Junie strained to break free from Josh Calloway’s grasp, her eyes locked on the water before her.
Tahoma, a black lab owned by AirDog trainer Josh Calloway, leaps 25 feet during competition on Friday at the fairgrounds. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
Carolyn Westbrook threw the tennis ball, Calloway let go and the chocolate lab sprinted to the edge of the platform and took a flying leap.
“She’s doing it for treats,” joked Westbrook, a Smith River resident. “She goes for sticks and balls in our pond. We thought maybe she’d like to try it.”
“It” is K9 Dock Diving with X-Treme AirDogs, a family-owned competition-entertainment organization from Junction City, Ore., which brought seasoned dock-
X-Treme AirDogs trainers also gave locals and their four-legged companions a chance to try their hand at the sport and join the competition. Encouraged by Junie’s fearlessness, Westbrook said she was going to sign her up.
X-Treme AirDog competitions have dogs jump for distance or for height from a platform into a body of water. The competition has divisions in long jumps, high jumps and a timed competition. Levels for the long jump range from “give it a try” first-time competitors to X-Treme Pro for dogs that can jump more than 25 feet.
X-Treme AirDogs has been holding dock-diving competitions since 2003. According to founder Mike Allen, X-Treme AirDogs is one of the older dock diving organizations in the country. Its contestants travel to competitions throughout the western United States.
Allen said “give it a try” opportunities at competition venues is a way for X-Treme AirDogs to attract more competitors.
“That is what makes us extremely popular,” he said. The dogs “have to have a toy (chasing) drive and they got to love water. They’re pretty much fearless once they learn to jump.”
In addition to introducing folks to the world of K9 Dock Diving, X-Treme AirDogs also strives to spread canine cancer awareness, Allen said. The competition partners with Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Chase Away K9 Cancer, which has raised more than $740,000 for canine cancer research.
Calloway, who has been participating in X-Treme AirDogs for four years, said he lost his first dock-diving companion to cancer. He began jumping Tahoma, a black Laborador retriever, last year.
“Tahoma has done a lot better than I ever imagined,” Calloway said, adding that the length of Tahoma’s jumps measured in the teens. “This year he’s jumping into the 20s. It’s like a light bulb switched on.”
Jill Gagliardo came to the Del Norte County Fair from Seattle with her dog Bocce, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, for her first competition. She said it’s only the fourth time Bocce has leapt off the dock.
“She loves the water,” Gagliardo said. “I have to shut the door whenever I take a bath.”
There are different divisions, each catering to a different skill level, Gagliardo said. She pointed out that even if a beginner’s dog can only jump 5 feet, they’re still able to compete.
“She’s loving it,” Gagliardo said. “She just kinda goes for it.”
Del Norters are welcome to bring their four-legged friends for a crack at dock diving between noon and 6 p.m. today. Novice and amateur competitions will be held at 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Folks interested in bringing their dogs to participate should notify the fairgrounds beforehand by calling 464-9556. Contestants will bring their dogs through the livestock gate at the north end of the fairgrounds, where they will be able to purchase tickets. Once they’re finished, they’ll be asked to take their dogs home.
For more fair information, visit www.dnfair.org.