Latest From the DockDogs Docks

MIRACLE ON DOCKDOGS STREET In May of 2011, I attended my first DockDogs event in North Vernon, Indiana, with 2 of my dogs – Summit and Grit. Little did I know the vast impact that this organization and the people involved with it would subsequently have on my life. That event was the first time my Malinois, Grit, had ever gone off of a competition dock.

A troubled dog, Grit had entered my life of his own free will…by running from his former owner into an enclosure with my dogs, and refusing to leave. He had been badly mistreatedGinger McBride and didn’t trust men. He was not at all fond of strangers. He didn’t like the city. The only things he wanted in his life were me and my other dogs. Being a trainer myself, I knew that flipping a dog that had been imprinted so badly was going to be a challenge. I provided him with a strong foundation in Obedience and Agility, but with Grit’s level of over-the-top prey-drive, he needed an additional outlet. I’m not even 100% sure that he knew he was heading into water the first time he sailed off of the dock…all he knew was that the bumper was moving, and he was going after it! Once was all it took. As if a light bulb went off in his head, he began sailing off of the dock for his bumper as many times as I was willing to throw it.

At that first event in Indiana, I didn’t know anyone. The initial thing that really struck me was how, apparently, that didn’t matter at all. The DockDogs staff was SO helpful. They found out it was my first DD event, and went absolutely out of their way to take me under their wing and show me the ropes. I’m still friends today with many of the people that I met at that event. Furthermore, when people saw Grit’s uncertainty with the crowds of strangers, they didn’t hesitate to assist me in desensitizing him. I didn’t even have to ask. These people immediately understood how to act around a dog like him, and by the end of that first day, Grit was loving life, and was just as happy as Summit to be a DockDog – as you can see in this photo from that day.

The subsequent years of my involvement with DockDogs have not only seen Grit become a happy and confident competitor, but have helped me train up my current team of 5 – Summit, Grit, Raven, Vice, and Wiley – aka, “Team Rebel”. We now travel near and far to competitions, and have been invited to compete at Worlds for two years in a row.

Because of DockDogs, I not only have a wonderful energy outlet for my high-drive dogs, but I also have friends from all over the US and Canada – my DockDogs “family”. Truly, the relationships forged with the other competitors in this sport are like none other. I’ve never seen another sport where the competitors cheer each other on, go out of their way to help one another, and are legitimately such good friends on and off the dock. I’m proud to be a part of an organization like that, and am ever mindful to pay that friendliness forward to others who are new to the sport.

Thanks for reading our story!

Kristi Baird of Puget Sound DockDogs has put together a great video for training in DockDogs Big Air®! Whether you’re a long time competitor, or just getting started, this is a resource you should not miss!

What are your favorite tips, techniques, and lessons for competing in the original DockDogs® discipline?

Go Team 21

September 30th, 2012 | Posted by Dave Skoletsky in Guest Blogger | Handler Highlights - (0 Comments)

What do DockDogs® and Down syndrome advocacy have in common?

It may sound like a joke, but the answer is not only serious, it’s downright inspiring. Both DockDogs® and Down syndrome advocacy happen to be the passion of Dave Skoletsky of Stoughton, the Owner of Sit Means Sit dog training, Dave has managed to parlay these “hobbies” into a remarkably successful outreach campaign that makes a real difference in the lives of people with Down syndrome.

Yeager - 3 year old Belgian MalinoisThe vehicle for Dave’s vision is Yeager, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois who, like Dave, has a heart of gold. Early this year, Yeager – who Dave found on Craigslist – set the world record for Extreme Vertical, leaping 8’4″ in official competition. The key to their success? Yeager’s strength, agility and focus, in combination with Dave’s professional but loving training regimen and his ability to get the best out of his “best friend.”

In his brief but impactful career on the DockDogs® circuit, Yeager has already racked up an impressive resume, including “Rookie of the Year”, “Iron Dog” and “Most Inspiring Team.” 

