Dozens of diving dogs test just how far they can jump in Palmer

Zeke leaps after a toy thrown by handler Bob Beck on July 4, 2022 at the Alaskan Diving Dogs Qualifier. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)

Dozens of people and their dogs gathered in Palmer on the Fourth of July for the 2022 Alaskan Diving Dogs Qualifier, hoping to score high enough to make it to the Northwest regional competition in Seattle.

Every few minutes, a dog rocketed off the end of a dock into a 40-foot-long above-ground pool, leaping after a toy. 

The canine competitors included Zeke, jumping for his “Excellent” title in the Master Division. That means he jumped 55 times between 20 and 24 feet. And then there was Maddox, a pit bull who had to don his life jacket before taking the leap.

Maddox, a pit bull, leaps in wearing his life vest. If he didn’t wear one, a judge said, he would sink. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)

The annual multi-day event included a series of contests to test dogs’ jumping and swimming abilities.

“There’s the distance jump,” said Destiny Lytle, one of the event’s organizers and a dog handler. “We also have air retrieve, which is where we have a toy suspended 4 feet above the water, and it moves out in 1-foot increments … and then we also have hydro dash, which is a timed event.”

Dogs of all shapes and sizes competed — from a small Australian shepherd to a loud and boisterous yellow lab. Some of the competitors were search-and-rescue dogs, some were personal protection dogs and many others were simply pets.

“It’s a sport for anyone,” said Kimberly Beam, a judge at the qualifier. “Everyone’s super friendly, welcoming. We’re helping each other out.”

A dog lands in a pool
Polaris makes a splash. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)
Chinook jumps just one inch shy of 9 feet. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)

That welcoming atmosphere drew Lytle to dog diving in 2015. She and two of her dogs were attending a different competition in the Lower 48 and stopped by a pool where a dock diving contest was underway.

“I got both my dogs up on the dock,” said Lytle, “At the time it was a German shepherd named Ven and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi named Irene. And they both got up there and jumped, and they loved it, and the crowd loved the little corgi jumping off the dock — so at that point, I was hooked.”

Z, the 2017 North American Diving Dogs champion and Destiny Lytle’s dog, holds his toy. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)
Vision jumps in after a toy. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)

Now, in addition to running Alaska Dog Boarding and Training outside Palmer, the Lytle family hosts the Alaskan Diving Dogs Qualifier.

Destiny Lytle’s dad, Shaun Lytle, said he likes watching the dogs learn how to dive.

“I like to watch the dogs that never done it, you know, and don’t maybe even know how to swim,” he said. “And then they learn to progress, and go into the water on their own, and come out on their own, and then jump on their own. I like to watch the progression. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Northwest regional competition will be held in September. Seventeen dogs earned spots to compete in Seattle.

Charlotte jumps to 16 ft. 9 in. at the 2022 Alaskan Diving Dogs Qualifier. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)
Polaris shakes off water after jumping. (Laura Philion/Alaska Public Media)

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