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Local canines, owners to compete in national showcase in Missouri

LAURA JAMESON/THE EXPRESS At left, black labrador retriever Beacon dives off the pier at the Woodward Township Boat Launch in pursuit of a floating toy thrown by Jeni Mellinger, who has been training the dog to participate in the North America Diving Dogs National Showcase.

LOCK HAVEN — Two local Labrador retrievers and their owners will be making the trek to Springfield, Mo., for the North America Diving Dogs (NADD) National Showcase on Oct. 28-30.

NADD is a canine sport and affiliate of the American Kennel Association, which sees dogs run the length of a dock and leap as far out into the water as possible. The sport includes the height and distance and the dogs are motivated with a toy, which is thrown out of reach by their owner to keep their momentum going.

Lock Haven residents Jeni Mellinger and Julie Mikesell will be traveling with their labs — brothers, Beacon and Decoy respectfully — to the event after both canines earned top honors at previous competitions.

Beacon earned his invite to the showcase in three events — Hydro Dash, Air Retrieve and Distance Jumping. However, Mellinger said he will only be competing in Air Retrieve.

“Air Retrieval is his best and favorite event,” she said.

LAURA JAMESON/THE EXPRESS Back row, from left, are Reed and Jeni Mellinger and Julie Mikesell. Jeni, owner of Beacon at left, and Julie, owner of Decoy at right, will be competing at the North America Diving Dogs National Showcase in Springfield Mo. on Oct. 28-30.

Air Retrieval sees a dog compete to knock a bumper off an apparatus at the farthest distance.

“His first time, he started at six feet and went to 20 feet not missing until 19 feet. He was on the dock for close to 15 minutes and had 12 grabs,” Mellinger said. “His personal best for 2020 was 23 feet. He went on to win the Elite division of AR at the 2020 Regional Event in Connecticut that October in over all breeds.”

In 2021, Beacon would hit 23 feet three times which tied his personal best.

Mikesell’s lab, Decoy, will also be joining Beacon at Nationals in the same event. Mikesell, owner of Listening Ears Home Training, breeds labs, including Beacon and Decoy’s parents.

Although they’re only competing in Air Retrieval, the pair also compete in the two others events offered by NADD, such as dock diving.

LAURA JAMESON/THE EXPRESS Decoy happily brings the toy he retrieved back to his owner at the Woodward Township Boat Launch.

Diving dogs is a canine sport in which dogs are enticed to run the length of a dock and leap as far out into the water as possible to compete for height or distance. They’re motivated to fly with a prized toy, which is thrown just out of reach in order to help them keep their momentum and get the best launch angle possible.

In retrieval, Decoy won in the master division and Beacon won master distance jump, too.

The pair had a chance to show off their training at the Woodward Township Boat Launch while Mellinger and Mikesell spoke with The Express.

As the two spoke, Beacon and Decoy could be seen happily diving into the Susquehanna River after toys. The energetic young pups eagerly grabbing the white rubber objects and fighting the current back to their owners. And as soon as they returned, they were more than happy to jump right back in, showing just how much fun the sport is for them.

Both Mellinger and Mikesell have competed with labs in NADD for three years. Mikesell was already competing with Decoy, just in agility events, when they stumbled upon dock diving and the NADD.

“I do a lot of agility training,” Mikesell said.

“We were at an agility trial in New Hampshire and they had a dock onsite. You could purchase a ticket and try,” Mellinger explained.

Both dogs, each four years old, showcased an immediate talent in the sport. So Mikesell and Mellinger decided to begin competing with NADD.

Each have earned a plethora of titles over the years, beating personal bests and cementing their place in the diving realm.

Mellinger’s husband, Reed, assists in training and at events as well. He said the best part about the sport is that any dog can compete.

“They don’t event have to jump very far,” he said, explaining that they have various divisions depending on the size of dog. “Any dog can do it, even dogs that are handicap. We’ve seen dogs with three legs or blind jump.”

In Pennsylvania, there are only two NADD certified docks — one in Pittsburgh and another in Gettysburg. So, the Mellingers and Mikesell can often be found at the boat launch training with Decoy and Beacon as well as two-year-old labs Bomber and Percy.

Both Mikesell and Mellinger said they are excited to attend the event in Missouri, but are mostly interested in their labs doing their best.

“You’re out there competing against yourself … for your best jump, your best distance,” Mikesell said.

“It’s going to be a new experience,” Mellinger said. “My goal is for him to hit his personal best or better.”

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