By Ruthie Laroche
A local dog and handler wowed the crowd this weekend at Guy’s Farm and Yard for the first in what event organizers hope will be an annual event at the St. Albans business.
Dock Dogs, which ran the event, is a nationally recognized organization that specializes in aquatic challenges for canines. They host events and have Dock Dog Clubs throughout the nation, all with the goal of getting dogs and their people out in the water, enjoying each other’s company and embracing the opportunity to learn some ‘new tricks’!
Lisa Anstey Conger and her dog, Olivia, had never competed in an aquatics competition before however Conger has spent many hours training and playing fetch in the water with her three-year-old black lab. Conger’s parents have a camp on Maquam Shore and Conger and Olivia make trips to the lake on a regular basis.
Conger adopted Olivia from a neighbor whose dog had a litter, and it didn’t take long for the little pup to let her new owner know she was a water dog. Olivia started swimming right away, and after Conger saw how much the little gal loved the water, she decided to base some of her training on water games.
Lisa taught Olivia how to jump, increasing the level of difficulty as the little dog grew. Conger recommends waiting until dogs are about a year old before they start doing longer, more challenging jumps. The key is to get the dog comfortable in the water and build their confidence as they gain strength and ability.
After doing some work at home, Conger decided that Olivia might be a good candidate for some professional training.
“We started going to Gulliver’s Doggy Day Care for a dock diving class,” Conger said. Here, the two received some extra help and learned new tips and tricks.
Upon the announcement of the local Dock Dogs Competition she did a little research and decided it might be an event she and Olivia would enjoy. She signed them up and got ready to participate.
The first day of the competition, the two arrived at Guy’s Farm and Yard with the rest of the dogs. Various sizes and breeds were represented, and the excitement in the air was palpable.
“For me, I was nervous. Olivia just loves it. When I wasn’t throwing the Frisbee in the water she was barking at me and picking up her Frisbee, ready to go,” said Conger.
The competition was broken up into three days, and the dogs competed in different waves. June 30th to July 2nd, the parking lot of Guy’s Farm and Yard was transformed, holding the Dock Dogs dock and pool.
Each dog was placed into individual categories based on the length of their jump. Olivia’s first jumps placed her in the Contender category, which sees dogs jumping in the 13-17 foot range.
The dogs jump four jumps in two waves. Olivia’s first jump was on Friday. Her longest jump that day was 15 feet 6 inches. On Sunday, she jumped again, and that jump measured at 16 feet 6 inches. Sunday’s jump helped launch Olivia into the Finals.
Placing fourth in the Contender Category, Olivia and Conger would have their last chance to compete for a victory, and Olivia was ready.
“The excitement of the crowd and my encouragement as she was running on the dock was really encouraging her,” said Conger, “Each time she jumped, she got more comfortable.”
There’s an art to dock jumping, and those who can teach their dogs as well as themselves, how to stretch a little bit farther or jump a little bit higher can gain valuable inches in a competition. The handler of the dog must also learn how to throw the toy ahead of the dog, requiring them to stretch a little farther to grab it.
“Some dogs jumped farther in their initial jumps. You want them stretched out as far as you can as they jump and reach for the toy so they can get as much distance as they can.”
For longer jumps, one must help the dog practice jumping higher to work on jumping up and out. Conger noted that dogs who compete professionally can jump up to 25 feet. These dogs are trained to jump up and out as opposed to straight out. Conger felt that during the competition Olivia’s form was more up and out, which was precicely what they were hoping it would be.
When Olivia and Conger prepared for their turn in the finals, Conger admits that she was as surprised as anyone when her beloved canine wowed the crowd with the winning jump: 17 feet 2 inches!
“I was surprised that we won. I never knew how far she jumped. Even at the practice sessions in Colchester at Gulliver’s Doggy Daycare, they don’t measure the length of the jump in the pool. Everything is regulation, but they can’t measure. I figured we’d join the competition and just see how Olivia did,” said Conger.
“If others were thinking of competing, I’d say play and practice jumping off of something where there’s a drop. Many dogs ran along the ramp in the competition, but they didn’t want to jump in. It’s best to start early when the dogs are young. You want to start jumping when the dog is about a year old,” said Conger.
Olivia and Lisa play and practice as much as they can in the summer time at camp. Olivia likes the Frisbee when she plays in the water because it skims across the water and doesn’t sink.
Any floating toy is allowed in competition, and there’s an art to throwing as much as there’s an art to catching. Olivia prefers a Frisbee, Conger said.
“Toy drive is the big thing with these dogs. Olivia loves her Frisbee and when we are playing she is always focused on that toy. If you can find your dog’s favorite floating toy that will really motivate them to jump and catch it,” said Conger.
Conger said she and Olivia would love to participate in another contest. There is a chance that Guy’s will have the opportunity to host the Dock Dogs event again, and Conger encouraged folks to get out and participate.
“Have fun with your dog! Make it a game! Olivia loves it. There’s no way shape or form that Olivia doesn’t love doing this. This is a lifelong game for Olivia! ” Conger said.