Minnesota has a lot of lakes, and those lakes have lots of docks on them, and a lot of Minnesotans have dogs. It all comes together at a dock dog-jumping competition. This weekend, some of the nation's best dock-jumping dogs will show their stuff at the Anoka County Game Fair. One of the crowd favorites will be Ms. Ruger from Duluth.
Ms. Ruger is young. She's not even one-and-a-half yet. And she's small for a dock-jumper. She's a 45 lb. German wirehaired pointer. Most of the best leapers are male black labs, so Ms. Ruger raised eyebrows this summer when she placed fourth in a national competition. Her longest jump was 22-and-a-half feet from the end of the dock to spashdown.
Ms. Ruger's human companions are Robin and Mark Braaten. Earlier this week, Robin Braaten and Ruger went to a public boat landing on Island Lake near Duluth to train. Ms. Ruger was out of the car and on the dock in seconds.
She's a hunting dog, and she loves to fetch her plastic duck. That's how Braaten coaxes Ms. Ruger to jump. Not that it takes much coaxing.
Ms. Ruger sits on the dock - sort of. Ms. Ruger really wants to go, so Braaten keeps a hold of Ruger's collar. Braaten has the plastic duck in her other hand.
Braaten tries to get Ms. Ruger to sit. She keeps saying, "Whoa."
All of sudden they're both running down the dock. Braaten yells "Fetch!" and tosses the plastic dummy out into the lake. Ruger goes springing 12, 14 - maybe 20 feet - off the end of the dock.
There's a big splash, and Ruger's chugging her way back to the dock with the dummy in her mouth. Ruger's been known to fetch her plastic duck 100 times in 45 minutes.
"She loves it," Braaten says. "She just loves it."
Braaten says she and her husband saw a dock-jumping competition at an outdoors show a few years ago. They decided to give it a try with their next dog. They got Ruger last summer, and they started training.
"We just started throwing the dummy off the dock at a short distance," Braaten says, "and she would jump in."
Dogs like Ruger are bred to retrieve. Robin Braaten says that part's easy. But as for jumping, it seems some dogs are born to it and some are not.
The Braatens bought Ruger from a breeder in southern Minnesota. The breeder could tell Ruger would be a jumper, and wanted to keep her.
"Except Ruger liked to climb and jump over the fence," Braaten says, "and she didn't want a fence-jumper. And I said, 'Thank you very much,' because we sure enjoy her jumping abilities. I think she's got springs in her legs."
Ms. Ruger is on the dock-dog circuit now. She'll head for Missoula, Mont., this fall for a big competition. She'll have company from a lot of other Minnesota dogs.
This summer at the Great Outdoor Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., five of the top 10 dock jumpers were from Minnesota - including Ms. Ruger.
The winner in Lake Placid was a black lab from Shakopee named Little Morgan. He set a world record with his jump of more than 26 feet.More Information