Updated: Sep 11
One of the activities I had picked up at the end of 2019 was dock diving with Phoenix. She was really developing her toy drive in more productive ways and she enjoyed jumping in our pool at home. Unfortunately, I started at the very end of the season when the water was cooler, weather had more rain involved, and her very last competition of 2019 the weather didn't even get above 40 degrees outside! However, Phoenix showed she had an aptitude for jumping off the dock after her toys and she really seemed to enjoy it. We set some goals for the 2020 season hoping to maybe get a Dock Junior (DJ) title in distance.
Then, 2020 threw a curveball into our plans. There were a variety of sports and activities I had entered with Tesla, Phoenix and Zap that were all getting cancelled and our chances of competing in anything seemed unlikely. One of my big goals for Phoenix was still to get the Dock Junior distance title and luckily we have a pool at home, so we got in some practice working on jumping into our home pool. I also started to switch from an upside down disc (her favorite toy) to a bumper that would also be used for air retrieve just in case we wanted to try that out one day. She was building up confidence more and more. Our home dock, The Black Pearl at K9 Manners & More in Broken Arrow, OK was going to be holding events with some COVID guidelines since their dock is outside, so we got back into competition mode. Phoenix was growing more and more confident each weekend we went out to compete. As she grew more confident, each week she would jump further and further getting new personal bests (PB) each weekend. She got her Dock Junior title her first weekend competing in 2020 and after a few more Junior jumps, she started jumping up into the Senior Division. Goals started to change and now we had our sights set on earning a Dock Senior title in distance.
We continued to practice at home, at K9 Manners, and a newer dock near us let us practice on their dock while their parking lot was being finished. As her confidence grew, we started to set our sights on trying out air retrieve. I started to practice with her at the newer dock, Coolwag, since it was closer to home. Phoenix after a couple of times started to get what I was after and that she needed to jump up and out to get her toy, not just out. We even attended a seminar at K9 Manners & More with Steve Mize to work more on our air retrieve skills. We set a goal for the year to try to earn her Air Retrieve Novice title.
We continued to practice and work hard, and we both loved every minute of it. Dock diving became our highlights of the week. We just loved traveling to Broken Arrow, OK for practice or competition and enjoying something fun and positive when the world seemed to be a negative, vast chaos around us. Dock diving became our escape and it let me and Phoenix get an even stronger bond.
As we both improved and were hitting new goals, we set a new one: earn an invite to Nationals. Pre-COVID times, the NADD/AKC Eukanuba National Championship would be held in November in Orlando, Florida. There are a few ways you can earn an invite but there were two ways we were looking at trying to earn an invite: win a division at a qualifier and/or earn an advanced title in a division. As months went on, more things were being cancelled due to COVID and nothing seemed certain. North America Diving Dogs (NADD) made the tough decision to cancel the National Championship and instead hold Regionals. With the uncertainty of the future, they didn't want to risk having to cancel last minute with all these eager competitors out hundreds to thousands of dollars with travel, fees, hotel, etc. They tried to make the best of the situation and give us something to replace Nationals. Our Region that we would be competing in would be Region 2, South Central Region, which would take place in Katy, TX.
Phoenix continued to rack in jumps at the Senior level getting us closer and closer to the Senior Advanced title. She also had started to compete in Air Retrieve at the Junior level consistently getting grabs at 13'. Soon, we had our first qualifier coming up in Bentonville, AR at the first event for the Coolwag dock in 2020. We didn't have much hope of winning a distance qualifier since Phoenix was jumping towards the middle distance of the Senior Division, but we did have hopes of getting an invite in air retrieve. Phoenix was consistency getting grabs at 13', which was the top of the Junior division. Even in practice, that was the furthest she could get. We were ready and her first air retrieve splash she made a grab at 13' which would have secured us a space in Regionals in air retrieve. We entered the next day because I still wanted to work towards her title. Already feeling pretty thrilled that she was going to win her division in Junior for air retrieve, we went into our last splash at the qualifier for air retrieve and Phoenix decided to throw in a surprise making a grab at 14'! A new personal best, but unfortunately, that put her in a new division and the very bottom of the Senior division, so we are out of the running for going to Regionals based on that qualifier. It was certainly a bittersweet moment, but we weren't ready to quit yet! Below is a video of our 14' grab in air retrieve at the qualifier on August 23, 2020.
We had another weekend of competition earning more Senior jumps towards our advanced title and earning another air retrieve grab at 13'. Then we had another qualifier in Broken Arrow, OK and the last qualifier of the 2020 season; our last effort towards getting to go to Regionals. We needed two more jumps at the Senior Division for our Advanced title and to win our division in air retrieve at the qualifier. Phoenix had been practicing at 13' and hadn't hit 14' again, so clearly, a couple weeks ago had to have just been a lucky fluke. Phoenix earned her Dock Senior Advanced (DSA) title easily that weekend making us officially eligible to attend Regionals in distance at the senior level. At the end of the day it finally was time for air retrieve. Our chance of going to Regionals to compete in air retrieve was all down to this last jump. Phoenix got her 13' grab no problem. I was feeling pretty confident and highly doubtful that she could hit 14' again. Then, an act of God happened. The rig stopped working. The judges were doing their absolute best to get it to work and trying everything possible to get it working. As they tried to fix it, Phoenix got to relax on the dock. Eventually, they got it to work again and it was time for Phoenix to give it another go. With her renewed energy, Phoenix jumped making a 14' grab. She now tied her personal best, but jumped up into the Senior Division taking her out of the running for Regionals.
While we didn't earn an invite in air retrieve, earning an invite in distance at the Senior Division well-exceeded my expectations. Just looking at where were are at the end of the 2020 season to where we started was a huge leap! Just to give some perspective, here are some stats from where Phoenix was in the 2019 season when she started September 2019 only competing in distance:
- Her personal best jump was 10'3"
- Her season average for 2019 was 8'1"
- The breed average for Australian Shepherds in 2019 was 14'9"
- Phoenix wasn't ranked in her division or in breed
- She had just earned her Dock Novice (DN) title in distance
Now looking at her stats for 2020, things look very different:
- Her personal best jump was 19' in distance
- Her season average 18'8" in distance
- The breed average for Australian Shepherds in 2020 was 15'2" in distance
- Phoenix was ranked as the #41 Australian Shepherd in distance
- In air retrieve, her personal best was a grab of 14'
- In air retrieve, her average was 13'5"
- The breed average for Australian Shepherds in air retrieve was 13'7"
- Phoenix was ranked as the #14 Australian Shepherd in air retrieve
- This year, Phoenix earned a Dock Junior (DJ), Dock Senior (DS), and Dock Senior Advanced (DSA) titles with 3 grabs and 2 grabs at the Junior and Senior level, respectively in air retrieve.
- Phoenix earned an invite to the 2020 NADD/AKC Eukanuba Regional Championship in distance at the Senior Division.
Phoenix and I worked hard all spring and summer long to try to earn an invite. She exceeded my expectations each weekend we went out and competed. She absolutely loves getting to jump off that dock. While I don't know if we will make the trip to Regionals, just getting to earn the invite was an honor and a goal I am proud to put a checkmark next to it to say "hey, we did that together". I can't wait to see what the 2021 season looks like for us and I hope we can get another invite next year to Regionals, or maybe even Nationals if the current pandemic decides to subside. No matter what happens, there is nothing more fun than throwing a toy off a dock for your best friend.
URO3 Chaver's Rising Up Like A Phoenix RI CA DSA DS NSD CGCA TKA