Skeeto Bear is a good dog.
Last year, the 5-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever took first place in a national dock jumping competition in Missouri, leaping a whopping 23 feet, 6 inches from a dock into a pool.
Skeeto Bear's owner, Sandy Thiel, of Bismarck, is very proud of her dog, who she trains continuously for various dock jumping competitions throughout the United States. This weekend, Skeeto Bear will join dozens of other dogs competing in the DockDogs contest at the Bismarck Event Center, part of The Bismarck Tribune Sport Show.
"Once you do (a dock jumping competition), it's just addictive," Thiel said. "Just the thrill."
DockDogs started in 1999 as part of ESPN's Great Outdoor Games. The idea is simple: handlers toss a toy, which the dogs chase into the pool. The event features three disciplines, "Big Air," which measures how far the dogs jump, "Extreme Vertical," which looks at how high, and "Speed Retrieve" that calculates how fast.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes, mutts and purebreds, are allowed to compete, according to Amanda Gill, social media manager for DockDogs. As of noon Wednesday, 24 dogs were registered for this weekend's competition. On-site registration will be accepted throughout the weekend.
For four years, Thiel and Skeeto Bear have traveled to different states for dock jumping competitions, including Montana, South Dakota and Iowa.
Thiel, a self-described dog person, said she got interested in the canine sport about seven years ago with her other Chesapeake Bay retriever, Heidi. Thiel said she attended the Sport Show and met another woman with the same type of dog who encouraged her to enter Heidi in the event.
"After that first jump, I was hooked," said Thiel, who drives an SUV with a license plate reading, "DOCKDOG."
Despite living in a state with frigid temperatures for much of the year and with limited swimming options, Thiel manages to train Skeeto Bear, even in the winter months.
In the summer, she goes to Lake Sakakawea State Park. When temperatures take a dip, she keeps Skeeto Bear in shape with resistance training outside, where Skeeto Bear runs around outside with a parachute attached to her. Skeeto Bear also works on her fitness through various exercises involving a weighted vest and exercise balls.
This weekend, Skeeto Bear, along with Heidi, will both jump off a 40-foot dock into a 41-foot-long by 4½-foot-deep pool. For "Big Air," distance is measured from where the base of the tail, or where the tail meets the butt, breaks the water, so tail size is not an advantage, Gill said.
Handlers are required to bring toys to throw into the pool, the most common ones being bumpers, tennis balls and Frisbees, according to Gill. Once, someone brought a live raccoon to toss into the pool, which is not allowed and is discouraged.
Thiel said she enjoys the dock jumping competitions because it's exciting to watch the dogs jump, no matter how high or far. She's also formed new friendships with other competitors over the years. Thiel also said she's a shy person, but once she gets up on the dock with Skeeto Bear, she blocks everything out.
Thiel said she's "very excited" for this weekend and hopes Skeeto Bear will earn a top spot.
Gill said each dog will be scored, and, on Sunday, the top six will go into the finals. Whoever wins the top three in each division earns a prize in the form of DockDogs credits, equivalent to one dollar, which can be used for future registrations or DockDogs membership fees. Some teams jump for fun, while others work toward earning their title, and higher rankings will earn rights to the world championship in October in Knoxville, Tenn.
The public is welcome to cheer on the dogs this weekend at the Sport Show. Skeeto Bear will be competing at 4 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.