- 1 of 4 Photos | View More Photos
Duke waited in a starting position at one side of the 40-foot dock. His handler, 15-year-old Zakary Filler, walked to the end of the dock holding a toy, called for his dog and then launched the toy into the air. Duke zoomed down the runway, jumped off the dock and leaped 15 feet into the air landing in a pool.
The sport is called dock diving and it involves dogs jumping for height and distance into a pool. Today, Duke and the Filler family will celebrate the grand opening of the area's first dock diving facility, Duke's K9 Dash N' Splash at Roundup Lake Campground in Mantua. The dock will offer private sessions, group classes, open docks, facility rental and host competitions.
"What 15-year-old wants to hang out with his mom and his dog on the weekend?," said Michelle Filler, whose son, Zakary competes with Duke, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois. "They want to be on Xbox or hanging out with their buddies. A lot of times getting themselves into trouble. Then I realized he actually looked forward to us driving to Kentucky to compete for the weekend."
It all started when the Filler family got Duke as a pup.
"We didn't know what we were signing up for," Filler said. "He has a ton of energy and he needs a couple hours of excercise a day. We learned quickly that he needed a job to do."
She started researching dog activities online and came across dock diving. The closest facility was two hours away in Dayton. Duke didn't jump his first try, but by the end of the competition he placed first in the junior division.
"Zak and Duke had so much fun together," she said. "They became the dynamic team. They kept beating their personal best and taking home first place prizes and the rest is history."
Duke's personal best is 25 feet, 4 inches. He's competed at the Dock Dogs World Championships and was invited to the North American Diving Dogs National Championship in Orlando.
"Avid dock divers will travel hours for competitions," Filler said. "We did that a lot last year. Zak and I drove all over the country to compete. The only place I know of is two hours west of here. You don't really want to commit to driving that far to throw a toy in the pool with your dog, so now we don't have to go very far."
The facility features a 40-foot pool and 40-foot dock, a fenced-in grassy areas and a viewing area for spectators.
On Friday through Sunday, JD McKnight and his black lab, Storie, the current North American Diving Dogs record holder of 30 feet, 7 inches, will give group lessons at the facility.
Newcomer Scout, a chocolate lab, jumped 15 feet on his first try, while others ran to the end of the dock and stopped before jumping into the pool.
"We had a couple dogs we couldn't get to jump today," McKinght said on Friday. "I try to apply what I've learned over the last five years to help other people. Not every dog is going to jump, but 95 percent will. It takes a lot of patience. The dog has to build up confidence."
McKnight started competing with Storie five years ago after he and his wife saw dock diving on TV. Since then, Storie has appeared on The David Letterman Show and the Today Show and Eight Incredible Dog Challenges by Purina.
"It's good clean fun," McKinght said. "It's a great way to spend time with your spouse or your kids. My wife has participated in other dog sports, but this is the first thing we've really done together, and it's not often your dog gets you to New York City twice."
Cassie Vasko and her dog, Deja, came to the dock for the first time last month. Since a pup, Deja has loved the water but when Vasko took her to compete at the I-X Center in January she wanted nothing to do with the ramp or the pool.
"This summer I talked to Michelle, got (Deja) off the ramp, got her jumping off the dock with me in the pool and now she's jumping off on her own," Vasko said. "She's a fighter and a survivor."
Deja was diagnosed with kidney disease and was given nine months to live. She is now 15 months past her diagnoses and will compete in her first wave this weekend.
"As soon as this opened I took her here and it was phenomenal," Vasko said. "She's jumping 19 feet. It's so much fun. It's something to bond with your dog over. It's a new fun learning experience. I didn't know anything about dock diving and then just seeing her succeed is special to me and exciting to me as well."
The free grand opening will be held today from noon to 5 p.m. There will be friendly dock diving competitions, free food, a Chinese raffle and on-site pet adoption. Proceeds from the raffle will go to the Humane Society of Summit County's new mobile adoption unit, which will be at the event.
For more information, visit dukesk9dashnsplash.com.