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'Iron Dog' draws four-legged competitors from across the region

| Sunday, July 5, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Paul Leabhart, of McDonald, watches intently as Muzzy, a black labrador retriever, glides through the air after his toy after leaping from a dock at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Paul Leabhart, of McDonald, watches intently as Muzzy, a black labrador retriever, glides through the air after his toy after leaping from a dock at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Hope, a Jack Russell terrier, jumps from a dock onto her toy duck, under the watchful gaze of owner, Dawn Miller, of Akron, Ohio, at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club. Hope had several false starts, and was hesitant to jump into the water, before finally taking the plunge.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Hope, a Jack Russell terrier, jumps from a dock onto her toy duck, under the watchful gaze of owner, Dawn Miller, of Akron, Ohio, at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club. Hope had several false starts, and was hesitant to jump into the water, before finally taking the plunge.
Ellen Larter, of Wellsburg, W.Va., cheers as her chocolate labrador retriever, Risto, catches his toy in midair before diving into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Ellen Larter, of Wellsburg, W.Va., cheers as her chocolate labrador retriever, Risto, catches his toy in midair before diving into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Hope, a Jack Russell terrier belonging to Dawn Miller, of Akron, Ohio, paddles furiously to get to his toy duck at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club. Hope had several false starts, and was hesitant to jump into the water, before finally taking the plunge.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Hope, a Jack Russell terrier belonging to Dawn Miller, of Akron, Ohio, paddles furiously to get to his toy duck at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club. Hope had several false starts, and was hesitant to jump into the water, before finally taking the plunge.
Georgine Javornick, of Green Tree, tries a little body english to increase the dive height of Zoey, her black labrador retriever, into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Georgine Javornick, of Green Tree, tries a little body english to increase the dive height of Zoey, her black labrador retriever, into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Luna, a yellow labrador retriever belonging to Ellen Larter, of Wellsburg, W.Va.,  lands with a splash while diving into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Luna, a yellow labrador retriever belonging to Ellen Larter, of Wellsburg, W.Va., lands with a splash while diving into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Jude, a chocolate labrador retriever, splashes into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, chasing after a tennis ball thrown by owner, Caroline Shaffer, of Bellaire, Ohio, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Jude, a chocolate labrador retriever, splashes into the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, chasing after a tennis ball thrown by owner, Caroline Shaffer, of Bellaire, Ohio, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Zoey, a black labrador retriever belonging to Georgine Javornick, of Green Tree, shakes herself dry after retrieving her toy from the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Zoey, a black labrador retriever belonging to Georgine Javornick, of Green Tree, shakes herself dry after retrieving her toy from the pond at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley, during the Dock Diving Fun Trials, Sunday, May 17, 2015, held by the Three Rivers Dockdogs Club.
Roxanne Newton, of Slippery Rock, encourages her dog, Switch, as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever soars through the air during a Three Rivers Dockdog Club event at Misty Pines dog resort in Sewickley, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Dog owners traveled from three states to practice with their dock diving dogs during this Dock Diving Fun Trial, in preparation for upcoming tournaments throughout the summer. Members of the group judged the distance of each dogs jump from a dock at a pond on the grounds of Misty Pines.
Roxanne Newton, of Slippery Rock, encourages her dog, Switch, as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever soars through the air during a Three Rivers Dockdog Club event at Misty Pines dog resort in Sewickley, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Dog owners traveled from three states to practice with their dock diving dogs during this Dock Diving Fun Trial, in preparation for upcoming tournaments throughout the summer. Members of the group judged the distance of each dogs jump from a dock at a pond on the grounds of Misty Pines.

Soaring through the air and ending with a loud splash, the four-legged members of 3 Rivers DockDogs Club worked on their dog-paddling stroke with urging from their owners and fans.

On a Sunday in May, about 50 dogs and their handlers gathered at Misty Pines pet resort in Sewickley to practice improving their diving distance.

Along with the horizontal length, the dogs were judged on vertical distance and by how fast they retrieved a toy. Dogs competing in all three events won the title of “Iron Dog.”

Members traveled from Western Pennsylvania, Northeastern Ohio and West Virginia. Most competitors were Labrador retrievers, but other dogs put their best paws forward — including a Jack Russell terrier optimistically named Hope, who competed in the beginner's category.

The competition divides dogs into categories by age, size, breed and experience. Handlers encouraged their athletes to pick up speed on a 40-foot run along the dock as they leapt into the pond to chase a favorite toy. Some more experienced dogs flew through the air for 20 feet before splashdown. Others required a few moments of fervent urging before they'd dip a paw into the water or perform a hesitant cannonball.

The 3 Rivers DockDogs Club is an affiliate of DockDogs Worldwide. It holds competitions, demonstrations and practices throughout the year for dogs 6 months and older. In November, the “best of the best” are invited to take part in the DockDogs World Championship.

Many experienced handlers look forward to receiving a gold-colored medal or trophy for participating. The furry athletes seem just as pleased with a bacon-flavored treat.

Keith Hodan is a Trib Total Media photographer. Reach him at khodan@tribweb.com.

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