Dave and Yeager’s story is about much more than a man and a dog. It’s about the team they have created, Go Team 21 to be exact. Six years ago Dave’s daughter, Eve was born with Down Syndrome.  Like all parents he experienced joy, gratitude as well as fear, confusion, and stress about how to navigate and provide best for his child.

Dave Skoletsky & Eve - GoTeam21

Dave Skoletsky & Eve

In the years since, as Dave came to understand the beauty of Down Syndrome,he never forgot the support he received.  Learning that interventions between birth and age 3 make the biggest difference.  Being ‘in the know’ and having access to interventions and support groups was of the upmost importance.

Dave is so appreciative of the support his family received that he and Yeager have reached an agreement: ALL of Yeager’s winnings from ALL competitions and appearances go to advocate for Down Syndrome programs, organizations and causes.

And it all started with a Craigslist find and beautiful child’s soul.

Toni Schraa & Riley

Toni Schraa & Riley – Big Air

For those of you who don’t know me I am a Canadian Youth Handler named Toni and I jump my black lab Riley. You may have seen me as a quiet competitor following my dad around all day or an extremely loud crazy person. In that case I was with the Bacon’s and if you don’t know who they are you must be new to the sport, but don’t worry you will find out soon enough (good luck!). Well enough of them, to start off my first blog (and I mean very first ever) I might as well start with how I came to be with DockDogs.

You may know my father, John, as Beach because I know a lot (and I mean a lot!) of people know him. He is the person that got me started with DockDogs. My first event ever was in 2007, but I wasn’t competing. I was watching the whole process of setting up and tearing down the dock and learning the ropes at age 10. This is what continued up until September 2009. Every event my dad worked I was there helping set up tear down and run the show. I was never a competitor.

Finally in the summer of 2009 I got to jump a dog for the first time, his name was Jet. Even though it wasn’t my dog, the thrill was still amazing. The people cheer as soon as you step onto that dock, and their excitement is invigorating. Your dog gives you a look letting you know they are very happy and excited to jump off the dock.  Your time on the dock seems to go by in an instant  … but the feeling still lasts long after you step off that last step to cheers. The support you get from fellow dockdoggers always brings a smile to your face even if you had a bad throw (which will happen). The best part of your first event and many after is RIBBONS! There are always ribbons and prizes! It gives you that sense of accomplishment. At that moment I knew DockDogs was for me. I continued to nag and bug and persist my dad until we finally got our dog, Riley. Thanks to Grant and Chris we relieved Riley in Ohio in September 2009.

Since then Riley has been improving and I am so proud of her. We have gone to so many great events and were please to be invited to the 2011 World Championship, and have been invited again this year.

That thrill I got my first time competing is the same thrill I still get every time I go onto that dock, and hope it is the same feeling you all get when you and your dog have a great time with DockDogs.

Until next time, catch you on the dock!

For this installment of the Handler Highlights series we interviewed Nancy Akin and team 4 Dawg Flite. She is also in charge of Dixie DockDogs publicity.

Nancy Akin - 2012 Rucker Jump Nancy has been a part of the DockDogs community since June of 2008 where she attended her first event at the AFLAC Outdoor Games. She has been a die hard DockDogs competitor from that day forward.

 I’ve gone to events from Florida to Ohio, from Maryland to Seattle. I love going to club events and seeing how all the members interact with the newbies. Most club events are such a laid back, fun time. If I could, I would spend my entire summer with Sally going from club event to club event. [sic]

Nancy has four labrador retrievers: Sally, Spud, Hoppy, and Badger. She mainly jumps Sally and sometimes Spud. Nancy told me that Hoppy is the cheerleader (the Sozio Family has Quake who is the “cheerleader) of the family and Badger is the old fella who mainly enjoys going to events because he gets time to rest.

With the three main disciplines and the addition of the Iron Dog divisions here at the DockDogs Worldwide head office we are always interested in which competitions are a handlers favorites.

