His owners may think he’s competing. But, as far as Charlie the chocolate lab is concerned, he’s just having fun. Wet, wild fun.
Charlie, now three, was about a year old when he and his owners, Aaron and Laura Grant, from Edson, discovered his calling.
The couple and their dog had been visiting friends who had a pool with a dock, Aaron Grant said as his dog dried off after a couple of practice runs with DockDogs at Westerner Days on Thursday afternoon.
Laura had run down the dock and jumped into the water. Charlie chased her to the edge, stopped for a instant, and then leaped in with her.
Then, the Grants discovered DockDogs — an international corporation set up to promote water sports for dogs. Events challenge dogs to jump higher, longer and faster in pursuit of a toy, splashing into a pool of water at the finish of each leap.
“It’s a great sport to focus all of the dog’s energy and, at the end of the day, you have a nice, quite, happy dog,” said Grant.
Networking with fellow competitors, he help put together Alberta DockDogs, which hosts events and promotes the sport within the province.
And that theory about wet dogs is true, said Brendan Wood, event manager and regional marketing director for DockDogs America: The animals are genetically programmed to seek out and soak down the nearest human when shaking off excess water.
DockDogs is a perfect outlet for dogs that love water, said Wood. Labradors are the clear leaders, bred to retrieve game from ponds and creeks and possessing extra webbing between their toes to help power them through the water.
The pitbull is another type of dog that does remarkably well in the sport because of the huge power in its muscular body, especially along its back. You can see the back muscles working when a pitbull tears down the dock before making its leap, says Wood, emcee for the DogDock performances at the fair.
He felt it unfortunate that no pitbulls had found their way into the Westerner event.
Wood loves to have children lining the edges of the pool when the dogs are working, encouraging them to cheer the dogs on.
It’s a cycle, he says. The louder the audience gets, the more it excites the dogs and the more the dogs are worked up, the better they perform and the better they perform, the louder the audience gets.
DockDogs is still a neophyte in the world of canine sports, first developed about 10 years ago as part of ESPN’s Great Outdoor Athletics program.
The sport split off shortly afterward, with fewer than 30 teams. Now, there are about 25,000 teams worldwide and it’s still growing, with affiliates in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Japan, says Wood.
Ken Pollard, co-ower with his wife, Terrie Holgerson of Tangent, a yellow lab, says every event brings in new people and new interest.
DockDogs perform in the Parkland Pavilion throughout Westerner Days. Pollard, Grant, Wood and others are all on hand between performances to share information with dog people interested in learning more about the sport and practise times can be booked for those who would like to give it a try.
Outside the Parkland Pavilion, organizers of this year’s fair are coping with a slow start, said Roxanne Kirton, marketing manager for Westerner Park. Attendance on Wednesday was 11,956 people, almost 3,500 short of the first day of last year’s fair when 15,410 people went through the gates.
Admission was hurt somewhat by a brief but violent storm that struck in the middle of the afternoon, shutting the midway down for about an hour and sending people scampering for cover.
However, the weather was perfect for the opening parade, with a bright sun shining and cool breeze keeping people and animals from overheating.
The City of Leduc was a two-time winner in the parade, capturing the Grand Award and the Civic Entry.
The Screamers took an honourable mention in the Grand Award while the Relax Crew captured the Adult Community Organization Award. Premier Cheer earned the Big People, Little People trophy while Home to Home to Home Moving won the Comic and Novelty award.
Billy Bob’s was named top Commercial Float award while Screamers took the Decorated Vehicle trophy and Air Canada was the best Professionally Decorated trophy.
Carl Maciborski won the Collectible Vehicle top award.
Westerner Park is open from noon to midnight throughout the five days of the fair. Normal admission is $10 for adults, $8 for ages 13 to 17, $4 for ages six to 12, $5 for seniors and free for children five and under. Parking is $6 per vehicle.