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With innovations from Oklahoma entrepreneurs, container gardeners have new options for growing success.
By Alexis Shanes
Published May/June 2018
Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving will host a 4-week league starting at the end of May. Photo: John Jernigan
A dog waits at the end of a dock, quivering with excitement from nose to tail. His handler flings a toy into the long pool below, and he eagerly plunges into the water to retrieve the prize. For pooches and their owners bored with the standard “sit” and “stay,” dock diving provides a welcome challenge and a thrilling adrenaline rush. Bryan and Sherry Landers are making the sport into an Oklahoma institution. “We had seen dock diving on TV,” Bryan says. “Our older dogs had passed away, and we got two younger dogs, and we decided we wanted to give it a try.”
In 2013, the Landers family—including their teenage kids Andrew and Faith—began traveling to Texas and Kansas to train and compete. Two years after their first experience with the sport, they built the first and only permanent Sooner State dock diving venue in Purcell: Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving.
The family’s three competitive pups, including Thunder—the facility’s namesake—and Mia, both chocolate Labradors, and Sailor, an English cream retriever, all have qualified for world championship competition.
Thanks to OTDD, other Oklahoma pups can earn invitations to prestigious national competitions without leaving the state. The facility is sanctioned through DockDogs, the sport’s governing organization. This certification allows the Landerses to host events like the 2017 Oklahoma Thunder Wildcard Double Header, which drew more than five hundred entries from fourteen states as far away as Wisconsin and Tennessee.
DockDogs competitions include long jump, high jump, and timed retrieving divisions, along with an Iron Dog contest that combines all three. Another organization, Dueling Dogs, sanctions head-to-head matchups, challenging two dogs to jump and retrieve simultaneously.
But pups and their owners need not compete to enjoy the water. Each spring, the Landerses open their dock for various canine aquatics. In 2017, more than two hundred visitors traveled to Purcell to use the forty-foot-long dock and four-and-a-half-foot-deep pool. Handlers don’t need any special skills to participate, and dogs of all breeds, ages, and backgrounds are welcome, Bryan says, adding that high-energy, toy-motivated pooches are most likely to succeed.
“It’s all about you and your relationship with the dog,” Sherry says. “You’re a team on the dock. It’s just so much fun, and it’s so good for the dogs.”
The Landerses aren’t the only avid Oklahoma dock divers. Purcell resident Emily Blankenship discovered the sport—and her neighbors’ facility—while searching for a fun activity for her Labrador puppy, Finn. After only a few months, the duo qualified for and competed at the 2017 DockDogs World Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now, both are hooked on the sport. Blankenship says Finn has a blast, and she enjoys spending time with other dock diving competitors and their pooches.
“The community is amazing,” she says. “If there’s a dog on the dock that can’t quite make the leap, you’ve got spectators and competitors all rallying around the pool to cheer you and your dog on. That makes it so much more enjoyable to have that support from people you’re competing with.”
But tangible success doesn’t dictate the Landerses’ passion for the sport of dock diving. For them, the simple joy of spending time with four-legged friends is enough.
“We’re obsessed with it,” Sherry says. “To watch the dogs live life to the fullest—it fills my heart.”
The 2018 Oklahoma Thunder Wildcard Double Header will take place July 13-15. Oklahoma Thunder Dock Diving, 18117 199th Street in Purcell, (405) 640-7712 or facebook.com/oklahomathuner. DockDogs, dockdogs.com. Dueling Dogs, duelingdogs.net.