Sally and I both enjoy doing Speed Retrieve the most. I like it because it has the most handler-dog interaction. Sally likes it because she’s allowed to get all revved up and go crazy up on the dock. Of course, we enjoy all three jumping disciplines, which leads us to Iron Dog. I am so excited about the new Iron Dog divisions, as Sally is always right at the top battling it out for Iron Dog Warrior. She’s a good jumper, but will never be one of the big jumpers, so the Warrior division is just right for team like Sally and me. [sic]

With all of the travelling Nancy has under her belt to compete in DockDogs events we knew asking her for her favorite event would be next to impossible. She was able to narrow it down to her top three favorites: 2009 National Championships, Care-A-Lot in Virginia Beach, and her very first club event in August of 2009, the Fishing Creek Outfitters Throwdown.Nancy Akin at SEWE

The 2009 National Championships were absolutely awesome! It was DockDogs’ 10th anniversary, and every person I know from all over the country was there.

Another event that was unforgettable was Care-a-Lot in Virginia Beach. We’ve only been once, but we made so many great friendships and learned so much from everyone.

A third event that is probably the sentimental favorite was our club’s very first event in August, 2009, the Fishing Creek Outfitters Throwdown. Bill and I had worked so hard to get the club built up and able to put on an event. We finally had a group of people all excited about doing this event and willing to work tirelessly for the club. That Friday morning when I drove up to the venue just before it all opened and saw everything set up…the pool and dock, tents, banners, merchandise…and saw everyone working together, I honestly choked up with tears welling up in my eyes. The dream that Bill and I had worked for, worried over, labored so long to accomplish was actually coming true. A Kodak moment for sure. [sic]

As a long time competitor and DockDogs fanatic we had to ask what Nancy’s favorite discipline to watch is:

My favorite discipline to watch is Extreme Vertical. I love it when it gets down to the last two or three dogs, and it keeps going back and forth. I like watching the crowds and seeing the expressions on their faces at some of those EV jumps. [sic]

Nancy Akin - Care-A-LotI was interested in knowing how Nancy came to be so actively involved in DockDogs and she replied:

In 2000, I was surfing channels on the TV and saw DockDogs on the Great Outdoor Games. I thought it was about the coolest thing I had ever seen and wanted so very badly to get involved. The problem was the only dogs we had were Basset Hounds…not exactly dock dog material. However, I kept this sport in the back of my mind, and in 2006 we got a chocolate Labrador Retriever puppy named Sally. I couldn’t wait until she was old enough to try dock diving. When Sally got old enough to participate, I googled “dock diving Atlanta” and came up with the DockDogs forum. I began inquiring how to get involved. Sadly, I found out that there were no clubs anywhere in the South and almost no DockDogs events at all down here. Bill and I solved that problem by starting Dixie Dock Dogs in March of 2008. Working with Bill to bring DockDogs down here to the South has been very satisfying indeed. In June 2008, Sally and I participated in our first event (AFLAC Outdoor Games). From there, it was off to the races!

As a long time competitor we had to know what Nancy’s tips are for new handlers just getting started with DockDogs

  1.  Find a DockDogs Club near you
  2. Work on your dogs toy drive and water retrieving
  3. If possible, find a dock nearby and start jumping
  4. Attend a DockDogs event and give it a try
  5. Post any questions you have on the DockDogs “Latest From the Dock” blog or on the DockDogs Facebook. There are a lot of experienced people all around the country who love helping new handlers.
  6. Most importantly, keep it fun. The bond you build with your dog is invaluable.

We are always trying to improve DockDogs so we love to hear where the community thinks the sport will be in 10 years.Nancy Akin - 2011 Pet Fest

I see the local, grassroots aspect of DockDogs really growing over the next 10 years. With the advent of the Regional Championships and the growth of the Sanctioned Facilities, this sport is going to spread even wider and faster with more people becoming involved. The new restructuring that has occurred this year really opens up DockDogs to more and different aspects of the sport. The key, in my opinion, is DDWW making sure the local clubs have the support they need to grow the sport. [sic]

Closing thoughts?

