Canine sport sweeps nation — including local woman and her friend, Gunner
Two years ago, all was relatively normal in the home of Ursula Kinley. But one day the Mountain View resident came across a dog jumping competition on television that featured ordinary dogs performing spectacular feats of skill and grace, and that made an envious Kinley say to herself, "Oh my God I wish I had a dog that could do that."
Shortly thereafter, Kinley found Gunner at the Northern California Border Collie Rescue, "And it was love at first sight," she said. At first, her young collie wouldn't even wade into the lake at Redwood Shores Lagoon in Redwood City. Instead he would stand at the water's edge and bark at the waves lapping against his paws.
Today the 4-year-old Gunner not only will hop in for a swim, he'll fly 24 feet before splashing down, making him one of thousands of dogs across the country participating in big-air dock jumping.
The concept of dock jumping is simple: Dogs jump as far as they can into a body of water.
Specifically, the dogs sprint down a 40-foot dock which stands two feet above the water's edge. Their handlers toss a toy into the air for incentive. Then they leap out over the water in hopes of reaching the toy — and a record distance.
Officials then use a specialized camera to create a digital image and measurement of the jump, calculating the distance from the end of the dock to the closest point where dog hits water, minus the tail.
Average distances in competition range from 6 to 18 feet, while dogs jumping over 21 feet are considered to be at a professional level. The world record for "big air" dock jumping is 28 feet, 10 inches — just short of the human record of 29 feet, 4-and-a-half inches set by Mike Powell in 1991.
Powell's record may be in jeopardy, however; Dock Dogs, the sport's governing body, has offered $30,000 for any dog that jumps over 30 feet in competition.
Gunning for glory
In July of last year, with very little training and no experience, Gunner jumped 9 feet 7 inches in his first competition. He's been jumping for a little over a year now, and soared to a personal best 24 feet 11 inches to take first place at the Wags for Wishes competition in San Diego early last month.
Although the sport is usually dominated by retrievers and hunting dogs, there is no criteria for breed or age at local-level competition. Kinley has seen Jack Russells, dachshunds, even six-week-old puppies jumping from the docks. "Any dogs are welcome," she said. "They don't make you feel bad for jumping five feet. You're there having fun."
Due to her love for dogs and for the sport, Kinley started offering dock jumping classes at the start of the summer. "I truly love seeing the interaction and bond grow between human and canine," she said. The lessons also give her a means for continuing Gunner's training, and she hopes to get him jumping over 26 feet and into a national event in the near future.
Throughout California and the nation, the popularity of dock jumping has grown dramatically. According to www.dockdogs.com, the sport was created in 1999 for the 2000 debut of ESPN's Great Outdoor Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Since then, dock jumping has caught the eye of many Americans and their canine companions. In 2000, Dock Dogs had only one qualifying meet. Today it has more than 100 national and club events slated for this year alone.
Kinley urges anyone with a dog that likes jumping or swimming to participate. "Some people feel intimidated going to the competitions, but they don't realize how laid back it is," she said, "There are so many people willing to help. People are out there for everyone to succeed."
Whether or not the dogs know that they are competing is another story, and who enjoys the experience more, the dogs or their handlers, is also up for debate. What's certain is that these friendly competitions have quickly become a national and local showcase of the tremendous athleticism found in man's best friend.
What: The next California dock jumping competition
Where: Mel Cotton's Sporting Goods in San Jose
When: Aug. 5 and 6
Cost: Fees rarely exceed $20
Info: Register online at www.dockdogs.com
Published in the Mountain View Voice: