GILMANTON — Imagine a "drag race for dogs," as Tim Merrill puts it, and you have the DockDogs World Championship – and Merrill's yellow Labrador retriever Tucker is a champ.
For four years, Merrill and Tucker have competed in the Speed Retrieve event in the sport. Last week, Merrill and his furry friend attended the DockDogs World Championship, held in Dubuque, Iowa, and on Sunday they became world champions in the Nitro class.
Speaking on Wednesday, Merrill's voice was still full of excitement, even after the drive home from Iowa.
"It's edge-of-your-seat excitement," he said. "You never know what your dog is going to do."
The sport of DockDogs includes three events, all of which feature a dog running down a dock and leaping into a pool of water. The Big Air event measures how long a dog can leap off the end of the dock. The Extreme Vertical challenges dogs to leap as high off the dock as they can. Tucker's forte is the speed retrieve, a timed event to see which dog can run down the dock, leap into the pool, swim to the far end and grab a toy, all in the shortest time possible.
To train for the event, Merrill built a pool and dock at his home in Gilmanton Iron Works.
Merrill and his dog went into the event as favorites, having posted the best average times through local qualifying events. Even so, competition was fierce at the World Championship; Tucker's margin of victory over the second-place dog was only about a tenth of a second.
Merrill, who has lived in Gilmanton for nearly four decades, has three dogs. Duke, a chocolate Lab, is his duck hunting dog. Sammy, a black Lab, is the self-appointed family protector and snuggler. Tucker" who will soon turn 6, is has a "massive toy drive," said Merrill, and is his upland bird hunting dog, a role Merrill says the dog relishes as much as he does the DockDog competitions.
"He's a hunting dog first, a DockDog second and he loves all of it," said Merrill.
Merrill said anyone interested in learning more about the sport can visit dockdogs.com or, for the local club, www.seacoastdockdogs.com. He said the sport can be as exciting as a touchdown pass in football or the final lap of a NASCAR race, all with the added element of the human-dog bond.
"Everything's based on your best friend," he said.
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