Working in DockDogs over the past few years has given me a new appreciation for both people and dogs. Some of the most awesome people I’ve met in my entire life are DockDogs people. Watching people competing with each other actually going out there and helping each other is truly awe-inspiring. [sic]

I would have to say the single best gift I have been given by DockDogs is the chance to build such a strong bond between Sally and me. All the training, the practices, the events, the time on the dock, the traveling to and from events, the time sitting under our tent…it all has weaved a trust and best-friend relationship with Sally that can never to broken.

DockDogs would like to thank Nancy Akin for her time in helping us write this post and for her continued support, thank you for being part of the DockDogs family.

Where do you think DockDogs will be in 10 years? What are your suggestions for new handlers? Share in the comments below!

The Sozio family is the second in our Handler Highlights series. One aspect of DockDogs® that is so great is that the family can come together and all have a blast with their dogs. Steve and his wife Heather and their son James have two dogs in their family. The whole family handles Twister who is a 5 1/2 year old female Chesapeake Bay Retriever who Steve told us is the “athlete”. In addition the Sozio family has Quake who is a 2 1/2 year old Jack Russel Terrier who is the “cheerleader”.

This season will mark the fifth season participating in DockDogs®. Their first event was in May of 2008 with Chesapeake DockDogs® at Lilypons in Adamstown, MD. I asked Steve to tell me a little bit about their first experience with DockDogs®.

Steve Sozio & Family - STIHL DockDogs World Championships

We have been hooked ever since our first event in MD. James started competing in November 2008 at the Easton Waterfowl Festival when he was 6 years old. The friendships we have formed and the times we have spent together as a family have kept us coming back.

Twister has been a great competitor over the years with huge accomplishments on the dock. She has earned Elite, Top Gun, and Iron Dog titles with both Steve and James, a master title with Heather, and Turbo titles with the entire family. James Sozio was named the 2011 DockDogs® youth handler of the year. Heather Sozio with Twister was the 2011 Master Division National Champion.  The family has been competitors at two DockDogs® National Championships. In 2009 the entire family were competitors and in 2011 both Heather and James. This is not to mention that they have also been able to compete in 3 World Championships. The 2012 World Championships will be their fourth year.

I asked the Sozio family what their favorite discipline was as competitors in DockDogs® and what their dog Twister seemed to enjoy the most. We will start out with what they see their dog Twister enjoys the most:

Out of all the disciplines in DockDogs®, Twister loves Extreme Vertical™ the most.  It is all about instant gratification. You either move on or you are finished.  She is so excited off the dock and she barks her head off when another competitor gets to jump before her.  As soon as she is on the dock it is all business.  She sits down and just waits until she is told to go.

Well how about the Sozio family? Which discipline as handlers do you most enjoy?

Big Air® is our favorite as handlers because we can break it down to a science.  We know what will get Twister to jump big; it’s a matter of putting it all together for that jump.  Using the right toy (a normal stick is her new favorite), getting her excited, having a solid sit-stay, and timing the throw just right seem to be the perfect combination. [sic]

Now that I knew the Sozio family and Twister enjoy Extreme Vertical and Big Air the most as handlers and teams I was interested in what they thought about the Speed Retrieve discipline and Iron Dog rankings:

James and Steve love the idea of Iron Dog, but we can’t seem to convince Twister to have the same excitement for Speed Retrieve™ as the other disciplines.  She will swim as fast as she can after a stick in a river, but a bumper hanging at the end of pool, she’ll take her time.  It will be there when she gets there.  (Maybe we could use some tips from SportMutt).

