long shot? Absolutely, but we've gotten into the finals in first on other occasions, so it's a possibility."
Besides Zen, Brantly is also introducing her mini Aussie, Dallas, to the world of dock competition.
"She's more noise than leap," she said. "But she's having fun and that's all that matters."
Those who win first place in each category and division receive an invitation to the DockDogs World Championship in November.