If there were a people’s choice award at Saturday’s North West Air Dogs dock-jumping competition, it surely would go to Kip the border collie.
The object is to get a dog to jump as far as it can off a dock and retrieve a rubber duck or a tennis ball its master has thrown into a big swimming pool.
North West Air Dogs is a low-key event in which beginners can learn the basics of dashing down a lane and leaping across the water.
Still, there’s no glory in dodging sideways at the last minute and springing off the exit ramp as Kip clearly preferred – unless you can dunk a human in the process.
In an effort to encourage 2-year-old Kip to use the proper technique, volunteer Allan Morrison crouched on the exit ramp to block it. Kip still skewed sideways, but got enough traction off Morrison for a 10-foot jump.
Morrison was pushed face-first into the pool.
“That was the highlight,” event organizer Bryan Miller said, laughing.
Kip’s owner, Coeur d’Alene resident Shirley Sturts, said Kip logged a 16-foot leap earlier in the day, but she thought the relatively cold water dampened his enthusiasm.
Although the outside temperature at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center was around 90 degrees, the water was closer to 60.
Kip wasn’t the only reluctant jumper, but Spokane resident Carla Haley’s Australian cattle dog Takoda refrained from dunking Morrison.
Not that Morrison minded getting wet.
He jumped in the water to encourage Trixie the mutt to jump instead of running to the end of the dock and pawing the water.
“At the lake, she does it all the time,” said Trixie’s owner, Spokane resident Dusty Swanson.
But someone is already in the water at the lake when Trixie jumps in, said Swanson’s fiancée, Rachael Grafmiller.
Grafmiller is the organizer of the two-day PetFest show at the fairgrounds, of which North West Air Dogs is one of the main attractions.
The show continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“This is my vacation,” said Miller, a LaCenter, Wash., decorative concrete contractor who conducts North West Air Dog competitions around the region with help from his family and his friend, Morrison, also of LaCenter.
Most handlers encouraged their dogs to run and leap as soon as they threw whatever the dog was supposed to retrieve.
However, Sandpoint resident Johnny Johnson got a 19-foot-8-inch leap out of his dog with the “place and send” technique.
Johnson let Bocephus watch while he tossed a rubber duck, then he taxied the big yellow Lab back to the other end of the runway for an airliner-style takeoff.
Caddis, a Chesapeake Bay retriever who belongs to Spokane teachers Britten and Julie Jay, demonstrated spectator-drenching championship form with a 23-foot-8-inch leap.
Caddis is headed to the Iron Dog world championship in Stillwater, Minn., in July by virtue of winning the national championship last October in Richfield, Wis.
In addition to “big air” dock jumping, the Iron Dog competition includes “extreme vertical” jumping and “speed retrieve,” which Julie Jay describes as “doggy drag racing.” She uses Caddis’ speed retrieve score sheets, with speeds measured in thousandths of seconds, to teach decimals to her fourth- and fifth-grade students.
The North West Air Dogs competition seemed a natural to Cincinnati residents Gene and Chris Rielag, who were in Spokane with their yellow Lab, Lucy, to visit their daughter, Air Force 1st Lt. Sara Rielag.
“Lucy jumps in our pool all the time, so we thought, ‘Why not?’ ” Chris Rielag said.
Lucy leaped 13 feet, 2 inches without ruffling her blue bandanna.