During their five years of being part of DockDogs the Sozio family has had the opportunity to travel and experience events across the country; they especially enjoy pond events. Their son James favorite event was at Clay’s Park just outside of Canton, Ohio. Steve says he loves to be able to play at the water park and enjoys mini golf. James nailed a massive jump with Twister with a 24’10” jump knocking his father out of the Pro Finals! James Sozio with Twister at SEWE

The Sozio family has had many journeys around the country spending time together with their dogs. I asked what their favorite event was as a family:

Our family’s favorite event so far was the DockDogs® World Championship in Stillwater, MN in 2009.  That was our first long trip, 15 hours. The event was one of the best, with the setting on the St. Croix River in a quaint town, constant action with lumberjacks between dog waves, huge crowds, and our first time meeting competitors from the west coast.  We also enjoyed watching one of our friends from Keystone DockDogs®, Andy Fink, squeak out a win in the Iron Dog Competition with Wilson.  It was an awesome trip. [sic]

How did the Sozio family go from spectators to a family of competitors? They would take Twister down to a local river and noticed she was jumping off a section of the bank without any hesitation and decided to try out DockDogs®. Just around this time they found their was an event the following weekend at Lilypons in Adamstown, MD which is approximately an hour away from their house.

Steve showed up with Twister, a chair, and Twister’s favorite toy at the time which happened to be a volleyball she stole from the neighbor’s kids. Twister’s first jump was a massive Senior jump and the rest is history; they were hooked from that day forward. Steve wanted me to note that of course they have purchased more supplies and toys since her first jump.

With all of the experience the Sozio family has we wanted to share what tips they have for a new handler just trying DockDogs® out.

For new handlers, this sport is really about communicating with your dog.  We were lucky that Twister showed us that she loves the water.  We had to work on her sit and stay, which we practiced at home mainly when we played.  She sits for everything now including her food, treats, and toys.  Building a bond and an understanding with your dog will help you enjoy and succeed in this sport.  [sic]

As DockDogs® and it’s competitors continue to grow as a community we wanted to see where Steve Sozio and his family see the sport heading in ten years.

We see DockDogs® as a wonderful family sport and we hope to see that aspect continue to grow.  DockDogs has made significant strides with this, continuing to have free membership and discounted wave fees for youth, and having Youth Handler competitions at the World Championships the past two years.  [sic].

We hope to still be in the sport in 10 years.  We’ll never have another Twister, but there is another Sozio on the way.  We look forward to having our next Youth Handler learn all the same things James has learned through the sport, the value of hard work, sportsmanship, appreciating successes, and dealing with the adversity that comes in any part of life. [sic]

James Sozio and Twister - Virginia Beach












DockDogs® would like to say Thank You you to the Sozio Family for their contributions in this article and for being part of the DockDogs® community.

Where do you see DockDogs® in the next 10 years? How did you and your dogs get involved? Share your stories in the comments below using your Facebook, Twitter, Disqus, Google, Yahoo account, or just sign in with your email. 

Susan Barnes is our handler of the week.  We wanted to spotlight Susan since she has been part of the DockDogs® family for 8 years.  Tanner first started to jump with Susan at the America’s River Festival in Dubuque, IA in 2005.  Tanner is a 12.10 year old German shorthair pointer. Tanner is an Elite Jumper and Cadet, a 2010 DockDogs® Hall of Fame Inductee, and a 5 times National Champion.

Susan also jumps two other dogs.  Lucky is  a 13.3 year old German shorthair pointer who is  a novice jumper.  Lucky started jumping in DockDogs® competitions in 2006. Bella, a 3.10 year old Golden Retriever, has been involved in the DockDogs® family since 2010.  Bella is a senior jumper and was  a 2011 junior National Champion.Sue Barnes & Tanner

Susan also has Tate and Tini.  They are 3.10 year old German Shorthair Pointers who are part of the Team MYTDOG‘s “paw crew”.  They are still waiting to jump.

