A canine competition based on jumping, swimming, and retrieving skills would seem to favor a traditional sporting dog—say, a Labrador. But attend one of the popular DockDogs events held around the country, like the one at this weekend’s Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina, and you might be surprised at some of the canines taking the top spots.
Enter the whippets. DockDogs, in which dogs leap from the end of a runway into a pool, includes competitions for distance, height, and retrieving speed, as well as IronDog, a combination of all three. And in the last few years, these sleek leapers have been proving they have the right stuff. The aptly named Slingshot, a whippet owned and trained by Rachael Brinkman, held the No. 4 ranking last year in long jump with an average distance just shy of 29 feet. Sounders, who owns the current DockDogs long jump record, sailed through the air to hit a whopping 32 feet 10 inches. The current speed retrieve record holder and the IronDog champion for two years running is yet another whippet, Spitfire.
Lean and light and standing about a foot-and-a-half tall, whippets owe their success to their streamlined shape. “They don’t have a lot of weight to carry, and they’re built for speed,” Brinkman explains. “They can hit thirty-five miles per hour running down the dock. All they need is a hop at the end and their speed alone will carry them across the pool.”
Of course, as Brinkman points out, not all whippets automatically make good DockDogs candidates. The top whippets typically come from working lines, originally bred for rabbit hunting and racing, rather than show dogs. But the ones who have the knack for it can be tough to beat. “When you have the right whippet that has the drive, the body, the speed, and also the understanding of how to pop at the end of the dock,” Brinkman says, “it’s just the perfect storm.”
That said, other breeds, including Labs and the Belgian Malinois, are also high performers, and they’re still seen more frequently at the competitions than whippets. A black Lab from South Carolina named Jon Snow is one of the dogs competing at SEWE this weekend. He finished last year holding the No. 2 spot in IronDog and currently ranks second in his favorite event, the vertical jump. “When we started competing seven years ago, there was just one whippet named Cochiti, who held the [long jump] world record,” says Jon Snow’s owner and trainer, Kaitie Uebelhoer. “Now, everyone is getting them. They’re little bullets.”
Weight and speed aside, one thing that all the top dogs have in common is a love to compete. Slingshot and Sounders often face off against each other, and at one event where just the two were left jumping, both owners kept their dogs out to bark for each other when it was the other’s turn. Last year at SEWE, Jon Snow got so excited when they were pulling up to the competition that he lowered the window of the car with his paw and jumped straight out. “Now I know that when we come up to an event, those windows have to be locked,” Uebelhoer says, laughing.
Along with Jon Snow, the competition this weekend will attract some of the most athletic dogs in the South—mostly the customary sporting breeds. But they better watch out for the whippets.