Australian shepherd Dylan barked while staring fixedly at the orange toy held by his owner, Georgia Livell-Hower, as she moved down the launch pad. As she threw the toy over the water, Dylan sprinted down the dock and launched himself in pursuit of the toy, landing with a splash.
Dylan was a top contender in the North America Diving Dogs competition held outside of the Sacramento Dog Show at Cal Expo on Sunday. Inside the pavilions, thousands of dogs competed over four days, culminating in Sunday’s event. Other than the sporty diving dogs and barn hunt competitions held outside, there were obedience competitions and conformation competitions, which judge how closely a dog meets the American Kennel Club’s standards for the breed.
Dylan was at the show for the diving competition. Livell-Hower occasionally shows him in obedience shows, but he’s mostly a performance dog, meaning he participates in sport competitions.
“It’s his favorite thing,” Livell-Hower said. “When we parked, he saw them putting up the dock and he wouldn’t shut up. I had to close all the blinds (in my RV).”
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The North America Diving Dogs competition was new this year at the dog show, with all of the equipment brought by Lise Ann Strum and her husband, Scott Dike.
“We’re always looking for new things to add to the show,” said promoter Rich Vida. “(Diving dogs) draw quite a crowd.”
The diving pool looks like a wider and shorter lane from a swimming pool for people, but there’s a long turf dock leading up to the edge so the dogs can work up momentum. Strum got involved with North America Diving Dogs when her Belgian Malinois, Vhoebe, jumped almost 25 feet on her first time off the dock.
“We started doing it as a sport and then we started doing it as a business,” Strum said. “We had no idea (this sport existed). This dog has taken us on an adventure.”
For the last three years, Strum and Dike have taken the mobile diving dock to American Kennel Club dog shows in the western United States. Titles won on the dock are recognized by the AKC, but a dog doesn’t have to be part of the club to participate.
“A title for a dog sport enthusiast is basically proof of our hard work,” Strum said. “The relationship between the dog and the person is so heightened with that kind of work and training ... Letters behind the name just say to me, ‘Hey, I worked really hard and my dog worked really hard and we achieved something.’ ”
About eight months ago, Strum and her husband purchased 6 acres of land in Valley Center, which they turned into Agapé Ranch Dog Sports, offering agility, obedience and dock diving training and competitions.
North America Diving Dogs keeps track of every judged jump a dog makes and those jumps add up to titles over the course of the dog’s career. The top dogs, like Dylan, are invited to the National Championships, which will be held in Florida this year.
Dogs competed and practiced on the dock throughout the day. One owner brought her young Bernese mountain dog to the side of the pool to get him used to the water, tossing a toy close enough for him to lean in and grab. Strum said the competition is flexible so dogs can participate in the beauty contests and then get wet dock diving, saving their groomers a lot of time and effort.
Inside the pavilion, 15 rings were set up so dogs from 157 breeds could compete for the event’s top honor: Best in Show. Each day is a new competition and a new Best in Show dog is chosen, Vida said. Even if the same dogs compete each day, the judges change, so the winning dog is not always the same. He said nearly 4,000 dogs competed this year, primarily coming from California and neighboring states.
Vendor booths were scattered throughout the show, selling everything from dog portraits to leashes to special toys. Vida said the booths bring in more spectators because they often sell things not usually found in pet stores.
The Sacramento Kennel Club’s dog show is almost 100 years old. It began as part of the state fair before growing to include specialty clubs and events such as dock diving.