A first-timer’s guide to DockDogs at the Teva Mountain Games

Jun. 25, 2012

A booming voice announces Fritz and Hannah as they climb the stairs to the bright blue DockDogs stage at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail. Fritz tells her to sit at the end of the dock, walks up to the edge and off she goes! She lands 15 feet into the pool, with a splash big enough to soak the closest spectators. Cheers went up, mostly from our friends, but a few others chimed in too. Tails wagged from all the furry fans in response to all the excitement.

Hannah’s first jump was done and had turned out so much better than we hoped! As I reunited with them to sit around waiting for her second jump, Hannah sidled up next to me, thoroughly soaking my shorts with her wet tail. As she gazed up at me with her huge brown eyes and goofy dog grin, I couldn’t help but think about her past, and how far she had come.

We rescued Hannah from the Colorado Animal Rescue in Glenwood Springs two years ago. I saw her on petfinder.com and her adorable picture captivated me from the first moment. We went to visit her the very same day, walked her around the rescue property and then eventually took her into a play area that included a doggie pond. As soon as she was off the leash, she ran and leaped into the pool. It turned out that she was a little too rambunctious for the previous family that had her, and they had dumped her at the rescue without a second thought. We thought she would fit in with us just fine. As soon as we could get approved for adoption we picked her up from the shelter and took her home

Soon after, I attended my first Summer Teva Mountain Games and fell in love with the atmosphere, athlete and spectator camaraderie, and the general buzz the town of Vail gets this time of year. I watched my first DockDogs competition and immediately wanted to try it with Hannah. The Big Air portion of Dock Dogs, where they jump as far out into the water as possible, seemed especially suited to her.  She is an obsessed swimmer and jumps into water off of anything available.

The DockDogs crowd. Photo by Preston Utley.

Several DockDogs competitions have taken place throughout the Vail Valley, with events in Avon and Eagle, Colorado. Bad-timing always seemed to get in the way of actually entering, but 2 years after adopting Hannah I decided to finally do it, promising myself to make no excuses this time around.  “I” turned into “we” as I coerced my fiancé Fritz into actually taking Hannah up on the dock so that I could better document the situation, and be safe from embarrassment should she fail miserably. Once the decision was made that we would enter Hannah, we got to practicing. Dog parks and small ponds throughout Vail became training grounds as we taught her how to sit and wait back from the edge of the water. Sitting and waiting for one second progressed into waiting for one minute. Once she mastered controlling her enthusiasm we taught her how to wait until we gave her the command to start running and jump into the water.

A couple of weeks later, the big day arrived. Waking up early, we headed into Vail to check in and found out that Hannah would get two chances to jump in the competition. Participants are divided into Waves, and each Wave gets to jump twice. Jump length is based upon the distance where the base of the dog’s tail enters the water. Handlers are allowed to throw any toy into the water that floats, is not edible, and is not a dead or alive animal. Handlers cannot force a dog to jump off the dock in any way, and the team only has a limited amount of time to jump off the dock before they are disqualified. Once every Wave has jumped twice, the finals participants are divided up based upon their longer of two jumps.  The Amateur Finals group is comprised of the top 6 teams with a top score of 17’11” or less, the Semi Pro Finals group is comprised of the top 6 teams with a top score between 18’0” and 22’0” and the Pro Finals group is comprised of the top 6 teams with a top score of 22’0” or greater. [i]

One of Hannah’s competitors in the DockDogs Big Air event. Photo by Preston Utley.

As their turn for a second jump came around, it dawned on me that I actually wanted to do well!  My competitive nature had taken over the fun-loving free spirit that originally entered DockDogs.  Once again, the announcer boomed over the speakers, pointing out that Fritz and Hannah were first-timers and had done a great job the first round. A few more cheers echoed from the crowd on this round. With a better throw and a better start, Hannah jumped 16’1”, bettering her previous score by more than a foot.  As it turns out, we were a few inches shy of the finals. A few “pros” that were hanging around congratulated us, and asked if it was really Hannah’s first time jumping. We came out of the whole experience with our pride intact, a little sunburn and a lot of smiles. In fact, it was such a fun time that we will no doubt repeat it next year. Hannah was just happy to have gone swimming.

[i] http://www.dockdogs.com/files/Rules_Policies.pdf

Author Kristie Buse is the Marketing & Sales Assistant for Vail Mountain. In her free time she and fiancee Fritz volunteer with Mountain Dog Rescue. Read more about her “foster, rescue and adventures in outdoor life” on her blog: http://fourfeetmanypaws.blogspot.com/