Susan has been a competitor in both Big Air® and Extreme Vertical™ events in DockDogs® competitions. I asked her what her favorite DockDogs® discipline is:

My favorite is Big Air® because I feel like it takes the most teamwork and skill for both my dog and me. I’m a sports minded and competitive person.  I like having an active part in this sport with my dogs. I like that my success or failure at doing my part (from dock routine, down stay, and the throw) to make everything work just right plays a role in our accomplishment.

Part of what makes DockDogs® so great is that any dog can participate; mixed to purebred, over 6 months old to legend dog, and dogs of all sizes too! I asked Susan how she originally got involved in DockDogs® and dock diving:

I have always been an avid watcher of dock diving on the Great Outdoor Games and the Retriever series in the early 1990’s. I was one of those people that thought ‘I bet Tanner could do that’.

Susan said she knew she had to participate with Tanner when she saw the 2004 ESPN Great Outdoor Games in Madison, WI. Unfortunately she was unable to participate in that year’s events; although she did have an insightful moment and knew that she had to be a competitor. Initially mostly young Labs and Chesapeake’s were competing.  Tanner was already 5 years old. She recalls

I saw an amazing German Shorthair Pointer named ‘Sarge’ that proved that retrievers weren’t the only big jumping dogs.  He became our DockDogs® inspiration and idol [sic].

In 2005 Susan was able to try DockDogs® out for herself right in her own backyard in Dubuque for the Great Outdoor Regional Qualifier. To practice her dock diving skills Susan gained permission from local marinas to jump from their docks into the backwaters of the Mississippi.

It wasn’t the most ideal situation for training, it did give us many audiences from the boaters and local bar patrons that would sit and watch us! We practiced but I had no idea how we would do, honestly I was just excited to meet the many great dogs and handlers I had seen on TV and have some fun with Tanner. [sic]

It proved to be fun and more; Susan had fun with Tanner, met some fantastic people, and went home with some placement ribbons and jumps in the 18 to 19 foot range.

I know that Susan is not alone in finding that DockDogs® is not only a competition; it’s about being a part of a greater community. As I said above any dog can jump as long as they are over 6 months old at the time of the competition.

I asked Susan to provide some tips on how to get started as a new handler.

Remember that DockDogs® is MORE than just a sport, it’s an activity and YOU make it what you want it to be. The activity of DockDogs® is what your dog ALWAYS sees, and the SPORT is what we humans make it. Don’t ever let the ‘sport’ side of DockDogs® ruin the fun for you and your dog! Remember, it’s just dogs jumping off a dock and having fun! [sic]

In 2009 DockDogs® celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary so we wanted to ask Susan where she thought DockDogs® would be in another 10 years.

I think that in 10 years we will find that even if there are new disciplines, Big Air® will always remain the heart of DockDogs®. I think we will all be amazed by the increased number and variety of dogs that will be competing. We will find that there are many ‘state of the art’ facilities to train at, with even more in the works. I think we may find that with the increase in jump distances and skill, not only will there be pools that are longer, but we may find that events are specific to ‘pro’ and ‘amateur’ some day. The scoring and equipment will be even more technologically advanced and there will be much less human judgment needed for events. Clubs will have multiplied and DockDogs® will be seen on TV more regularly and the sport will be highly recognized. Maybe someday we will even have a National DockDogs® events center with the Hall of Fame and a museum. All I know is that I hope in ten years I’m still around and having fun with my dogs on the dock.

We would like to thank Susan Barnes for being our first DockDogs® Handler Highlight post.  We also want to remind you to stay tuned as we continue to bring you news about upcoming events, event recaps, training tips, and more. 2012 will be an exciting year for the DockDogs® sport, the community, and sanctioned facilities.  Sometime this week we will bring you a training tips article by Tom Dropik of SportMutt Inc..

Where do you think DockDogs® will be in 10 years from now? Let us know by using the comments section below.  Use a free Disqus account, Facebook Connect, Twitter account, Google account, Yahoo, or OpenID.