They run, jump and swim like the Olympic athletes we’ll be watching shortly in London, but the only compensation they seek is praise, a pat on the head and an occasional biscuit.

DockDogs, a canine aquatics competition, will appear this weekend at the Marketplace at Augusta. Since the competition was first aired on ESPN in 2000, it’s taken off, first here in the United States and now around the world.

“It’s immensely popular everywhere we go,” DockDogs vice president Brian Sharenow said. “It’s got incredible growth.”

There were 24 canine aquatics teams nationwide in 2000, Sharenow said, but there are now 16,000 who compete on a national circuit for points and credits. DockDogs is conducting six shows this weekend and will hold over 200 this year. The company has expanded to Canada, Great Britain and Australia and is looking to move into Japan and the Netherlands.

They set up their 20×40 foot pool and dock Friday in the parking lot near Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Marketplace. A number of these events have been held in Maine and one caught the eye of regional director of management and marketing, Ellyne Fleshner.

“I saw this event last summer at L.L. Bean and was intrigued by the number of people who participated and saw this,” Fleshner said.

Sharenow expects DockDogs to bring 50-60 dogs that will be supplemented by local dogs. There are several clubs around the country, including one in Maine, Seacoast Dock Dogs in Berwick, that compete on the national circuit. Jennifer and Jesse Dalton of Gorham are Seacoast members and will bring their three dogs to compete in Augusta this weekend.

“We’re hoping that a lot of people come,” Jennifer said. “We have quite a following in southern Maine and the Massachusetts area. There are a good chunk of people in the Augusta area as well.”

There are three disciplines — Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve — that the dogs compete in. Big Air is the most popular and what people generally think of when they hear the term dock diving. In Big Air, the dog runs down the 40 foot dock and jumps for a toy that has been thrown out over the water. The world record of 31 feet was set a couple of weeks ago by a black lab in Canada.

In extreme vertical, dogs leap to grab a bumper suspended 8 feet out from the dock. The current record of 8 feet, 4 inches was set recently in Massachusetts by a Belgian Malinois, which is shepherd breed.

“They’ve taken the sport by storm,” Dalton said.

In speed retrieve, dogs start 20 feet down the dock, leap into the water and swim 38 feet to grab a dead fowl trainer at the end of the pool. The record of 4.82 seconds is held by a black lab.

Any breed of dog is welcomed to compete. Spectators are encouraged to bring their dogs to watch or compete. They’re asked to keep their dogs on a 4-foot leash.

“The dogs are all having fun and the people are having fun,” said Monica Smith, who lives in Rome and will enter her Chesapeake Bay retriever Triton in the competition. “Kids can go right up to the pool and get splashed by the dogs. The crowd really gets into it.”

Several businesses at the Marketplace will hold activities during the two-day competition. Dog treats and special offers will be available at Eddie Bauer along with specials at Old Navy and the Olive Garden. There will be games and giveaways at Red Robin and a sandwich making game at Subway. The Kennebec Valley Humane Society will also be represented.

“We’re hoping we can find homes for some of the animals,” Fleshner said.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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