Dock Dogs Jumping into Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival Fun
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - All it takes is a toy and a leap of faith for the splashy sport of Dock Dogs.
And a dock, water and willing canine, of course.
And some training, travel and commitment for devotees like Jan and Dan Mussell of Robins and their golden retriever Madison, 3, who grabbed her tossed toy and a 2010 junior national title with a jump of 18 feet 8 inches.
“DockDogs is the fastest growing sport for canines on four feet,” Dan says above a canine chorus of three golden girls, including Madison and rescue retrievers Finley, 4, who won’t jump into a pool of clear, clean water, and Jaidan, 5 months, who’s chomping at the bit to be old enough to join in the family fun.
The sport has been featured on ESPN, ABC and the Sports Channel, and on Dan’s suggestion, it’s coming to the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival this weekend.
Jump for Freedom begins at 10 a.m. Friday through Sunday. Finals launch at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, all at Andrew’s Collision Center, 815 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids, in a lot near the BBQ Roundup site. Admission is free with a Freedom Festival button.
This national event is open to first-timers, too, not just veterans like the Mussells. Anyone can sign up a dog 6 months and older to practice or compete in the Big Air long jump, the Speed Retrieve timed event and/or the Extreme Vertical high jump. Human handlers must be at least 7 years old to compete or practice. Dogs competing in all three events can have their scores tallied to determine Iron Dog honors.
For registration details, go to Dockdogs.com or take your chances by just showing up. More than 30 teams signed up initially, and there’s room for more. Category fees are $25 in advance and $30 at the competition.
It’s a family friendly event and Jan says kids especially enjoy lining up around the 20-by-40-foot pool to get splashed as the dogs land in the water to retrieve their toy. The Mussells use cylindrical toys called floppies and dummies. These seem to fly the best and straightest, Dan says, but Jan adds that tennis balls work well, too. Flying discs like Frisbees don’t work for competition.
“The trajectory of the throw is important,” says Dan, 48, an electrical engineer at Rockwell Collins. “Some dogs, if the toy goes off to the side, they’ll actually twist in midair, then you’re impeding” the distance, height or speed of the dog’s effort.
“It’s all about the toy,” says Jan, 50, who works as a supervisor at St. Luke’s Hospital. Madison also works there, as a pet therapy dog. But for DockDogs, she’s all about the play.
“She sees the pool and gets really excited,” Jan says, adding that she sometimes needs two leashes to keep Madison at bay until her turn to run, jump, plunge and fetch.
To mind their manners, the Mussell dogs take obedience training. To work on fetching, they play in their backyard in Robins. For exercise, Jan walks them two to four miles every day. For water work, they go to Jan’s parents’ pond near Lisbon. Finley will jump in the water there, but not into the clear water of the competition pools. Dan says she’s “the cerebral one,” who won’t jump into something she can’t see. Some dogs that like to run and leap off a dock into murky water will balk at a pool and the DockDogs apparatus.
“It comes down to building trust between the handler and the dog,” Dan says. “They realize that you’re not going to send them into a dangerous situation and then they get all excited just for the jump.”
“They’re more excited to retrieve the toy,” Jan adds. “All the dog cares about is getting a toy and being able to retrieve it.”
The Mussells, who discovered DockDogs three years ago at an indoor sportsmen’s show in Cedar Falls, are among 18,000 participants worldwide.
“It’s a friendly sport,” Jan says. “Everyone gets excited. There’s a little competition among the adults, but they’re excited for others who get personal bests.”
Dan is excited to bring the sport to Cedar Rapids and was thrilled at how receptive the Freedom Festival folks were. He’s served as a liaison between event planners, sponsors and the national DockDogs organization. Now he just wants to ramp up the enthusiasm on his home turf.
“I hope we can build up enough local excitement to get people to come out and try it,” he says.
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