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Rob Morris
Rob Morris

Dock Jumping Dogs are Making a Splash in Oklahoma

Oct 03, 2022

Little stands in the way of a dog’s love for its favorite toy. That canine passion for toys and play has become the foundation of the fast-growing sport called “Dock Diving.” Local resident Sue Hathaway and her Belgian Malinois, “Wayland,” have qualified for the 2022 Dockdogs World Championships, set to be held in Dubuque, Iowa, on October 12-16. Hathaway says they initially got involved in dock diving to give Wayland a way to burn off energy.


“My husband and I are both military, and we had both been around the Belgians in the service,” said Hathaway. “I had a friend who had been coming down here to Brian’s place near Washington, and she suggested I give it a try. Brian gave us a few lessons, Wayland absolutely loved it, and we’ve been coming down ever since.”


The place Hathaway’s friend suggested is Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving, which Brian Sanders runs. Sanders is a 24-year law enforcement veteran, but he has invested significant time and effort in creating Oklahoma’s first dock diving center. For Sanders, what began as a hobby has become something much bigger.


“It started for my wife and me when we saw some dock diving events on television back in 2012 and 2013,” said Sanders. “We had some younger dogs and wanted to give it a go. Nobody did it in Oklahoma, so we traveled to Midlothian, Texas for events.”


After about a year-and-a-half of weekend getaways and practice in Texas, Sanders and his wife decided to build their facility to help grow the sport in Oklahoma. And it has grown.


“Ours was the first facility in Oklahoma, and now there’s a place out by Broken Arrow,” said Sanders. “It’s a great sport that allows you to have fun with your dog and meet many other folks who share that passion.”


If you think dock diving is fun for people, Sanders and Hathaway say that’s nothing compared to how much dogs enjoy it.


“The dogs love it,” said Sanders. “Their toy drive is in high gear, and they generate tremendous speed running down the dock. They want to compete like they know they’re competing against other dogs. You can see them feed off that energy.”


“Wayland is crazy about dock diving,” said Hathaway. “When we’re in the car coming down here, and we exit off I-35, he understands where we’re going and starts whining with excitement.”


Sanders says almost any breed of dog can participate in dock diving. There are different disciplines and classes for competition, so it’s easy for anyone from novice to expert level to find a place to compete. Big Air, Extreme Vertical, and Iron Dog Challenge are the three dock dog disciplines.


Big Air is a long jump for dogs and consists of the dog running along a 40-foot dock after a handler tosses their toy into the water. The distance jumped is measured from the end of the dock to where the dog’s tail breaks the water’s surface.


Extreme Vertical is the high jump event. The dog starts at the 20-foot mark on the dock and jumps up to grab a bumper toy extended out eight feet from the dock. The starting height for Extreme Vertical begins at 4’6” and goes up in 2” increments as the competition progresses.


The Iron Dog challenge incorporates Big Air, Extreme Vertical, and Speed Retrieve into a single event. Scores are combined in all three disciplines, with the overall best score winning.


In addition to the disciplines, Sanders says various categories dogs can compete in make it easy for any skill level to participate.


“It starts with the novice division, which is from one inch up to four-feet-eleven inches,” said Sanders, “And it goes up to the Premier division, which is 28-feet and up. We have local dogs that regularly jump over 20 feet.”


Sanders says the most crucial thing about dock diving is recognizing that the swimming part isn’t as important as the dog’s toy drive.


“If you want to get your dog involved, work on that toy drive,” said Sanders. “Once a dog gets to where they go nuts for the toy, that compels them to want to run faster and jump higher.”


It’s a spectacular sport made even more fun to watch by the enthusiasm of the dogs and their owners.


“It’s great fun to compete, but it’s certainly not a requirement that you do,” said Hathaway. “There’s such great camaraderie among the folks who come down to these events. Our dogs love the water, love jumping, and Brian does a great job of getting folks and their dogs involved at whatever level they like.”

Sanders says that while competitive dock jumping is an important part of what he does, a variety of activities people get involved in, including teaching dogs to swim. That makes sense in a state where lake activity is a popular pastime, and folks want to ensure their dogs are safe around water.


“We have people that come out and just want us to swim their dogs for exercise,” said Sanders. “Just like humans, water is a great way to exercise, especially for older dogs or dogs healing from injuries. So, we do a lot of private lessons with dogs in the pool, just swimming and exercising.”


Crowds gather at Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving for two major events each year. One is around Memorial Day, and the other is in mid-July. The events are growing in popularity. Sanders says they’ve been nominated as one of the top five events for 2022. These competitions attract huge crowds and serve as qualifiers for the National Dock Dog championships in the fall. Hathaway and Sanders suggest that anyone interested in learning more spend some time at the pool. It doesn’t matter what breed of dog you have.


“My husband and I started wanting to adopt a military working dog,” said Hathaway. “We fell in love with the Belgian Malinois, so we got Wayland as a service dog, then recently added Jessie, our second Malinois. Both of them love the water and love competing.”


“The different breeds involved have changed over the years,” said Sanders. “It started with the Labradors, and then the Belgian Malinois became popular. Now people are going to the whippets. But you’ll see a lot of different breeds competing.”


The other great thing about dock diving is that it’s a sport that doesn’t require a constant investment of energy. Hathaway says it’s easy to get started and even easier to stay involved at whatever level you prefer.


“For us, it’s not an every-week thing,” said Hathaway. “I try to come down every three weeks on a Saturday or Sunday during the warmer parts of the year. During the winter, we just rest and play games with our dogs to keep their drive up.”


For folks interested in learning more, Sanders welcomes them to check out the Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving Facebook page. You can text or call him at 405-640-7712 to set up a time to come by and check the place out.

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