Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Ready, Set, Splash! The Ultimate Air Dogs Dock Jumping League.
On the central west coast of Florida there are many wonderful places to go with your own Bad Azz Dogz. Things to see, do and enjoy, but if your dog wants to fly? Then Florida West Coast Air Dogs in Bradenton, Florida may be the place you need to go most.
I arrived at the Florida West Coast Air Dogs permanent training facility the day of the Ultimate Air Dogs Winter Nationals. A regional qualifier for the 2019 nationals.
The permanent dock is snuggled neatly into high plush trees that provide shade much of the day against the often-extreme sun in the Florida skies. The owner greets everyone with a big smile and cheerful welcome, and you immediately know this will be a good day. Most participants find they do not need to bring a whole lot beyond a crate, bowls, and toys as a large tent stays next to the dock that also (rather unusually) has night time lighting as we would see later this day.
Ultimate Air Dogs
The Ultimate Air Dogs (UAD) Started in 2005 and within this relatively modern sport, is one of the oldest dock Jumping leagues in the world. Established by former Detroit Tigers professional baseball player, Milt Wilcox and his son Brian. The league has maintained the distinct grass roots and personal feel of the early sport. Despite - or maybe because of - that casual nature, the UAD is the league for some of N. Americas largest dog events including the nationally televised Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.
Inclusiveness means the Dogs too.
Chase, Catch, Fetch and Splash. The Games of the UAD
Unlike most traditional dog sports, dock diving has no breed requirements or certifications. Any dog that can jump, swim and fetch can be a champion and an audience favorite at many large events across the country.
The “big air” distance jumps most associated with all dock diving shows are known as a “Splash”. The UAD includes this as well as new games like a kind of drag race called "Chase-It", where the dog pursues the lure (favorite toy) across the entire length of the pool against the clock.
Another notable game is their unique version of the vertical retrieve. This is a popular game where to lure is suspended and the dog jumps for height to retrieve. However, after seeing the awkward angles the dogs had to endure and realizing some dogs were hitting the bottom of the pool, Milt friend Bill Richardson devised a much safer variant they call “Fetch-It". In this game the lure is still suspended but maintains a safe height while being drawn further and further away to make the jump more horizontal and far safer for the dogs.
Multiple divisions to allow the widest opportunity to bring home a ribbon. It’s the community and dogs having fun that matter most and more important than a sense of a serious competition.
Florida West Coast Air Dogs
Like visiting family Barb Lentz and John Gattignolo are the owners and operators at the Florida West Coast Air Dogs (FWCAD) in Bradenton, Florida. The retired couple provide boarding, training, and grooming facility managed by Anna Calabrese, and most notably a permanent Dock with lighting and large fair tent under the shade of a canopy of trees. They purchased the property in 2013 and have not looked back. “Barb” is a well established and experienced trainer and former school teacher. Her knowledge and teaching provides both ideal training for both dog and owner, but a welcoming experience.
“My favorite thing? To me? Its Absolutely the People” - John Gattignoll, Florida West Coast Air Dogs
John would tell you Barb’ does all the work, but it would not be the loved facility if not for both of them. Throughout the day John continually made the rounds to both ensure everyone was having fun and to manage and maintain and needs for the competition. Always with a smile and easy nature, any event at the Florida West Coast Air Dogs does feel like a family gathering because of Barb’ and John.
Closer than you think
Carrie loves German Short-haired Pointers. In fact, she has two. “Cruz” and “Rolex” have the same dad. When Carrie discovered that "daddy dog" was a National Dock Dive Champion, she decided to look into it for her own pups. They also compete in conformation, field trials and some barn hunt and she did her research, but was surprised to find that the closest UAD Dock was only minutes away from her Bradenton home.
"UAD is a family organization. Everyone helps one another, plus it’s great exercise for the dogs and we have fun” – Carrie Morris
Sue has two Chocolate Labs and had “Hershey” with her today and young Hershey is her Dock Dog and a rescue from a local shelter. Like many I spoke to, Sue saw the event one day and thought it looked fun but didn’t realize there was a club only minutes away from her home. There are docks popping up all across the country and like Karen and Sue, you may be surprised to find one closer than you think.
The UAD website provides a list for you to check out the nearest one to you.
Dock Diving can create the bond that saves veterans lives
Building support for disabled veterans is a passion and core program at Bad Azz Dogz, and so it was an honor that Robert gave us some time to chat. This was special in his case as it is not easy for him.
