Give ‘Em the Runaround

Dog sports can be a fun challenge for you and your pooch.

Dwight Dyke

Border Collie

Owner: Pauline Scott

(Photo by Alex Taura Pawtography)

Ready to go beyond “sit” and “fetch”? How about trying “dive” instead? Dock diving is a fast-growing canine sport in which dogs, chasing after a prized toy, take a running leap from a dock into a pool and compete for how far they fly before splashing down. “It’s probably the fastest-growing sport for dogs,” explains Pauline Scott, owner of Walnut Hill Farm K-9 Sports in Madison County, which hosts training and competitions.

Dogs compete at various levels and within different categories, from novice first-timers to world record holders (currently a whippet that soared an astonishing 36 feet), “and it doesn’t matter if they jump two feet or 30 feet,” says Scott. There is also a vertical jump and a timed retrieval competition. And even dogs you wouldn’t think are likely contenders take to the sport with a passion, says Scott. “I have a Shih Tzu poodle that is a fierce jumper—he runs down the dock like he is a big dog and flies off.”

Getting started in the sport is easy (you can learn all about it on the North American Diving Dogs website at NorthAmericaDivingDogs.com). “It’s something people can do with their dogs that doesn’t take tons of skill,” says Scott. And, she adds, the people are friendly, there are fun prizes, “and the dogs love it.”

“ONCE THE DOG KNOWS ITS JOB, OUR JOB IS 100 PERCENT TO FOCUS ON THE HANDLER LEARNING HOW TO COMMUNICATE TO THE DOG ON TIME ON THE COURSE.” —Merritt Speagle, Level Up Dog Sports

(Photo by Alex Taura Pawtography)

Another sport gaining in popularity is agility trials, where dogs work with their handlers to run through a course of jumps, slaloms, tunnels, and other challenges. At Level Up Dog Sports in Richmond, which offers an “agility day school” alternative to traditional doggy daycare, general manager Merritt Speagle says, “We get a lot of people who say they are just going to try it for fun, and not compete, and then they catch the bug.”

(Photo by Alex Taura Pawtography)

At Level Up, dogs can begin training after “graduating” from manners class—and the dogs typically learn quickly. It’s actually the owners who take some time to develop the necessary skills and abilities, Speagle says, “Once the dog knows its job, our job is 100 percent to focus on the handler learning how to communicate to the dog on time on the course.”

Speagle says that they’re seeing new customers at Level Up who, because of the pandemic, were able to spend more time at home and realized how much they enjoyed working with their dogs. And while, not surprisingly, herding breeds like border collies and shelties do well in agility, Speagle says “It’s a sport for everyone. It is welcoming to newcomers, and it is all about the dog and the handler having fun.” WalnutHillFarmK9Sports.comLevelUpDogSports.com


This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue.

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