In the summer of 2003 I watched an event called the Great Outdoor Games which was held locally here in Reno,Nevada at Rancho San Rafael Park. It was July and the program was broadcast worldwide on ESPN. There was a particular event that I watched and thankfully recorded on my home television, called Big Air, which was in the Sporting Dogs competition.
I became absolutely fascinated watching the dogs remaining at a sit position some 30-40 feet from their owner, who were standing at the end of the dock. At their owner’s command, the dogs would bolt like a sprinter on a track down the padded dock towards the end of it. As the dog would get about 10 feet from the end, the owner would begin an underhand toss of its favorite toy to encourage the dog to leap up and out to catch it before it splashed down. The world record is currently at 29 feet from end of dock to front paw splashdown ! It is also popularly known as Splash Dogs today.
In two weeks I would be getting my new Golden Retriever puppy, Phoenix. I told myself that I had to do this with him when he was old enough. For one completely invalid reason or another, I never pursued that dream, until this morning !!!
Fast forward to August of 2011 and Phoenix was now 8 years old. Three weeks ago he had bilateral dew claw amputation. I was warned ahead of time by my vet that Phoenix’s surgery had a very delicate recovery time for an adult dog. Do not misunderstand me for a second… dogs who have had invasive internal surgery, amputations, Achilles surgery, hip replacements…. this was nothing in comparison. But, it really opened up my eyes to how precious our time has been and the years we have left together. All the sleepless nights on my couch with him at my feet with a cone around his head that he sadly didn’t understand. He had continually “caught” and torn his claws when playing ball. Every time, it stopped us from playing ball for at least 6 weeks. My vet at Kings Row Pet Hospital and I decided together… no more of that. His first time, after 8 years with me, having to wear a cone. A picture speaks a thousands words.
I’ve had the most amazing life experiences and have shared many of those with all of you through my blogs and stories off and on over thru the years. I’ve always wished for all my friends to have the same experiences. To do those things they wish and dream to do that are easily within their grasp. For reasons I still cannot explain, from the point of Phoenix’s surgery to now, he has been incredibly close to me. He’s always been a bit aloof… meaning that he enjoys being out in his yard or laying on the back porch observing his kingdom. But now, he wants to be at my feet all the time. It caught my attention in a big way.
Two Friday’s ago I had lunch with my uncle. He had graciously helped me by taking Phoenix at his house during his recovery time while I was at work. I was thanking my uncle again at lunch for helping me when I shared with him that I wanted to do lots of special things with Phoenix from this point forward.
My uncle said, “Why don’t you try ‘Splash Dogs’ ??”
I said, “What is…..ohhh, you mean where they jump off the end of the dock ??” I had quickly recalled the dock jumping from the Great Outdoor Games.
He said, “Heck ya. He loves to swim. He loves to fetch….and Mikey, there are more cute girls than you will know what to do with. I watched one of these competitions in person just this last Spring.”
I said with a Cheshire grin, “Lots of cute girls ???”
He frowned and gave me a stern look for a second, “This is about you and Phoenix, Mikey, and the fun activity you two can have. I think he will love it.” Then, he added with a sparkle in his eyes, “Yes, and the cute girls too.”
Sign me up.
I went home and Phoenix greeted me. I obviously had an over-enthusiastic look in my eye, saying to him, “Phoenix !! We are going to go to do something fun !!”
He groaned with familiarity, “Oh noooooo. What’s her name ?” Darn dog, what does he know ?
I went to work the following Monday and spoke with a wonderful friend and co-worker. Ironically, she told me that she had just had her first lesson of dock jumping with her dog over the weekend !! Nothing more needed to be said.
A shout out to High Desert Dive Dogs. It’s a non-profit group run by volunteers that teaches dogs how to dock jump. I emailed them and said Phoenix and I would be there Saturday morning (today).
I was excited all week to do this with Phoenix. Last night I could barely sleep and woke up at 6:30 a.m. raring to go !! They didn’t start until 9 a.m. at the Sparks Marina.
We got into Phoenix’s Jeep and headed towards Sparks. Phoenix is amazing at how he knows and remembers previous drive routes and destinations. Former sitter’s houses, my uncle’s house, his current sitter, etc. This time we were headed in a different direction.
As he sat next to me as always… his paw resting on top of my hand on the gear shifter… I said, “I have a big surprise for you !!”
I had to pull over for a second to send a text and looked at him. He tilted his head to the side and questioned this as we passed by all of our usual destinations, “Is anything going to have been removed off of my body afterwards ??”
Sheesh….he of little faith in his Dad !!
We arrived at the Marina and (ironically) that same good friend was also there with her dog for their second lesson. Good… the comfort in having a friend there for support ! There were lots of dogs (both Marina dog walkers and dog jumpers) and yes, cute girls.
I said to him, “You wanna go have fun and play, Phoenix ??”
He said, “Oh heck ya !!’
I had some tennis balls “hidden” in a bag… of which was a waste of time as he knew exactly what I was holding. We got signed up and met our trainer, Dawn. She had me put on a life jacket (for insurance purposes) and we were headed off down to the dock. My heart was pounding with anticipation.
Phoenix looked up at me, jumping up, sniffing, puzzled by this thing (the life preserver) I was now wearing, “What is that ?!”