Robert is a veteran first responder and has suffered a heart attack, lost his home to hurricane Michael in 2018 and struggles with PTSD. Like many veterans of the military and our first response officers, it has been a bond with a dog that has been so critical to giving Robert a reason to carry on.
When things were at their darkest, Jen Gaytan and the UAD community stepped in to see him through. Today, he and his 9 month old Golden Retriever Dakota stepped up on the dock in matching red, white and blue and took another step, or more accurately – jump towards a recovery.
“Dakota is my heart and soul” – Robert Jones
Robert is a veteran police officer, with years in service, but today struggles with the trauma most associated with combat vets and often overlooked among our first responders. It cannot be overstated how important the activities and outreach of organizations like UAD has their support and is not exaggerating to say they save lives.
From pro-athlete to pro dog man
Milt has had a strong affiliation with Dock Diving since it’s earliest days of dogs literally jumping from local docks into lakes in mostly rural America. In 2005 he created the Ultimate Air Dogs and hopes one day his son will carry on the new family business. With his son Brian learning the ropes and running mobile docks for local events around N. America, the two have built a growing international league.
Yet, UAD has a long history, they have kept the original "grass roots" and casual feel that appeals to so many families. Milt was eager to point out that strong family focus and the UAD’s clear direction to local docks to remain flexible and focus on the fun more than the competition themselves.
Milt’s personal concern to ensure that includes special attention to those with disabilities. If it takes multiple people to help you on the dock? That’s okay. If you want to bring your kids and grandparents up on the dock with you? That’s okay too. Milt often MC’s many of the competition’s and his easy nature and often humorous commentary draws laughs and joy from all.
Fun is the whole point and Milt leads by example.
“Come to an event, local, regional. We train organization and will teach at any event. Teaching the people is the key to getting them started.” Milt Wilcox - UAD
Saving Lives Every Day
Jen is a Deputy Sheriff and lives with her six Labrador Retrievers. She is well respected for her passion and truly good heart, but it is her amazing organizational skills that drive the engine at UAD as the Event Secretary. As if that busy schedule is not enough, Jen also founded the yearly Hogs and Air Dogs show in Fort Meyers, FL which draws thousands and supports local shelters. Jen’s presence provides confidence, but as importantly, a large heart to any event she is involved in
It’s a big world and lots to cover
Susanne is the UAD Operations Manager and as the Ultimate Air Dogs has steadily grown and even has a growing presence internationally in Europe and Australia, so has her responsibilities. With this expansion comes a daunting logistical challenge but Susanne Sparano’s presence is felt throught. From the five constantly traveling mobile docs to the ever-increasing number of local clubs, Susanne see’s to the logistical needs to keep the ship sailing smooth and like all of the UAD management, focuses on keeping it friendly and fun.
We are out here to have fun and tech our clubs to carry the culture of fun, teaching and welcome everyone. – Milt Wilcox - UAD
The Tiger Mom of Dock Jumping Dogs
Desiree 'Dee' Motes
Though the sport started in back yard pools a country docks much has been learned about the safety and talents needed for both dog and owner. Near Ocala, Florida at the Native Downs dog training facility we met Dee Motes some time back and she was here today with her own dogs to compete.
Dee specializes in training for dock jumping canines and we have seen her at work. She has both a loving gentleness with each dog, from large to small, but an honest evaluation and guidance for the owners.
We spoke to her on what to look for when entering the sport. She told us that the dogs confidence in the water and toy drive are both key, but also, the dog must become comfortable with the docks that stand feet above the water and average 30-40 feet in length.
A dog that may jump in the pool at home may become scared the first time they climb a 40’ dock and see the huge pool in from of them and if they do go in, they don’t know how to get out. Its very important that the dogs first experience is a fun and positive experience. - Dee' Motes
Dock Diving has been around since the 1980's and like many newer dog sports, has exploded. That growth can lead to a sense that it is a business nowadays. Somehow Milt and Brian with their gang of passionate and down to earth people have kept that innocent and simple love of camaraderie and the dogs. Over and again, when asked "What is your favorite thing about UAD?" The answer echoed?
"Its not friendship, it's family"
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Ultimate Air Dogs http://www.ultimateairdogs.com/
Purina Incredible Dog Challenge https://www.proplan.com/dogs/incredible-dog-challenge Florida West Coast Air Dogs http://www.floridawestcoastairdogs.com/
Hogs and Air Dogs http://www.hogsandairdogs.com/
Central Florida Dog Sports https://centralfladogsports.com/
Native Downs https://www.nativedownskennel.com/
Ocala Dock Diving .COM https://www.facebook.com/groups/1861100237461065/
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