What: Go Pro Mountain Games
When: June 6-9
More info: http://mountaingames.com/summer
Though his owners Rich Schafer and Yvet Montiel had a lot to say about the Go Pro Mountain Games this weekend in Vail, all athletes Jasper and Tonka had to say was this:
“Ruff, ruff, ruff.”
Jasper, a lean 12-year-old black Labrador retriever, and Tonka, a five-year-old Dutch shepherd will compete in Vail this weekend to see who’s the top dog in the speed retrieval, extreme vertical and big air events.
If a pup wins all three events, he or she is considered an IronDog, Montiel said.
DockDogs hosts around 250 events a year in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, said spokesman Brian King. The organization started in 1999 with six dogs, and has since grown to include around 23,000 handlers — which means probably 46,000 dogs, King said.
“It’s something fun you can do with your dog to stay active that anybody can do,” King said. “It’s truly a zero-discrimination sport. We accept any dog, any breed, any size, any ability.” Any human over the age of seven can compete, and any dog over the age of six months can compete, he added.
Schafer and Montiel found themselves watching TV one day in 2006 when they saw dogs competing on ESPN. That’s something Jasper can do, Montiel remembers thinking. He’d already been trained as a hunting dog, and seemed to love retrieving and jumping in the water.
“He’s fast and loves water,” she said. “He’s fearless.”
The married couple found a local event, and Jasper won as a competition newbie. His first big air jump was 12.5 feet; in his prime, Jasper could launch himself more than 26 feet off a dock into a pool of water — like long jump for humans, Montiel said.
Extreme vertical is like high jump, she added, but Jasper doesn’t compete in extreme vertical anymore because it’s hard on his joints.
At his third event ever, which happened to be the national championships, Jasper placed third.
Montiel and Schafer say that if either dog ever stops enjoying competition, they’ll stop training. Schafer said they never push their dogs to jump off the dock, but rather convince them that jumping will be safe. Nine times out of 10, a dog new to the sport will be begging to jump again and again, he said.
“(Jasper’s) absolutely crazy for it, and that’s why we continue to do it,” Montiel said. “When we went to that first event, it was like a light just sparked in him and he just wanted to get on that block and jump.”
Montiel and Schafer don’t have any kids, so they spend a lot of time with their dogs, but Schafer wouldn’t go so far as to call Jasper and Tonka their children.
“What intrigues me about them is how they learn and the whole process around teaching them how to do things in a way that they want to do them,” Schafer said.
The dogs’ guardians take their training and health seriously. Schafer works full time as a software consultant, but spends the majority of his free time working with the dogs. Montiel is a certified canine massage therapist. The dogs are doing something almost every day of the week for fitness, agility and flexibility. They do core work, walk on an underwater treadmill and perform other exercises to help with balance.
Most importantly, they said, they work on confidence with the dogs. Montiel and Schafer are Tonka’s third owners, so DockDogs have built him up and helped his self-esteem, Montiel said.
“This sport really helps build the bond with you and the dog,” Montiel said. “That’s what’s kind of neat is the relationship you build and the fun you have. We compete but at the end of the day it’s having fun with your dogs.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.