The making of a DockDog |

The making of a DockDog

Melanie Wong
Tonka, a Dutch shepherd owned by Lafayette resident Yvet Montiel, competes in the Extreme Vertical at last year's DockDogs competition at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Yvet Montiel | Special to the Daily |

Dock Dog highlights at the GoPro Mountain Games

All competitions are held at Golden Peak. For more info and a full schedules, see

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — Extreme Vertical

Sunday, 1:30 p.m. — Speed Retrieve

Sunday, 4 p.m. — Big Air finals

VAIL — Meet Rowdy when he’s relaxing with his owners, Kathy and Greg Willis, and you wouldn’t guess by his mellow personality that he’s a champion jumper.

“People will say, ‘He’s not very rowdy,’ but if you get him near a pool or he smells a pool, he’ll get so excited,” said Kathy Willis. “He has an on and off switch, and if it’s time to play, it is game on.”

Rowdy, a six-year-old golden retriever, is one of the biggest stars of the four-legged variety at the GoPro Mountain Games, having cinched the DockDog Big Air title in the pro wave at last year’s games.

“We’re hoping to defend that title this year,” said Willis.

Rowdy has also been the top-ranked DockDog golden retriever in the world for the last three years — that’s right, the world. Rowdy’s long jump record is 27 feet, and Willis said the challenge is throwing the toy far enough for him to jump after.

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In the world of DockDog competition, dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds compete in a number of events. There’s the Big Air (long jump), Speed Retrieve (how quickly the dog can retrieve a bumper from the water), the Extreme Vertical (competing for jump height) and the IronDog (a summation of the three events.)

Life as a pro

DockDogs, which has events and waves everyday from Thursday through Sunday, provides categories for every level of dog, from novice to pro. At the Mountain Games, all the categories will be sold out for the weekend.

“The great thing about the sport is that anybody can do it,” said Yvet Montiel, who is competing with her 7-year-old Dutch shepherd, Tonka, who was a Mountain Games DockDog winner a few years ago. “It’s an opportunity for pet owners to get out there and give it a try — then there are us crazy people who get hooked.”

Like any serious athlete, the most competitive DockDogs train hard for their events.

Montiel and her husband, Rich Schafer, live in Lafayette, and they say that much of Tonka’s training is done away from the docks.

“We do a lot of core and fitness work with the dogs so they’re fit and ready to compete and won’t get hurt,” said Montiel. “Using (special doggie fitness equipment), we do squats, doggie sit-ups and balance work. These competitions ask a lot of a dog’s structure, so they need both flexibility and strength. These are truly athlete dogs.”

Rowdy even trains regularly at a Colorado Springs dog training facility, and the rest of his training is done during “playtime,” when he gets to play ball and fetch one to two hours each day.

There’s the human side, too — often dogs only will jump for their handler, and the handler must have good timing or a good throw to help their canine athlete jump the farthest or swim the fastest.

Beyond that, serious competitors like Montiel and Willis often drive around the country to compete at around 15 DockDog events each year. While it’s a hefty commitment, the competitions are fun for the dogs and the humans. This isn’t like any other event. We never get a chance to see other sports like mountain biking, slacklining and kayaking.”

Born to jump

Some dogs, like Rowdy, take naturally to DockDogs. Willis said the dog has been competing since he was 1 and that she originally had him doing agility competitions. At a sportsman event, she came across DockDogs and decided to let Rowdy try.

“He popped off the dock the very first time. We feel very lucky because he just loves it and has that natural talent” said Willis. “A lot of dogs are fearful of jumping in at first because the water looks invisible to them. Rowdy is fearless.”

His toy drive makes him one of the most focused dogs on the dock.

“He doesn’t have eyes for the audience — only for (my husband) Greg and I and the bumper and the pool, then he hauls ass down the dock for the bumper,” Willis laughed. “He thrives on the crowd. We found the bigger the crowd and the more they cheer, the bigger he jumps.”

Tonka wasn’t as much of a “natural,” but he had a champion teacher. Montiel’s dog Jasper was a DockDog hall of famer who passed away a couple weeks ago, but he taught Tonka all his tricks.

“Jasper was a natural and Tonka had to be trained. He even taught Tonka how to swim. It all rubbed off on him because now Tonka’s crazy — once he sees that pool, it’s all over,” Montiel said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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