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Alpine / June 12, 2016

GoPro Mountain Games: DockDogs With The Dutch Army

Written by: Roxanne Trujillo

Here at the GoPro Mountain games in Vail, Colorado, the athletes come in all shapes and sizes and have different backgrounds. One particular competition has athletes that have big ears and small ears, long hair and short hair, flat faces and long snouts. They make quite the splash in the sport known as DockDogs and bring on many big smiles throughout the spectators.

Athletes being dogs and spectators being humans and yes, dogs spectate too. I think I saw some dogs smile bigger than us people. I know one thing for sure, the dogs got more free samples of food than we humans and they had their own personal water stations. It was a dog party in Vail this weekend.


The GoPro Mountain Games host the Dock Dog Big Air competition and has a reputation of being the dog owner’s favorite competition of the year. Here I thought it was just a nice event only at the GoPro Mountain Games, but don’t be fooled, this runs nation-wide.
Kū, a Dutch Shepard from Denver, CO was a dog that drew a lot of attention from the crowd. He took the competition seriously, jumping with a fancy collar made of jewels and leather.  Proceeding his looks was his personal best jump, measuring 25.8 feet.

Every time Kū would be jumping the crowd would begin to buzz with energy. On one particularly long jump we were soaked by his splash, also known as a doggy bath. So, with Kū drawing in all the attention I sought out his owners to find out more about their lives.

Kū , a Hawaiian name meaning God of War is 6 years old and has been jumping for 5 ½ years. He is one of six Dutch Shepards that were in the competition, all rescued from the same owners, Heather Ratynski and John Van Soest.


When I came upon Heather and John’s tent I saw six stainless steel kennels, each with a different humorous warning sign on the front of the cage. All with Hawaiian names and all police and military trained dogs. I sat down with Heather and John to learn more.


What are the names of all your dogs?

Kū -God of War, Kāne- God of the Sun, Kanaloa- God of the Sea, Kāpua- Goddess of Mischief, Ka-maho-ali’i – Shark God, and KoKi’o- Hawaiian Hibiscus flower


Why all Hawaiian names?

“John desperately wants to live in Hawaii,” Heather told us. John chimed in with, “I’m Dutch by blood, but Hawaiian by heart.”


How long have you been apart of the GoPro Mountain Games?

“We have been coming for 6 or 7 years,” said Heather. “We were here when they were the Teva Games. The Vail competition is my favorite of the DockDogs. It has the biggest crowd, which the dogs love! The bigger and louder the crowd, the better the dogs jump.”


How were you first introduced to the sport?

“I watched the competitions on TV and it sparked an interest. I then became the owner of this wild lab, that was a cancer survivor. My friends encouraged me to enter the lab into a DockDogs competition. So I did. Her first jump came in at 5 feet! After the lab, I rented dogs, my friends dogs, then I rescued Kū. He was an abandoned dog from a divorce and was left in a garage. His situation was a mess,” Heather told us. “Jumping Kū helped him.”


What are the challenges you face with your dogs and the competition?

“One of our dogs, Kāpua jumps too early. In the sport, the distance measured is from the end of the dock to where they hit the water. Which means when Kāpua jumps too early, like 3 feet too early, that distance is being taken away from her overall jump. This is where is gets tricky because they are dogs, so I can’t just look at her and be like, hey! You need to jump from the end of the dock! Kapua has a personal record of 26 feet.”

“Another challenge is getting the dog to jump. Some won’t. It took Kanaloa an entire year to jump!” Heather said. She and I then shared a chuckle with the irony of this since Kanaloa in Hawaiian means God of the Sea. Heather then told me “Once they jump that first time, they realize they are not going to die and it clicks.”


Where do you train your dogs?

“I am actually the Co-Founder of Rocky Mountain DockDogs in Broomfield, Colorado. It’s incredibly important to have a training facility for the dogs. Training dogs in lakes is fine, but it looks different to them. From the dog’s perspective, the pool looks empty and they have to become comfortable with the drop off the dock which are reasons they need that training in the pool.”


What separates winning dogs?

Our dogs are not here to swim in the pool for fun, they are here because they have drive and they want to get the toy. It’s not the dogs love of water that determines if they will be good or not, it’s the dogs drive. They are not our pets. They ARE apart of our family, but, we don’t take them for leisure walks or a trip to the park. They are too intense for that.

The Vail GoPro Mountain Games is the friendliest towards beginner dogs. She said a lot of new timers to the sport register for this event. I witnessed some owners doing everything they could to get their dogs to jump. They were laying on the dock tapping the water, and their dog was laying right next to them looking at the water basically saying ” You want me to do what?”

Sitting down with Heather and John taught me so much more than I could have ever known about this sport. They were a neat couple and had a neat family. Their dogs were intense. It was serious business for them. They were not there to swim in a pool. They were their to win. They had drive and determination. When I told Heather and John that I could see the intensity in their dogs. John proudly said ” That’s why we love them”

Be sure to check out Heather & John’s and the six Dutch Shepard’s Instagram account @the_dutch_army

Check back soon for our fully gallery of dogs!

about the author

Roxanne Trujillo

Roxanne is a Coloradical single track slayer, crux seeking, pow loving, thrill taking mom of a child that's comparably wild. Armed with enthusiasm and good coffee, she devotes herself to the outdoors and keeping pace with her adorable and energetic daughter. She is an ambassador for RaceFace, a V-something climber and goes by Birdy. She fantasizes often about throwing herself, daughter, friends and bikes in a Sprinter wrapped in #canvasthetoddler and peeling out to chase the mundo hermoso.

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