It's easy to imagine how something like this starts. A nice summer day at a lake, a couple of friends, a couple of retrievers and probably a beer or two.
"Hey," says one friend to the other. "I bet my dog can jump farther than yours can."
"You're on," says the other, and soon the dogs are happily flying off the dock in a water-logged game of fetch.
Take that basic concept, add a network with air time to fill and a sanctioning body or two to run things and keep the records straight, and suddenly, you've got a sport.
In this case, canine dock-diving.
"In 1998, ESPN contacted us with the concept, and asked, 'Can you make this a sport?'" said Shadd Field of Medina, Ohio, president of the young sport's dominant sanctioning body, Dock Dogs. "Our first competition was in 2000, and this year we'll put on about 60."
It's easy to see how such growth is possible. The sport is easy to understand -- jumps off an elevated dock into a portable pool are measured for distance -- and fun for handlers, dogs, spectators and TV viewers alike. And although the top teams are now getting sponsorships and are training for even longer jumps, in dock-diving even new competitors can do well.
If your dog loves the water, all you need to do is show up.
Southern California's Teresa Rodney is a new fan of dock-diving. She and her 6-year-old flat-coated retriever, Jazz, are nationally recognized competitors in the sport of canine agility, where teams must train constantly in order to be competitive.
That's not the case with dock-diving. The first time out, Jazz took to the air with no training at all.
"She jumps in the water for the sheer joy of jumping in the water," says Rodney. "I entered her on a whim, and she did well. A dog has to love water to begin with, or at least love retrieving. My other dog is an Australian shepherd ... no way. He's not a big water dog."
Shadd Field says that while the sport has been dominated so far by retrievers -- the record jump of 26 feet, 6 inches is held by a Labrador -- a wide variety of dogs have gone off the dock into the water.
"Anybody with a dog and a ball can participate," Field says. "We've had everything from Chihuahuas to Newfoundlands. We even had a bloodhound a few weeks ago. He fell off the dock into the water and walked to retrieve."
This year Dock Dogs will host a series of three regionals starting May 20 in Redmond, Wash. (the others will be in Dubuque, Iowa, and Richmond, Va.), and a national championship in October, final details yet to be arranged. The organization also awards titles, such as "junior jumper," depending on how far a dog can jump.
And just to make things even more interesting, the owner of the first dog to jump more than 30 feet in televised competition will pick up a check for $30,000.
"Dock-diving is different from other dog sports," says Field, a dog trainer with four golden retrievers of his own. "Agility, obedience, field-work -- they're all about control. We're not trying to control the dogs, but rather, trying to get them to explode off the dock with natural instincts."
Jump into it
Dock-diving is welcoming of newcomers, and many water-loving dogs do well from the very first jump. For more information:
-- Dock Dogs (www.dockdogs.com). Dock Dogs is the organization behind the dock-diving events on ESPN. The site offers lots of information on how to get started, features on top competitors, and results and pictures from recent competitions.
-- Splash Dogs (www.splashdogs.com). Splash Dogs competitions are held on the West Coast, primarily California. Splash Dogs started in 2004, and this year it will offer at least nine competitions with about a half-dozen more in the works.
Tips for easing feline greetings
Q: I've had cats as long as I've been around -- and I've been around a long time! I've bottle-raised orphaned kittens and have fostered dozens of cats for a local rescue group.
When it comes to introducing cats to each other, I have a tip: Put butter or whipped cream near the nose and the back end of both cats. They then smell alike and will be more accepting of each other. They won't get sick from the butter or cream, and it eases the introduction. Can you pass this along? -- C.K., via e-mail
A: You can try the same thing with the oil from a can of tuna. Yes, it does seem to help, but I'm not so sure the cats themselves are fooled by the smell. They're likely just busy licking off all that great-tasting goo.
Most cats -- but not all -- will eventually get along fine with a newcomer, but you must give them time, lots of time, in some cases. Territorial negotiations can be delicate and drawn out among cats. Let them work it out from separate parts of the house, and don't force them together.
Despite the initial hissy fit many cats throw when faced with a new housemate, adding a second cat can be a good idea. Indoor cats, especially, get bored and lonely when left alone all day. The addition of a second cat will help with both problems.
Your tip can also help ease the transition when one cat comes home from the veterinarian, and the other cat suddenly decides the returnee no longer belongs.
It seems the smells that come home from the veterinary hospital can put the cat who stayed behind into attack mode. Changing those smells can help, either by adding the ones you suggest or even wiping both cats with the same towel a couple of times so they smell more familiar to each other.
Q: I am moving to a new home that doesn't have a fence, and I can't afford to change that any time soon. I've heard that pouring ammonia around the perimeter will keep the dogs in their place, but does it really work? -- N.L., via e-mail
A: Ammonia won't work. Your dogs won't like the smell, but it won't slow them down for a second in their hurry to explore their new neighborhood.
