TEACHING OLD (and young)

July 6, 2019 Carlos Arreola

Four friends dive into business together

Las Cruces is a happening place for both people and their canine companions! The past several years have seen a proliferation of dog-friendly pubs, the creation of a dog park, and the establishment of several pet sitting, grooming, and training services catering to canine care. In fact, animal lovers have a niche publication, DogCruces, dedicated to the welfare of our canine and feline friends, and dogs have their own ambassador in the form of Striking the Wonder Dog, celebrity tee retriever at New Mexico State University football games (who happens to have more than 1,300 followers on Facebook). PetExpo attracts thousands to the Las Cruces Convention Center to celebrate all things animal, and the Therapaws therapy dog team provides not only comfort and emotional support to those in need, but Therapaws Reading Teams help kids learn to love reading. Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue even has a canine team.

These five different animal activities share a common thread — four friends whose love of dogs brought them together more than 20 years ago when they all met as members and canine handlers for Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue. Vic Villalobos and his wife, Shannon Murray, are the driving forces behind DogCruces and PetExpo, and Dr. Steve Stochaj and his wife, Dr. Nancy Chanover, belong to Striking the Wonder Dog, who is a Therapaws pup in addition to his game day duties. Steve, Nancy, Vic, and Shannon have now turned their love of dogs into an exciting new business venture dedicated to dogs: the Las Cruces Dock Diving and K9 Event Center (LCDD).

Shannon now works full time at LCDD and is the managing partner, while Vic remains the publisher for the American Classifieds Thrifty Nickel. Steve and Nancy are professors at New Mexico State University. Most people are familiar with dog agility competitions, but dock diving competitions are less well known in the Land of Enchantment (although not for long!). Simply put, in dock diving competitions dogs race down a platform and leap into a body of water (usually retrieving a toy), vying to go the furthest distance. Although the first dogs that come to mind for a sport like this are the usual water-loving suspects like Labradors and other retrievers, Nancy dispels that myth, recalling a “corgi named Pumpkin who was a champion diver. It’s not just a sport for ‘water dogs,’ and there are size categories for competition. That said, slender and fast dogs like Belgian Malinois and golden retrievers can often get way down the pool.” Most people are not looking to have their dogs compete, but want to strengthen the bond with their dogs and have some fun while enriching the dog’s life. According to Steve, dock diving is “not so much about what the dog does, but about your relationship with your animal.” He continues, “Different owners get different things out of it, and the dog overcomes so many things — it’s really personal growth for the dog.” Before a dog becomes a dock diver, it usually it takes some preparation and practice. All dogs have to take an orientation class before being allowed on the dock or in the pool (unless the dog already holds a dock diving title). Nancy notes that the owner “needs to have some control over the dog — obedience classes can be helpful.” Additionally, a dog that dives successfully will have “toy drive”; that is, the dog has a toy (preferably one that will float) that he absolutely loves to chase. The next step is a six-week orientation class to show both humans and dogs the ropes of the ramp and diving off the dock.

Every dog is different the first time up on the dock. Some will jump right in, and others will panic a bit. If you don’t have your own doggie flotation vest, the ones provided by LCDD have handles on the back to help control the dog. (LCDD staff members are the only humans permitted in the pool.) This allows staff to guide the dog to the ramp in the water to show the dog where he can find footing and the way out when he has retrieved his toy. Vic notes that just getting in the pool can be a big growth experience for the dog, especially one that has never been swimming — sometimes at first they will just flail until they realize they can swim. He says, “Most dogs who learn to swim do so in a lake where they go in gradually. Here it’s not like that, and the water is clear, which is scary.” Allowing the dog to overcome fear and learn to love the water is a big confidence builder. “We want dogs to want to come here,” Vic says. “We like to see scratch marks on the door from dogs who can’t wait to get in.” Shannon also notes that LCDD hopes to work with the local animal welfare community to teach dock diving to dogs needing forever homes — dogs that know how to interact with humans and do “cool” things are instantly more adoptable.

For those interested in competition, LCDD is affiliated with North America Diving Dogs (NADD), which means that dogs can win ribbons and titles at events at LCDD. LCDD’s first NADD event, Las Cruces Desert Dock Dive, comes up August 10 – 11, and registration is open until August 7. Dock diving isn’t the only activity LCDD offers to strengthen your bond with your dog. LCDD contracts with Claren Wilson and Eric Mulhall with Cloud K-9 Dog Training Services to provide state-of-the-art, positivereinforcement obedience training. Currently, three agility trainers conduct classes at LCDD (Sandra Hendrix, Hope Movsesian, and Tamara Stimatze), and in mid-July FitPAWS® classes and children’s classes will be added. Want to know more? Visit LCDD’s website at dockdivinglc.com, shoot Steve, Nancy, Vic, and Shannon a message on Facebook at @dockdivinglc, or go old school and call them at 575-323-1250. Las Cruces Dock Diving and K9 Event Center is located just beyond the construction at 335 S. Valley Drive.

Written by Elaine Stachera Simon

Photography by Steve MacIntyre

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