Little Wilbur, a Boston terrier that weighs 19 pounds soaking wet, doesn’t look like an athlete.
The strapping Labrador retrievers, Belgian Malinois and setters that stride onto the jumping platform with their handlers during DockDogs competitions look as if they belong.
But little Wilbur? Well, we’ll let his handler describe the reaction the little guy receives.
“I love watching the reaction of the crowd,” said Melanie Lehmann, Wilbur’s owner. “They’re saying, ‘Isn’t that cute?’ They expect him to jump a couple feet and that’s it.
“Then he goes out there and jumps 16, 17 feet and they’re just amazed. That’s why he has become a crowd favorite at a lot of these DockDogs events.”
Wilbur is a living example of what DockDogs is all about. You don’t have to be the big dog on your block to compete in this event.
Canines of all shapes, sizes and breeds will be in Bartle Hall this week when DockDogs returns to the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow. Aaron Pippin, event manager for DockDogs at the Kansas City show, has seen dogs as small as Yorkshire terriers and as big as Great Danes and Saint Bernards compete.
“It’s all toy-driven,” Pippin said. “If their handler throws their favorite toy into the water, they’re going to jump in to get it.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re big or small, there are some real athletes in these events.”
During the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow from Thursday through Sunday at Bartle Hall, dogs will compete in three main disciplines: big air (distance of jump), extreme vertical, and speed retrieve.
Wilbur will be right in there with the big dogs. Though he is now 10 years old, he still has the passion.
And he still thinks he is a big guy.
“When he was a puppy, we would go out to a friend’s farm and he would hang around with some retrievers,” Lehmann said. “He would follow them into the water, jump off the dock like they did and not be the least bit intimidated.”
Wilbur has competed in DockDogs for seven years and has performed well nationally, winning his division in several events. His personal best in the distance category is 19 feet, 7 inches, an amazing feat for such a small dog. As he has aged, he no longer jumps that far. But the desire is still there.
“I go to these competitions for him, not for me,” Lehmann said. “He truly loves these events.”
Wilbur isn’t alone. Ray McCarty’s Belgian Malinois, Phoenix, also has a passion for the competition.
“He’s a drug dog by day, and a Dock Dog by night,” said McCarty, who lives in Independence.
McCarty owns a private narcotics detection firm, and Phoenix has been trained to sniff out the drugs and paraphernalia. They make sweeps of everything from private homes to schools.
But by night, Phoenix is a star on the DockDogs tour. She has jumped as far as 24 feet, 8 inches and more than 7 feet high.
This isn’t the first dog McCarty has entered in the DockDogs events. For years, he and his chocolate Lab, Hershey, were crowd favorites at competitions. Now Hershey is gone, and Phoenix has carried on the tradition.
McCarty also will introduce his young chocolate Lab, Coco, to the event this week.
“My uncle found her wandering at Thomas Hill Lake,” McCarty said. “She was begging for food and was covered with ticks. Someone obviously had abandoned her.
“I took her in, and she’s doing well now. We have done some training, and I think she’ll fit right in at these DockDogs events.”
Pippin has seen it all. He has laughed at the dogs who barrel down the ramp until they reach the edge of the pool, only to slam on the brakes and stare down at the water. He has also seen little guys like Wilbur surprise everyone with a soaring leap.
“We have some true athletes who come out for this. It’s fun to watch the dogs that have a true passion for this.”
Dog days at the dock
▪ WHAT: DockDogs is an international event that spotlights the most basic of a dog’s instincts: to jump off a dock and retrieve a ball, dummy or toy. Competition is open to all sizes and breeds and includes three main disciplines: big air (long jump), extreme vertical and speed retrieve.
▪ WHERE: DockDogs competitions are held across the United States and in foreign countries including Australia, Canada, Italy and New Zealand.
▪ ORIGIN: DockDogs started in 2000 as a filler event during the ESPN Great Outdoors Games. Only 20 to 25 teams (dogs and their handlers) competed. But the popularity grew quickly. Today, there are more than 21,000 teams competing in sanctioned DockDogs events.
▪ HOW FAR? HOW HIGH?: Two dogs share the world record for the long-distance competition. Both jumped 31 feet. The record-holder in the extreme vertical competition jumped 8 feet, 10 inches.
▪ IN KANSAS CITY: A DockDogs event will be held at the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow at Bartle Hall from Thursday through Sunday. Handlers can register dogs by calling 330-241-4975 or by emailing email@example.com. Dogs also can be registered on-site, but there will be a late fee charged.
▪ KANSAS CITY INSTRUCTIONS: All DockDog participants must enter the Convention Center on the east side of the building from Central Avenue. Dogs are not permitted on the show floor.
Where the outdoors moves indoors
▪ WHAT: The Kansas City Boat and Sportshow, a celebration of the outdoors, is now in its 62nd year. The show includes dsiplays of the latest boats, travel destinations, fishing tackle, hunting and camping equipment and more.
▪ WHEN/WHERE: The show will run from Thursday through Sunday at Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City.
▪ HOURS: Thursday: 2-9 p.m. Friday: noon-9 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
▪ ADMISSION: $12 for adults, free for youngsters ages 15 and under.
▪ FEATURES: Popular features such as DockDogs, the Texas Bass Tank, the Kids’ Trout Pond, Fred’s Shed Interactive Learning Center, and Pirate Island are returning. There will be seminars on everything from bass to crappie fishing, boat towing and trailering, and how to cook and filet fish.
▪ MORE INFORMATION: Go to KansasCitySportshow.com.