Secure fencing is the only long-term solution. In the short term, you'll need to take them out on leashes, put them on tethers or place them in runs.
Tethering is not a good long-term solution, so please don't even consider it as a permanent fix to your problem. Dogs do not do well tied up; some even become vicious as a result. Tethering has other hazards, too. Your dogs can tangle up their lines and become unable to reach food, water or shade, or loose dogs can attack them. For these reasons, I recommend tethering for short periods at a time, and always under supervision. And remember: Never use a choke-chain collar with a tether. It's too easy for a dog to strangle himself.
Ready-made dog runs can be found for a couple of hundred dollars, less if you are able to find one secondhand. These will keep your dogs safe during their potty breaks.
Since I know someone will write to recommend electronic fences, let me say I don't like them. While they may keep an animal on the property, they don't protect a pet from other animals, pet thieves or harassment by neighborhood kids.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Easy dog-washing while on the go
Like most dogs, mine love beaches. They love to chase the surf, inhale the sharp sea air -- and roll in the dead things they find washed up on the shore.
The worst beach incident I've ever experienced was when one of my dogs rolled on a seal that time had transformed to a level of ripeness words cannot fully describe.
The smell was unbearable. I took the dog out into the surf and later hosed him off at the campground, but the smell never left until I could get him bathed. Twice.
I thought of that time -- and remembered that smell -- when I saw the Dirty Dog, the dog-washing tub from the camping goods company Abogear. Made from tough nylon and PVC, the tub is a flexible tube with a bottom, and it collapses flat for storage. It would easily tuck into any pile of camping gear and would make a clean dog possible almost anywhere. A bonus: The company notes that the Dirty Dog can also be filled with ice and used to chill drinks.
The Dirty Dog is $50, including shipping, from Abogear (www.abogear.com; 888-604-8249).
ON THE WEB
Special vets for reptilian pets
The growing popularity of reptiles and amphibians as pets has driven interest in the veterinary community in learning how to provide better care for these creatures.
While relatively few veterinarians restrict their practices to reptiles and amphibians, more than a thousand are members of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.
The ARAV Web site (www.arav.org) lists its members by city and state to help owners of reptiles and amphibians find a knowledgeable veterinarian in their area.
The site also offers articles on care and safe handling, along with links to other Web sites providing helpful information on caring for these pets.
Watch out for fields of foxtails
As spring moves into summer, foxtails start to become a serious problem.
Their long, slender stems hold sticky seed carriers high, ready to catch a ride on a pant leg or a pet. The carrier itself is designed like a spike, with tiny hairs that keep the nettle burrowing forward through whatever is in the way.
Foxtails dig deeply into every possible opening on an animal. Once they get into flesh, they keep moving, sometimes causing significant damage. They can end up anywhere, and if left alone, they often require veterinary attention, even surgery, to remove.
Be aware of these problem areas:
-- Feet. Limping and licking are signs a foxtail has found a home, probably between your animal's toes.
-- Ears. Because of the burrowing nature of foxtails, every head shake drives the pest farther down into the ear. A pet with a foxtail in its ear may develop a chronic infection.
-- Nose. Because dogs like to sniff, foxtails often lodge in their noses. The signs are obvious: sneezing, sometimes violently, sometimes accompanied by bleeding or discharge. A foxtail in the nose may cause an infection and can even work its way into the lungs or spinal column of an animal. Just because the sneezing stops doesn't mean the foxtail has gone away -- it may have just burrowed deeper.
The best way to deal with foxtails is through prevention. Steer clear of areas dense with foxtails if you can. Keep the fur between your pet's toes trimmed, and go over your pet after every outing from head to toe, catching the foxtails before they get a chance to dig in.
Be aware that once a foxtail is imbedded, it isn't going away. If you suspect a foxtail is in your pet's ear or nose, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may still be able to grab the nettle before it can cause more trouble.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
A bite can be an emergency
Accidents happen even to the cautious. One disaster that's all too common in a multi-pet household is a biting incident between a predatory animal (cat or dog) and a prey one (bird, hamster, rabbit).
A bite is a genuine medical emergency, even if the pet who has been bitten seems fine afterward.
Dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths that can develop into a deadly infection in a bird or other prey animal. For many of these, a prompt trip to a veterinarian and a course of antibiotics will mean the difference between life and death. Nights, weekends -- no matter when it happens -- a bitten bird or rabbit needs help, fast.
Never assume your dog or cat won't bite your rabbit or bird. The prey-predator wiring can be very difficult to short-circuit. Keep these pets safely apart at all times.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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