New tricks for you and your dog

Linda Fraembs

DOCK DOGS

There’s no more gleeful experience than jumping into a pool on a hot summer day.

People who participate in a canine sport called DockDogs agree: Titles aside, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun.

You may have seen this sport on ESPN’s "Great Outdoor Games," where it began in 2000. Handlers take their dogs to one end of a 40-foot dock, then ask them to run down the dock and — literally — take a flying leap into a pool after a thrown toy. That’s the “big air” competition, in which the distance of the jump determines the winner.

Dogs also can compete in “extreme vertical,” which tests how high they can jump to retrieve a tethered toy before landing in the water; and “speed retrieve,” which times how quickly they can bring back a toy that has been tethered a set distance in the pool.

If DockDogs competition sounds like fun, head to the Illinois State Fair, where dogs will be jumping in the Heartland area near Gate 2 every day. If you think your dog has what it takes, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Labrador, a Chihuahua or a mix — you’re welcome to sign up to try it yourself.

That’s what Lorie Carroll of Rochester, Ill., did last year. After watching other people jumping their dogs, she decided to give it a shot with her yellow Lab, Gabbie, who was just 9 months old at the time.

At first Gabbie was a little hesitant about jumping into the pool. It took several attempts to get her in the water, Carroll encouraging her pet while spectators, “especially my husband,” chuckled. But eventually, the light bulb went on for Gabbie, and Carroll has been taking her to DockDogs events ever since.

“It’s really fun; your dogs love it,” Carroll said. She belongs to Gateway DockDogs, a St. Louis-based club, and said she has made a lot of new friends through the sport. Gabbie is working on her senior big-air title and has added the speed retrieve to her repertoire.

According to Tom Kennedy, founder of Chicagoland DockDogs, the sport draws people from all walks of life. “You’ll have hunters talking to doctors and lawyers,” he says.

Kennedy competes with Frodo, a rescued springer spaniel. For many rescued dogs, getting involved in training and competition has been especially important.

“This has saved their lives,” he says.

For more information and a schedule, go to www.dockdogs.com. Under the “events” tab, go to “national events.”

OBEDIENCE

Think a dog needs to have a fancy pedigree to get involved in canine sports?

Meet Jonah.

That’s just his everyday name, of course. A dog who earns titles in competition adds letters signifying each new achievement to his name. So, Jonah’s official name is Jonah Michael CD, ASCA CD, UCD, CDX, UCDX, R1MCL, RL2, RL3, RL2X, RN, RA, RE, RAE, CL1-F, CL1-R, CL1-H, CGC, TDI.

In other words, Jonah — a black Labrador from the Animal Protective League in Springfield, Ill., that once lived in an abusive home — has been one busy canine.

Obedience competition tests the ability of the dog to follow commands from his handler at the direction of a judge, who scores the team on accuracy. At the novice level, exercises include walking in set patterns with the dog on the handler’s left side, both with a leash and without; timed sits and stays with the handler across the room; and coming when called. Advanced levels add retrieving, jumping and more difficult maneuvers.

Deb Kramer always had taught her dogs basic manners, but “I didn’t know anything about competition,” she said.

That changed after she took Jonah to a beginning obedience class. The instructor suggested that training Jonah to the competition level would help build his confidence, which had been shaken by his former owners.

The rest is history.

Jonah, now 7 years old, has gone on to compete in not only obedience but also agility. It’s a sport Kramer never had heard of until she took that first class.

Kramer admits that the action-packed sport of agility is fun, but “personally, I find obedience more rewarding.”

She explains: “In obedience, words are few, so a dog must know their handler’s body language very well … and to me, that is the best of the partnership we share with our dogs. They are part of us, making us a real team.”

She says that people thinking of getting started in the sport should be patient and remember to spend a lot of time with their dog. “It’ll be a lot of fun,” she says.

Three letters Jonah recently added to his name — TDI — mean that he is a certified therapy dog in addition to being a seasoned competitor.

“He’s looking forward to going into the hospice now,” Kramer says. “He loves the seniors and always brings smiles.”

AGILITY

Agility dogs feel the need for speed.

In this sport, dogs are directed through various courses of jumps, tunnels, chutes and other obstacles by their handlers. Scores are based on both speed and accuracy.

If you’ve seen border collies snaking through weave poles at high speed on Animal Planet, you might think your dog could never do that. But in reality, it’s a sport that just about anybody can try. Dogs of all sizes and speed levels can compete, and mixed-breed dogs can take part in events run by all sponsoring organizations except for the American Kennel Club.

Ten years ago, Marilyn Steward of Springfield didn’t know anything about agility. She just thought it looked like fun.

Her involvement in dog sports began when she and two friends decided to sign up for a beginning obedience course. “It just took off from there,” she says.

Steward and Albert, her Pembroke Welsh corgi, went to an agility “fun day,” during which inexperienced dogs could try the sport. “My dog liked it so much, we started taking classes,” she said.

Now 11 years old, Albert is retired and Steward is competing with her two younger corgis, Xander and Rainie.

What does she like about agility? “There’s a lot of things,” she said. It makes dogs more confident and outgoing and gives owners a sense of connection with their dogs. There’s also the socializing that goes on at trials with other agility addicts.

Steward says newcomers to agility should be sure they are working with an experienced instructor. “Find somebody to help you start your dog correctly,” she says. Agility is a strenuous sport, and pushing a young pup too hard can result in injury.

Springfield State Journal-Register