Me: “It’s a life jacket so I float in the water… stop it. Chill out.” I was trying to impress Dawn that my dog was well-behaved.
Phoenix, looking first up at Dawn (he loves girls), then over at me the inquisivitely, “She’s pretty cute, huh ? Hey… you going swimming, Dad ??”
Me, eyerolling him and embarrassed, said curtly, “Stop it…”
I will explain this ahead of time. There is a padded, inclined RAMP that is attached to the dock (which is a couple feet above the water line) that lays down under water. At the end of the ramp are two bouy’s which serve as a “beacon” for where the dogs are to learn to swim back to. Then they climb up the ramp and back onto the dock. The first lesson does not include dock jumping. It’s crucial that the dogs learn that the RAMP is their “lifeline” back onto the dock.
Phoenix was anxious and spinning and huffing looking up at me, “I know what’s in the bag, I know what’s in the bag, I know what’s in the bag….”
Me, frustrated to him, “Stop it !! Sit !!”
Dawn instructed me to give Phoenix one of his tennis balls so that he was engaged and “activated” to retrieve. You only have to SAY the word “ball” and he is activated and engaged. I gave him his ball.
He looked at me confirming, “TOLD YA !!!!”
She then told me to unleash him. Well… it was all of maybe 5 seconds that Phoenix dropped the ball onto the dock. This is completely normal for him to drop the ball for whomever, ANYONE, to pick the ball up and throw it for him.
If someone doesn’t do it soon enough to his liking he will lay down and bark at the person. If it’s still not picked up and thrown, he will then briskly nudge it with his nose. Well, he gave it a hard nudge and it went rolling quickly off the DOCK into the water. NOT THE RAMP where he was supposed to learn !! Albeit I didn’t know this at that moment.
Phoenix leaped up and went bolting after his ball and LEAPT off the dock hollering, “Banzai !!!!”…. and SPLASHED into the water and retrieved his ball.
My two seconds of utter elation at success was quickly crushed by Dawn who calmly said, “Ummm….that’s not what we want.”
I said, “But, he…..”
She cut me off, “He doesn’t know where to get out now….”
We don’t go swimming that often, but Phoenix is used to bringing his ball back to a shore/beach. I could immediately see a growing panic in his eyes as he frantically made eye contact with me seeing no shore to swim to for his paws to touch ground on, “Uhh Dad… little help here please !!!” Phoenix doing his classic Scooby Doo-try-plane-up-on-the-water-dog-paddle.
The other trainer, Brandi, came running over concerned. Perfect… my dog is going to drown on his first jump during an activity that I had dreamed to do with him for fun !
Brandi stayed perfectly calm, “We need to get him to the ramp… you’re doing great Phoenix !!”
Phoenix looking at me, “This was the big surprise ?? Nice….”
Then he looked at Brandi who was encouraging him, “Ya ! Who’s wearing the floaty thingie !!”
He made it to the side of the ramp and got his front paws up on it, clinging onto it like we did as kids on that last repetition on the pull-up bars in Elementary school.
The three of us were able to grab a hold of him and hoist him up on the dock. He was spent….
He looked at me laying on his side panting… his ball STILL clenched securely in his mouth, and said to me, “Is anyone looking ?? That was embarrassing…..”
I said, “You did great Phoenix !”
He immediately popped up to his feet, “Ok, all good here !! Everyone move along !!”
During our second session, we tried again – and he wanted absolutely nothing to do with jumping. With Dawn at my side I tossed the ball a very short distance into the water. Phoenix became incensed that I had just tossed his ball in the water where he couldn’t reach it. He leaned over with every grasping inch he could to try and reach it with his paw. Dawn, was encouraging him to jump in after it. But, he began to give a high shrill whine which echoed off the Sparks Marina lake and onto the fine citizens of the City of Sparks.
It was our last session that I finally got Phoenix to jump off the RAMP, not the dock !!! It was not the intended reward I had hoped for both of us. But, the utter exhilaration and joy it brought was a euphoria he and I had probably never experienced.
Going back to our second session – We proceeded with the rest of our 15 minute lesson of him going down the RAMP, retrieving his ball and swimming back.
I would lay on my stomach and extend out, down the ramp, and toss the ball for Phoenix. He would jump in and swim back and up the ramp and onto the dock.
I squealed with delight, “Good boy, Phoenix !!”
He would respond, “Well duh… NOW I know what to do !”
As we wrapped up our lesson, Dawn complimented him and said that he did great. And next week is Lesson 3….Dock jumping !!!
Note to self… do NOT take my cell phone when participating in this activity. There are no pics of Phoenix to this as it was and would be impossible for me to do so by myself. I was drenched upon after our initial faux pas.
I will be looking for volunteers between now and then ! I want pictures of us doing the activity and a video of his first OFFICIAL jump !
My friend and her dog had a wonderful second lesson achieving great success ! She and I took our dogs for a walk and chatted for awhile… after the morning cleared up it became such a beautiful, cloudless blue sky out.
As Phoenix and I drove home I kept fawning over him and telling him how good he did, “You were awesome baby !!”
He was absolutely wiped out and laid his head down on the console between us, looking up at me, “You almost dove in there after me. That was very cool.…..I love you, Dad.”
The pics of Phoenix aside. Thank you to Google Images for the dock jumping competitor pictures.