Dock diving still a hit with pet owners

May 21, 2012

More than a decade after they started, dock diving competitions for dogs remain popular. That was evident this weekend as enthusiasts gathered with their pets in northern Illinois.  

On a sunny day at Meyer’s Kennel near Belvidere, Ricochet, a golden retriever, is standing with her owner Scott Vicary. He provides some motivation as Ricochet prepares to dive into a large, above ground swimming pool that rests in the middle of an open field. After he walks toward the edge of a dock attached to the pool, Vicary gives the command and Ricochet bursts into the air before making a big splash in the pool.   

With the toy in her mouth, Ricochet then swims back to her owner to wrap up this practice round. Scott Vicary is Treasurer of the Chicagoland Dock Dogs club, which is sponsoring the event. It’s one of more than 30 regional clubs across the country. They fall under the umbrella of the national Dock Dogs organization. This aquatic sport for canines, which began in earnest in the year 2000, isn’t just popular in the U.S. Competitions are held in other parts of the globe, including the U-K.    

Vicary says it’s something Ricochet certainly has embraced, and become quite good at.

"We’ve been doing this for five years.  Ricochet has been invited to worlds three years in a row now in two of our different games.”

At each event, performance is measured in various categories including distance and vertical.  Pilar Zambrano of Chicago has two dogs participating in this weekend’s competition.  She and her pets are newcomers to the sport.

“They’re getting up there.  It takes a little bit to get in synch with your dog.  But it’s a lot of fun.  They have a lot of fun, and that’s what it’s all about" Zambrano said.

Disco is a cocker spaniel owned by Becky Cembrowicz of Romeoville.  The two have been taking part in dock diving events for four years. 

Standing by the pool, Cembrowicz was happy to describe her dog's love for the sport.

“He loves to jump.  He loves his frisbee and he loves the water.  Put the two together and he’s happy. ”

Cembrowicz says as opposed to some other dog activities that involve training, this one is more about letting loose.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff, but the dock diving is pure fun.  It’s something he really enjoys. There’s no pressure, no stress to qualify in agility, no obedience pressure. He just gets to go have fun and go swimming and play with his toys.  That’s all that matters.”

And it’s the type of activity enthusiasts say can really help to forge a deep bond between dogs and their owners. Jennifer Hack is certified dog trainer based in Chicago. She says some of her clients are involved with dock diving. Hack says there are many benefits to having your pet get this type of exercise.

"A tired dog, a dog that gets adequate exercise, tends to have less behavior issues, especially when you can take their drive, their energy and channel it in a healthy way.”

As a trainer, Hack says she would like to see more dog owners trying out the sport. Especially those that live in urban areas, where there’s limited access to the outdoors.

“A walk around the neighborhood is really not enough for most dogs, especially the working breeds.  If you have a working breed dog, look into the history of what your dog was bred to do and you’ll be able to see the energy level there.  They need to swim; they need to run off-leash, to do athletic things.” Hack said.

Experts say most dogs can take part in dock diving, just as long as they’re adequate swimmers.