Minn. — Kassidy is an 8½-year-old girl, and something
of a tease.
leaping high to corral a rubber toy that looks like dead
mallard, the 62-pound chocolate Lab takes a victory lap
to the backyard fence, around the garden and directly
past Nero, a similarly sized 2-year-old male black Lab
being held to wait his turn.
frustration is palpable. Like Kassidy, he loves to run,
leap and fetch. The only thing that the two dogs might
like better than playing in the backyard of Heath and
Kristin Wiersma’s Kenwood neighborhood home would be
having a pool of water to leap into.
dogs participate in the sport of dock jumping, with
everyone in the Wiersma family — Heath and Kristin,
both 38; 12-year-old Kiara and 11-year-old Kylee —
serving as handlers. Heath and Kylee work with Kassidy
and Kristin and Kiara with Nero, a rescue dog the family
adopted from Animal Allies in February.
dock jumping started in Minnesota and Wisconsin about 13
years ago, said Heath Wiersma, a Duluth, Minn.,
firefighter for almost 13 years.
as Dock Dogs, it’s the fastest-growing canine sport in
the world with 10,000 dog-handler teams competing, Heath
colleague Perry Ludwig and his dog Lily introduced him
to the sport, and when Kassidy was a 1-year-old he gave
it a try.
practiced one day, and I fell in love with it and
Kassidy fell in love with it," he said.
sport has a junior division for handlers so that Kiara
and Kylee can compete in the same events and with the
same dogs as their parents.
the spotlight is on Kassidy because, for the first time,
Heath and Kassidy have qualified for the dock-jumping
world championship. The event will take place Nov. 13-17
at a convention center in Dubuque, Iowa.
was named "biggest-jumping dog" — the
overall winner — in four previous competitions this
year. It was a fifth event, in which Kassidy placed
fifth overall, that won dog and master the invitation to
competition consists of three events. In "extreme
vertical," the dogs leap over the water to snatch a
toy — in competition lingo it’s a "bumper"
— suspended in the air at gradually higher positions.
In "speed retrieve," the dog runs 20 feet on
the dock, leaps into the water and swims to the bumper
at the end of the pool, 38 feet away from the dock.
"big air," the handler throws the bumper, the
dog leaps off the dock after it, and the distance from
the end of the dock to the point where the dog’s rump
hits the water is measured.
will compete in two divisions: the veterans division,
for dogs between 8 and 10 years old; and the masters,
for dogs that have made five "big air" jumps
between 20 and 22 feet in high-level competitions.
Kassidy’s best jump is better than that: 25 feet 5
inches, still well short of the world record of 31 feet.
Nero may not be playing second fiddle for long.
way Nero is progressing … I think that he’ll be
extremely good next year," Heath Wiersma said,
sounding just a tad wistful. "He’s going to
surpass (Kassidy) in everything next year."
just a hint of a friendly family competition. When
Kassidy’s best extreme vertical jump of 5 feet 10
inches was reported, Kristin Wiersma chuckled before
announcing that Nero’s best was 6 feet. Nero also is
slightly ahead already in the speed retrieve and not far
behind Kassidy’s "big air" with a best of 24
feet 3 inches.
also a chance for intergenerational rivalry. Heath
Wiersma said Kylee’s best scores with Kassidy haven’t
exceeded his — yet. Because of Nero’s rapid
progress, Kiara and her mom kept passing each other’s
marks all summer, Kristin Wiersma said.
family aspect of Dock Dogs is one thing both parents
said they particularly like.
great time to spend together as a family," Kristin
Wiersma said. "And it’s something we can do with
our dogs. We don’t have to kennel them and leave them
behind. For us, we got dogs because we wanted
companions. And we love having them. We love doing
things with them."
of the family time includes practice sessions at area
lakes from about late May through late August, Heath
bring them to a lake and they see a dock and water; they
go berserk," he said. "They love doing it that
of the dogs in competitions also are hunting dogs, Heath
Wiersma said. But although he is a hunter, neither of
the dogs hunts with him. There’s a possibility Nero
might someday. As for Kassidy, it turned out that her
love for running, jumping, swimming and retrieving was
matched by a distaste for guns.
does a great job in the woods until the time I shoot my
first bird," he said. "And then she’s