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Pups perform at doggie Dock Diving competition

RHINEBECK — Last week, dogs and their owners gathered by the pool at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck for one of its lesser-known events — Dock Diving.

The sport includes three categories of competition. There’s Big Air, the best-known and most popular, which essentially involves throwing a dog’s favorite toy into the water and having them jump in after it. The dog with the furthest jump emerges victorious. Dog-owner pairs may also compete in the height competition Extreme Vertical, or Speed Retrieve, a time trial event.

“It’s actually a very, very technical sport,” said Nicki Russell, who coaches Dock Diving out of Ledgewood Kennel in Millerton. “You know, people have no idea…it’s the placing of the dog on the dock, it’s how you throw the toy.”

Millerton resident Tyeler Duncan developed an interest in Dock Diving with his dog Tucker while attending the fair in years past.

“Every year when I attend the Dutchess County Fair I make it a point to go over and watch the other dogs in the Dock Diving competition,” he said. “Every year that goes by I can’t help but notice Tucker’s enthusiasm and willingness to jump off a dock while we are fishing or recreationally swimming.”

Tucker finally competed for the first time at the fair last week. Duncan said that everyone at the event was incredibly supportive of the new pair.

“The entire group of people and other competitors welcomed me and gave me as many pointers and advice as they could’ve,” wrote Duncan in a message to The Millerton News, adding he was pleased by Tucker’s inaugural performance.

“I would rank this as a success considering that he completed his jump and finished one competition. It’s [the]spark that I’ve needed to enter him in future competitions.”

Maddie Sartori, 14, also of Millerton, competed at the fair this year as well. She has been competing for two years with her dog Rocco.

“I got two new puppies during COVID,” she stated. “My mom saw a puppy swim class online in Millerton, so we went to check it out…When I got Rocco, we brought him and he jumped right in and has been going ever since.”

Both Duncan and Sartori said they enjoy the social element of the events.

“We travel to all different places for competitions,” noted Sartori, “so I get to meet new people and makes friends all over… It’s like a second family.”

Despite all the benefits and fun of Dock Diving, the sport also comes with challenges.

“The most difficult part for me and beginning the Dock Diving experience was getting over the hesitation of actually ensuring Tucker would jump and compete,” said Duncan. “I was slightly concerned if I could get him to follow by the rules and/or compete being in such a new environment around so many new things at once.”

Russell said getting new dogs to jump is the most rewarding part of her job.

“Once we have that, then we move to the humans,” she said. “The humans are more difficult to train.”

While water dogs are generally the best suited, “if anybody’s interested in it, they should give it a go because you never know,” Russell said.

It’s important the dogs have a big toy drive, and the toy matters. Sartori said Rocco’s toy of choice is a Water Wubba. And Tucker?

“Tucker is a very simple dog,” shared Duncan. “His toy of choice would have to be a Franklin Street hockey ball… I think he’s successfully cleaned Dick’s Sporting Goods out of stock.”

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