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When you think of dogs who participate in Dock Diving, you probably think of natural-born swimmers and water-loving dogs – but not all star participants in this sport are life-long water dogs. For Amanda Haldeman of Hampden, Mass., and her All-American Dog Taxi, Dock Diving came later.

Haldeman and Taxi will be participating in the 2023 AKC Diving Dogs Challenge in the Air Retrieve Division. The Diving Dogs Challenge is presented in conjunction with the National Diving Dogs Association, held on Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Getting his Footing

It’s never too late to get started in something new. Although Haldeman initially got Taxi as a Flyball dog when he was four months old, his talents have spanned across many different sports, including Agility, Fast CAT, Disc Dog, and Lure Coursing.

“There’s a lot of things you can do with puppies in any sport,” Haldeman says. “There’s a lot of foundation work that you do, and I started all of that with Taxi as soon as I got him.”

White dog jumping to catch a frisbee
Stephanie Shafer
Taxi participates in Disc, Agility, Fast CAT, and Lure Coursing as well as Diving Dogs.

From the jump, Haldeman and Taxi began doing dog sports together. She started him in Flyball, then Agility, then moved onto Disc. Dock Diving didn’t come into the picture until much later, and sort of came about by accident. Haldeman saw friends do it, which initially peaked her interest in the sport.

Older Dog, New Sport

For Taxi, water was not a love-at-first-sight situation. He was four years old when Haldeman began to get him more comfortable with water using clicker training. “He was always the dog that was like ‘yeah I’ll go in and wade a little,’ but he didn’t really care for swimming,” Haldeman said. “I looked at him and I was like ‘dude, we’ve got some work to do!'”

She used her neighbor’s pool, which had steps going into it, to train him to get in the water. From there, they worked themselves up to the side of the pool, and eventually, began practicing on an actual dock.

“His first competition I think he went like 6-7 feet in distance, and I must’ve had a party,” Haldeman said. “It was fantastic.”

From there, she and Taxi made a great team. He made his Dock Diving competition debut in now five years ago, and Haldeman says his average that first season was 15 feet, 17 feet the year after, then 20 feet, and then 21 feet. Now, at over 10 years old, he’s back to 18 feet.

Stephanie Shafer
Haldeman tried Dock Diving with Taxi and her husband’s dog, but quickly realized Taxi had a knack for it.

“His season average has gone down because you know, he’s a little bit older, but that’s okay, he still has a great time doing it.”

Air Retrieve, which is the division that Taxi qualified for in the 2023 Diving Dogs Challenge, is something he learned even later. A friend had recommended they try the event when Taxi was 7 years old, and he caught on quickly.

Party of Five

Out of her five dogs, who also do various sports, Taxi is the only one who does Dock Diving. She had tried to get into it with her husband’s dog, but quickly found that Taxi was more drawn to the sport, and the time they spend together because of it.

For the Diving Dog Championship, Haldeman says “we’re gonna have a hotel with just the two of us, and he’ll sleep under the covers and get all the attention, and he loves it. That’s really the biggest thing for him: he loves that nice one-on-one attention.”

Haldeman and her husband have five dogs, ranging from one to fourteen years old. Spring is a 14 year-old Mudi, Rift is a 7-year-old All-American Dog, Cello is their 4-and-a-half year old Whippet, and their youngest is Lato, another Mudi. Taxi is the second-oldest at 10 years old.

“They all have different needs and different things they excel at,” Haldeman said. “The important thing is just to find out what they like and help them be the best at it.”

Training a Senior Dog Athlete

Now that Taxi’s been doing Dock Diving for over 5 years, he’s understandably starting to slow down. But as for her goals for the Diving Dogs Challenge? “I would just like him to succeed,” Haldeman said. “Other than that, I’m starting to taper him down on competitions.”

Woman and small white All-American Dog
Stephanie Shafer
Haldeman and Taxi love doing dog sports of all kinds together.

She says that having an older dog athlete comes with more observation on her part. “I definitely watch him and make sure he seems healthy, that he’s not limping, make sure that he’s at a healthy weight. He sees a chiropractor, he gets lots of rest, but then again he also gets lots of outside time, where we run around [to] kind of keep in shape.”

Never Too Late

One of Haldeman’s Mudis, Spring, did Agility for many years before she retired, and now spends most of her time sleeping, and in a few years, Taxi will too. “With his age, I’m just being cautious to pick and choose competitions to do to still let him play, because he loves it, but just be sure it’s safe for him.”

But she doesn’t think that getting him involved in the sport later made a difference in his skill or his career. Taxi’s very first Dock Diving competition was in 2018, when he was already five years old. He had only started the year prior, but Haldeman said he caught on quickly and it wasn’t much of a challenge for him. “I had done a lot of training with him before that in general, so he already understood how to work and how to learn,” she said. “I just needed to use those techniques and focus them on Dock Diving.”

Because she was able to translate what he already knew to Dock Diving, Taxi caught on quickly. “With anything you do, you’re never too old, your dog is never too old,” Haldeman said. She recommends having confidence in yourself and your dog, and finding classes or lessons with experts in the sport you want to get involved in. “That’s the most important thing: if you don’t know much about it, find someone that does, and have them help. [They’re] never too old!”

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