A Smokin’ Dock-Jumping Dog

Melissa Ness, the owner and trainer of Smoke, the No. 1 dock-jumping dog, talks about her journey through the world of dog sports.

Melissa Ness of Ramona, Calif., is the epitome of a successful multi-tasker. A part-time dog trainer since 1999, Ness also works as an EMT and veterinary technician. She currently owns four dogs, including two rescues. Smoke, a 3-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, is the latest addition to her canine family.

Unbeknownst to Ness, her decision to rescue Smoke would forever change her world and the world of dock jumping. Two years after bringing the Chessie home, Smoke leapt a record-breaking 29 feet, 1 inch into the Ultimate Air Dogs dock-jumping pool at the 2010 United Kennel Club Premier in Richmond, Ind.

Q: What’s your favorite sport?
A: My favorite sport is obviously the dock sports. I also enjoy United Kennel Club weight pulling, which is pretty much ranked right up there [with dock jumping]. I like seeing how much weight [a] dog can actually pull. Smoke’s actually the No. 1 Chesapeake in weight pulling.

Q: How and why did you get into the sport of dock jumping?
A: I started with my other dog, Striker. He was also a rescue [like Smoke]. He’s a Border Collie-Belgian Malinois mix. We were at a flyball tournament in Arizona back in 2004, when Striker was 10 months old. This was his first dock jumping [experience], and he placed in the top 12. His personal best at that time was a 16-foot jump, and he was just a puppy, so of course I got interested in it. They created another sport, the Extreme Vertical, in 2005, which I didn’t compete in until 2006. Striker went on to become the first dog to set the indoor Extreme Vertical record at 6 feet, 8 inches, and the first dog to set the outdoor record at 7 feet. He’s also a two-time world champion Extreme Vertical dog. At this point in time, he’s the five-time crown champion for the Super Retriever Series — in the five years I have been competing in Vertical, he’s been undefeated in the Super Retriever Series.

Q: What is it like to work with Smoke?
A: There have been times that have been challenging. It was hard to get the communication across to a dog that didn’t understand indoor living. Teaching him new things is challenging, but everyone says that once a Chessie learns something, it never forgets it, and that’s pretty much true. With Chessies, you have to ask them [to do something], you can’t tell them. You can tell Border Collies, “Go do this,” and they’ll go do it. Smoke has had some stubborn moments. He’s kind of like a cat. You know how they say that dogs have owners and cats have staff? Well, Chessies have staff. But from that standpoint, I get such joy once everything clicks. It’s pretty cool.

Q: Can you tell us about your first dog sport competition?
A: I started in obedience, but flyball was the first official dog sport that I competed in. That was back in 1998 or 1999. I had two dogs, a German Shepherd [Dog] named Bree, and I still have Bubbles, my Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It was fun – it was, you know, doggie drag-racing. I had a high-drive German Shepherd that did really well with the sport. She’s passed away and has been gone for a year now. She quit racing about three years ago, and she’s still currently ranked No. 4 or 5 in flyball for German Shepherds.

Q: How did Bubbles do?
A: She was like our secret weapon because of her yodel, which sounds like monkey sounds. The Jack Russells heard the noise coming from the other lane and – of course, what do Jack Russells do, they go and hunt. So they heard these monkey sounds coming from our lane, and well, any dog crossing lanes is called interference. So we won because Bubbles made all these noises. I think at one time, Bubbles was ranked in the top 10, but now she’s ranked around 18 or 20.

Q: How many other dogs do you have in the house?
A: I have three other dogs [in addition to Smoke]. I have Striker, Bubbles and Bubbles’ daughter, Allie. So I have two big dogs and two little ones.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I like staying active. I like to hike because it’s good conditioning for the dogs. Most of my hobbies revolve around animals, but I do like to go out and ride buggies in the desert and water ski and ride boats in the river.

Q: Do you have any wild aspirations?
A: We know that Smoke is probably going to be a dog that will hit 30 feet. I think hitting 30 feet is probably one of my wildest [aspirations]. I want to hit 30 feet not once, but twice.

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Dogs · Health and Care