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This Labrador retriever is suspended high in the air as he flies toward a training dummy.   Photo by Mark Morrison

Last Wednesday was idyllic by southern Minnesota standards, one of those four or five perfect days we get each spring.

The mid-70s temps and low humidity was the ideal backdrop for any outdoors activity.

With myriad options tugging at me, I opted to spend the evening on an area lake where I could enjoy two outdoor pursuits. My plan involved training my lab pup, Cash, then casting lures for pike and bass.

The training went well, but I noticed the pup wasn’t quite used to the spike in temperature. Nearly all of his work involved water, so the effects of the mercury jump were barely noticeable.

Training hunting dogs is a satisfying pastime because the trainer gets to witness a dog grow from an acorn into a strong oak in a relatively short span. However, when weather becomes consistently hot, it’s time to find ways to keep a dog comfortable and engaged.

Introducing a dog to a new, fun activity will pay dividends later in the form of increased concentration and drive. The best activities for sultry, summer days are those that involve water. Without a doubt, the most fun is training and watching a dog go dock diving.

A few years back, I attended Mankato Scheels’ Hunting Expo that featured numerous booths stocked with the latest outdoor gear and plenty of experts to show how it all worked. Most interesting to me and many other attendees was the dock dog competition going on in the crowded parking lot.

Skilled dogs flew to impressive lengths before crashing into the water and doing it all over again, tails helicoptering with excitement. The event was so awing that I added a dock diving regimen for my lab, Luna, the very next day.

Dock diving is a straightforward sport where a dog speeds down a dock and then launches skyward toward a floating toy dummy target. Any dog, regardless of size, can be an enthusiastic dock diver. All a dog needs is a love of water and a strong desire to fetch favorite toys.

Training a dock diver isn’t difficult. If the dog has been properly introduced to water and swimming and can’t wait to get in, the training is well on its way. Generally, it’s the leap from the dock’s end that needs attention as even water hungry dogs sometimes refuse to step off a dock.

Don’t worry though, after coaxing the dog with a high-value toy tossed just out of reach, pup will eventually hop in. After the initial step off a dock, most dogs progress quickly to scrambling off it to retrieve their toys.

Once that grade is passed, extend the runway by starting the dog farther and farther down the dock until he is running the entire length before sailing off it after his prize.

This is one sport where there’s no requirement for the dog to remain steady. Rather, get the pup excited by waving the toy and then run along with the dog before throwing the toy in a high arc over the water. Tossing the dummy so its tantalizingly just out of reach will really raise the dog’s excitement level.

With a little practice it won’t take long before pup is flying with style off any dock he encounters.

A great tip to aid the dog’s take-off is to attach a piece of thin carpet to the dock’s end. This will prevent sliding and significantly increase the dog’s purchase as it launches into the air.

Watching a great dock diving dog is a real pleasure. The sport has become so popular that an entire organization, DockDogs (dockdogs.com) was formed to grow the sport and hold events all around the country. Most of the events are held in conjunction with other events like county fairs and sport shows. In either case, the DockDog organization sets up a large, portable rectangular pool and a dock for the dogs to compete.

Once the pool is set, dogs can compete in 1 to 3 disciplines. The most popular is Big Air, where dogs participate in canine long jumps, vying for the longest distance. There is also an Extreme Vertical event, which is a high jump featuring dogs who launch in a more vertical attitude to grab a toy hanging from an apparatus 8 feet from the dock’s end. The goal is to see how high a dog can fly to snatch the toy.

Additionally, Dockdogs offer the Speed Retrieve, which measures the time it takes a dog to race from a starting point on the dock, hit the water and swim to and pluck a toy that is tethered 2 inches above the water. When a dog grabs the toy, a timer is tripped and records the dogs speed.

Unlike many other dog games, dock diving is a laid back sport where entertainment is first and competition second. According to avid dock dog handlers, it’s the most fun you can have with your dog.

Many folks think you need a retriever to dock dive, but that’s not true. While retrievers are excellent at it, any dog breed can excel. The current record holder is a whippet, a deep chested greyhound-like dog that leaped an incredible 31.7 feet last summer.

That sleek hound’s long legs and inherent love to chase game made him a perfect candidate for dock diving.

As of now, Dockdogs doesn’t have any events scheduled in our immediate area for 2019; the closest is in Polk county. However, you can still watch dozens of eager dock diving athletes at Game Fair’s event in Anoka on August 9,10, 11, and 16, 17, and 18.

My pup, Cash has been giving me sideways glances during our recent hunt training sessions. Now that sizzling temps are on the horizon, I’m gonna take the hint and add copious amounts of fun by molding him into a dock diving fool.

Mark Morrison is an avid hunter and fisherman who has been a freelance outdoors writer and photographer for 21 years. The Mankato resident since 1979 may be contacted at mercuryphotog@aol.com.

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