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Gainesville dog to compete in dock-diving championship
Mattie and her owner Darrah Rorrer to participate in worldwide contest in November in Iowa
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Darrah Rorrer rents the practice pool at Rucker Pet in Cumming to train Mattie for the upcoming Dockdogs World Championship in Dubuque, Iowa. Mattie, a 3-year-old mixed breed, was invited to the world competition after qualifying at a regional contest in July in Kentucky.

At 3 years old, Mattie can run, jump and compete with the best of them.

A mixed-breed dog, Mattie was recently invited to compete in DockDogs World Championships later this year. She lives in Gainesville with her owner, Darrah Rorrer.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s the most exciting thing to me,” Rorrer said. “I just wouldn’t have thought that I’d be this competitive.”

DockDogs is the independent governing and sanctioning body for regional, national and international Canine Aquatic performance sports. It has clubs around the world, including some as far as Australia. DockDogs establishes the rules and standards of the sport, tracks results and records and supports and promotes the growth of its athletes, events, spectators and sponsors.

The championships will be in three months in Iowa and are expected to draw dogs from all over the world to compete. Mattie qualified for the championships during a July regional competition in Kentucky.

“To me, it’s a big deal and we’re really, really proud of it,” Rorrer said. “We’ll go in November to the world finals. I don’t expect her to come home with any gold medals or anything, but it will be interesting to watch her compete.”

Mattie has been jumping competitively for about 2 1/2 years, Rorrer said.

“When she gets on the dock, her personality will change a little bit,” she said. “She gets into the sport.”

In the time she’s been jumping, Mattie has competed in several competitions, including one in Florida.

“Mattie’s a really well-rounded dog,” Rorrer said. “She’s never going to jump 30 feet in the distance, but for her size ... her record right now is 23.4 feet (that) she actually can jump out into the water.”

Mattie practices dock diving at Rucker Pet & Wild Bird at 4335 Bethelview Road in Cumming. It’s the only Rucker Pet location with a permanent pool on site.

During training sessions Mattie and Rorrer start off with a warmup on the grounds before moving to the pool for practice. After Rorrer tells Mattie to sit at the end of the dock, Rorrer starts walking to the front to take her position for throwing the toy Mattie chases. Mattie tends to take the opportunity with Rorrer’s back turned to her to sneak a few inches forward.

Owner Scot Rucker said he put the pool in about five years ago, because he enjoys dock dogs and wanted to build a place for his customers. Rucker has a dog that jumps well but doesn’t compete.

This year Rucker remodeled the pool area, installing a new dock and new green grass-like turf to make it nicer for dogs and their owners to come out and jump.

Rucker Pet rents out the pool time for practice. For those curious about starting dock diving, Rucker recommends a dog be toy-motivated.

“They got to have a reason to jump off the dock, chasing the toy is the reason,” he said.

Mattie competes in all three DockDogs categories: Big Air, Speed Retrieval and Extreme Vertical.

According to DockDogs, Big Air is similar to a long jump for dogs. The dog can start anywhere on the 40-foot-long dock, runs and jumps into the water after a throw toy. The distance is judged from the end of the dock to where the tail of the dog breaks the water’s surface.

Speed Retrieve is a timed event. At the far end of the pool a bumper toy is suspended 2 inches above the water with a starting indicator light above it. The dog is then placed at a 20-foot white starting mark on the dock. When the light turns green the handler releases the dog, and the time clock stops when the dog pulls the toy from the Speed Retrieve bracket.

Extreme Vertical is similar to a high jump for dogs. The dog starts off at the 20-foot mark and jumps to grab a bumper toy extended out 8 feet from the end of the dock over the water. The starting height is 4 feet, 6 inches and goes up in 2-inch increments as the competition progresses.

Mattie is Rorrer’s first dock-diving dog. She came to Rorrer several months after her husband’s death in May 2012.

A friend kept asking Rorrer if she wanted puppies. After a few months of saying no, Rorrer decided to check them out and came home with Mattie in January of 2013.

“It turned out she was an extremely athletic dog,” Rorrer said.

She first discovered Mattie’s talents when walking her in the park when she was 6- to 9-months-old.

“She just started jumping in the water and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I might have a dock dog,’” Rorrer said.

Rorrer and Mattie went through a dog-training class so she could learn basic skills such as sit, stay and come.

Then Rorrer decided to add to Mattie’s skills. She trained Mattie to become a therapy dog through Happy Tails Pet Therapy.

As a therapy dog, Mattie visits nursing homes and children at schools. At nursing homes, Mattie visits individual patient rooms and sometimes the physical therapy rooms. Mattie and Rorrer try to get to each and every person who is interested in having the dogs visit them that day.

Mattie’s therapeutic help varies depending on which school she is visiting. Sometimes children read to Mattie to build their confidence in reading outloud. Other times, she interacts with the students.

Mattie takes her volunteer activities to heart, sometimes sleeping for hours after visiting a nursing home or being more playful when she comes home from a school.

Rorrer was encouraged to get Mattie into therapy work after her husband, Ira Rorrer, died. Ira had cancer and during treatments at Emory University Hospital therapy dogs visited him.

Rorrer said her husband couldn’t speak anymore and could only write when he made a special request.

“What remains just so important in his mind was therapy dog visits and how much he loved them,” Rorrer said. He asked Darrah that after he was gone, if she were to get a dog to train it to be a therapy dog.

Mattie was that dog for her.

“Along with all of her therapy work and all, I started entering her in to dog activities,” Rorrer said of Mattie. “She is very talented in barn hunt; she’s on her senior title working toward her master title in that.”

Barn hunt is a sport where a dog searches for live rats encapsulated in a tube and buried in hay bales. The tubes make it so the dogs can’t actually get to the rat. Sometimes empty or rat waste decoy tubes are put into the mix as well.

“She loves to barn hunt, but I think her favorite is the dock diving,” Rorrer said.

Rorrer got Mattie involved in sport as a release outlet for her and to give back to her for all she gives as a therapy dog.

To see Mattie in action visit Rucker Pet at 3245 Peachtree Parkway in Suwanee on Aug. 26-28 during its dock-diving competition. Mattie and Rorrer plan to compete at the event, which is expected to draw 150 to 200 other dogs.

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