High-Flying Dog

Caliber leads nation in dock diving

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

It all started at the 2018 Watermelon Festival.
According to Caitlin Harrison, the proud owner of a three-year-old English Cocker Spaniel named Caliber, she had walked by the Ultimate Air Dog's competition pool during last year's Watermelon Festival.
The 2018 festival was the first year that the water sport competition took part in Jefferson County's festival, and Harrison had watched the dogs jumping into the large pool that was set up for the competition before she decided to run home and get Caliber.
Prior to that moment, Caliber had never participated in dog sports or had even been on a competition dock, Harrison said.
But Caliber was immediately a pro at the jumps.
At first, Harrison said that Caliber ran to the edge and hesitated for only a moment before leaping off the edge and into the pool.
From that first jump on, Harrison said that Caliber was unstoppable.
“After that [first jump], she just flew off the dock – she loved it,” says Harrison.
Without a background in water dog sports, Harrison said that neither she nor her canine really knew what they were doing, except they that they loved it.
“We didn't know what we were doing, we didn't even know if she would jump up at first, but it ended up being a lot of fun and we enjoyed it,” adds Harrison.
After the Ultimate Air Dog competition at the Watermelon Festival ended, Harrison said she began to look for other opportunities to get Caliber into the water and researching other events that offered water dog sports.
“We just started looking up ideas and researching,” said Harrison.
Eventually, Caliber and Harrison ended up traveling around, with assistance in training and handling from Harrison's boyfriend, Joshua Bassett, in order to let Caliber compete.
Soon, it became obvious that Caliber was more than just a water dog at heart, she was also a winner.
“We didn't know what we were doing. We kinda just went in [to the competitions] blindsided, I guess,” said Harrison. “And she ended up doing really good.”
Under the North American Diving Dogs (NADD), Caliber is classified as a Lap Class competitor (which is a canine that is 16 inches or smaller) and Caliber moved fluidly through the ranks, entering the Lap Elite Division in under a year.
“She's number one in her breed,” Harrison says proudly.
After only a year, Caliber has taken home the title of being first in her breed, and fourth in the complete Lap Elite Division.
With each event, Caliber earned more satin ribbons for dock diving titles and after only a few events, Caliber ended up qualifying for the national competitions with the American Kennel Club (AKC), which are held annually in Orlando.
“We went to nationals not knowing what we were doing,” laughs Harrison.
The experience might have been new and unfamiliar to Harrison and Bassett, but Caliber was ready to compete and at the Orlando competitions, Harrison's little English Cocker Spaniel ended up placing within the Top 10 of the Lap Elite Division out of over 100 other competing dogs from around the United States.
With less than a year of experience as a dock diver, Caliber now holds the title for being number one in the United States for her breed for dock diving.
After visiting other events and learning more about other dog sports, Harrison also began to enter Caliber into other events outside of dock diving, including Fast Cat.
According to the AKC, Fast Cat is an ability test with a timed, 100-yard dash.
Dogs are encouraged to chase a lure and the top three time-scores of each dog are added together for a total score count and mile-per-hour rating.
As of current competitions, Caliber is ranked number one in the United States for English Cocker Spaniels in AKC Fast Cat competitions, with the highest score of 24.87.
“Everything is brand new,” says Harrison, while petting the loyal English Cocker Spaniel that rests at her knee.
Caliber turned three years old in April, and Harrison has been the loving owner of the little brown and white English Cocker Spaniel since Caliber was eight months old.
Outside of being an award-winner, Caliber is sweet and friendly, and completely loyal to her human.
“She's a good little companion, she's just so sweet,” says Harrison adoringly.
With last year's nationals behind them, Harrison says she and Caliber plan on continuing to compete and have already received an invite from the AKC to compete in this year's dock diving competitions.
Nationals will be held in December of this year, and Harrison is working hard to get an invite for Caliber to compete in the Fast Cat competition again.
She says she would also like to extend Caliber's range of competing into air retrieve, where the dogs either catch or hit a toy that is hung above a pool and barn hunt, a hide-and-seek game where the dogs seek out a tube that is hidden in hay.
In preparation for this year's national event, Caliber and Harrison are already attending various events in Georgia and Florida in order to get Caliber's requirements in, and Harrison says she's seen obvious improvements when it comes to Caliber's competitions.
With Caliber's first dock dive at the 2018 Watermelon Festival, the little English Cocker Spaniel jumped 14 feet – now, she jumps an average of somewhere between 18-20 feet.
While Caliber learns new sports and claims new titles, Harrison says she herself is still learning a lot about water sports and dog competitions in general.
“There's a lot that goes into it. There was a lot of learning and [stuff] we had to figure out,” she admits, saying that with each event they attend, she learns a little more about the different competitions and sports that Caliber can compete in.
Caliber, the unstoppable English Cocker Spaniel, will be back at this year's Watermelon Festival Ultimate Air Dog competitions (which will be held on Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15).
“That's where it all started,” Harrison says. “We'll be back.”