My wonderful journey of life with a Kerry Blue started on May 30, 2009, when I picked up my puppy from the breeder, Youlia Anderson (PennTerra's KBT).
Since I am already active in performance events with my Rottweiler, I knew this puppy would also be participating in activities when she got older.
I love doing the sports with my dogs where their breed isn't the typical breed you see participating. I do weightpulling with my Rottie boy and Bean
is also a weightpull dog in training. I decided to look for another sport where Bean might also be the first in her breed to be titled and I looked
into dock jumping. With the Kerry being the all around working and retrieving dog for the farmer, I thought this would be a good fit. I contacted the
local club, Keystone DockDogs, because I wanted the proper introduction and foundation work since I knew I'd be competing with Bean. I was told there
was a member who put some time in at a nearby dog pool to help with newbies in the sport and I was put in contact with him. He was excited to see a
Kerry getting involved as he had never seen one competing.
If one does not have access to a pool, a lake or beach will work equally well since the first step is teaching them to swim. When I arrived for the first time at the pool, the Keystone member told me that the first visit was just for a positive experience with no pressure. I put a life vest on her and let her run around and play. Even just standing in the water was praised, and nothing was rushed. It must be FUN for the dog. In the beginning it's just play, play, play. Place the toy in front of them and LOTS of praise if they pick it up. As they get more comfortable in the water and with their toy, tossing it a little farther will eventually have them retrieving it. As the toy gets farther out, the dog tends to rush in the water with some splashing in the excitement to get the toy. This is the start of teaching them that a splash is fun and part of the play. Picking one particular toy for this game (and it is a game for the dog) and it being used for ONLY this game is important. By doing this, eventually the dog will get super excited just seeing the toy because he knows what is about to happen and then it only takes a little toy play to get them revved up while in line at competition.
Once Bean was swimming and retrieving, it was time to introduce her to the dock. It is very important not to rush them jumping off the dock, they have to want to jump. In competition, pushing, tugging, or yanking the dog is not allowed so it is important that it not be done in the beginning to potentially shut them down. When I first attempted to ask Bean to jump, I engaged her with some play with her toy to rev her up. She chased it, jumped for it, and tugged on it, increasing her desire for the toy. We walked up to the end of the dock and I dropped her toy right in front of the dock. You have to make the dog think that they can get it, and keeping it in close in the beginning increases the chances of them thinking they can do it. After I dropped it, I praised her if she looked at it with a “yes, good girl”. The more she acted interested in the toy, the more excited and encouraging I got. This is where revving them up and, in the beginning, the encouragement of the splashing comes in VERY handy because Bean went off the dock quite readily. If she hadn't, I would have gone back to the other end of the pool (or shoreline at a lake) and done a few retrieving with some splashing repetitions. Once she jumped off the dock, I gradually threw the toy farther out. Bean was a VERY fast learner and in all, this took about a month. I went to the pool about once a week and stayed about two hours.
So now Bean was a dock jumper. Now what? Well, she was ready for a competition. It really is that simple. Dock jumping is a great sport in that there is very little training involved in order to compete. It's not about training the swimming and retrieving or the dog having an abundance of energy, it's about their DESIRE for their toy and tapping into that desire (often called a “toy drive”). It's not like agility, rally, or formal obedience; once they are jumping, you enter! Bean LOVES to play and LOVES her toys, so for me, it was easy from day one. She FLIES off the dock. However, no two dogs are alike and what is “easy” for one owner may not be “easy” for the next. This does NOT mean one is a better candidate than the other and it is important to not get discouraged. It just means you have to take the steps a little slower. My Rottweiler, for example, thinks this jumping off the dock stuff is in no way fun, so I need to work with him more on the shoreline and his desire for his toy (which he has, just not in the water). If you have a dog that is needing more steps in the beginning, just take it slow. Train for the race, not the sprint.
There are three sanctioning organizations in dock jumping: DockDogs (dockdogs.com), Ultimate Air Dogs (ultimateairdogs.net), and Splash Dogs (splashdogs.com). I chose to compete in DockDogs because they have regional events as well as traveling nationally, and I can join a local club (Keystone DockDogs). However, UAD (and now SplashDogs) is partnered with UKC and one can earn UKC jumping titles so I will compete in UAD in the near future. For DockDogs, a membership with DockDogs Worldwide is required to have the titles recorded and the title goes with the team (handler and dog), not just the dog. For UAD, if you want it to earn UKC titles you must submit your registration number when entering, but UAD does have their own titles.
A title is awarded after the team earns 5 legs in one division:
- Novice 1'-9'11”
- Junior 10'-14'11”
- Senior 15'-19'11”
- Master 20'-22'11”
- Elite 23'-24'11
- Super Elite 25' and up
The dock is 40 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 2 feet above the water surface (this may vary slightly with each organization). In DockDogs, the body of water can be either a pool or a lake at least 4 feet deep. The dock is covered in a turf type carpet for traction and safety. The team can use any amount of the dock they choose and can start from any point on the dock. For instance, with Bean's first event I chose to keep her up close to the edge of the dock and I only went back about 10 feet so she kept her confidence. In her second event, I went back 20 feet. I knew she was a little more solid with her jumping and a little more used to the environment. The bigger, more experienced dogs use the entire 40 feet. The competition is called a wave, with 2-3 waves per day and practice time in between. In each wave you have two jumps with the longer of the two jumps being your official score. The jump is measured from the end of the dock to where the tail set enters the water. This way, all the dogs are judged fairly against each other. The handler has 90 seconds on the dock to work with the dog, which some people use to play with the dog and build up his energy. Green dogs sometimes need the time for extra encouragement, while others hardly need any time and just blast out a great jump. The top six dogs of each division move on to the finals, so a jump of 8 or 9 feet could easily be in the Novice Finals. There is then an award ceremony with the winners of each of the divisions.
There are two techniques used in preparing the dog to jump. One is called The Chase and the other is called the Place and Send. The Chase method is where the dog is placed at one end of the dock and the handler stands at the other end of the dock with the pool. The dog is released and the toy is thrown as the dog is about to jump, creating a jump with nice height and (hopefully) distance because the dog follows the toy, trying to catch it. This method takes some mastering because timing is critical and an “off” toss can affect the performance of the dog. The Place and Send method is where the dog and handler go up to the edge of the dock and the toy is thrown into the water. The dog is encouraged to see the toy in preparation to jump. The handler then takes the dog back to the desired point on the dock and releases him. Sometimes you will see the handler run with the dog for extra encouragement and excitement for the dog. I currently use the Place and Send with Bean because she is still young, still learning, and not solid on her sit/stay yet. I will be transitioning to The Chase as we mature as a team.
Dock jumping is a lot of fun for both you and the dog, and jumping with the first titled Kerry Blue (confirmed by DockDog Worldwide) makes my experience even more special. I knew I wanted a Kerry “someday”, but it came a reality so much earlier than planned. My female Rottie had recently been diagnosed with cancer and while Youlia had a litter on the ground, I really wasn't calling her to say “I want a puppy”. All the girls were spoken for, but Youlia asked if I wanted to be notified if one of the homes fell through. I told her if that happened, it would be my sign that it was meant to be. A week later she emailed saying a female puppy was mine if I wanted it. It's truly a magical connection when your dog picks you to be their owner. I still remember my heart melting seeing all those adorable puppies running around Youlia's yard when I went to pick up Bean. At 17 months old, she's still melting my heart.
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