Dogs literally fly over the water in dock diving competition. Photo: Richard Miller, KP News

For Kristi Baird it all started 16 years ago when her very active Labrador retriever named Henna was driving her crazy with her boundless energy. Baird drove Henna all the way to Puyallup hoping that she might enjoy a new sport where dogs chase toys off a dock and land in a pool of water. Without hesitation, both Henna and Baird jumped in – all the way.

Today Baird owns a 27,000-gallon swimming pool with an attached 40-foot dock dedicated entirely to her newfound passion – dock diving for dogs.

“I spent over 20 years in the health care field but realized that I was most happy when I was working with dogs,” Baird said. “So, I quit my job and opened my dog business with $150 and a willingness to work over 80-hours a week to make it successful.”

Her hard work and dedication to making dogs happy has paid off. The once humble dog business is now known as Brown Dog University, a boarding, training and world class dock diving facility located on five acres just north of Key Center. To help dogs gain maximum traction on her dock, Baird covered it with AstroTurf from the 10-yard line of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.

Brown Dog University recently hosted the Mid Summer Splash – an official dock diving event sanctioned by North America Diving Dogs, a fast growing organization with over 10,000 registered dogs who all love running and jumping off docks at 55 facilities scattered across the United States and Canada. The organization hosts an annual championship in Orlando, Florida, in conjunction with the American Kennel Club (AKC) to crown the annual winners. Dock Diving offers two separate events, the long distance jump and the air retrieve. Dogs compete on who can jump the farthest while retrieving a rubber target suspended on ropes above the pool.

Baird encourages everyone with an active dog to give dock diving a try. “We welcome dogs of all sizes and breeds. This is a sport where everyone cheers each other on and we all have a great time.” Baird offers dock diving training and has trained some of the top dogs in the sport. She recently worked extensively with Spitfire, a 5-year-old whippet who currently holds five world records including a 30-foot distance jump and a 28-foot air retrieve. Spitfire is truly a world-class athlete and is constantly improving under the loving direction of her precocious 13-year-old handler, Sydney Mackey of Olympia.

Becky Johnson’s 2-year-old border collie/whippet mix named Heathen recently started dock diving and jumped a personal best of over 29-feet at Brown Dog University. Johnson gave credit for her success to Baird. “Kristi is amazing! She is passionate about dogs and brings out the best in everyone,” Johnson said.

Baird shrugs off the praise and said, “At the end of the day it’s just a bunch of dogs having a great time jumping into a pool.”

Baird and her dogs Henna and Buddy were honored with induction into the Dock Dogs Hall of Fame in 2011 for their dedication and success in the sport.

“Please make your dog happy and give dock diving a try,” says Baird. “Take the plunge! Your dog will love it and maybe you’ll end up quitting your day job like I did…”

Learn more about Brown Dog University at www.browndoguniversity.com.

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