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One year and 54 splashes after getting started in dock diving, two-year-old Labrador Retriever Bella is headed to the AKC National Championship as the No. 1 ranked Lab in Diving Dogs.

With only one full season of NADD distance diving under her collar, Bella boasts a personal best of 30 feet, a season average of 29.9 feet, and three titles: Dock Elite, Dock Master, and Dock Elite Advanced.

“She loves it! She is a natural and loves to work,” her owner, Heidi Patterson says. ” When we turn off the highway at our home pool, she starts crying and whimpering.  She loves the pool and jumping — it truly makes her the happiest dog.”

Bella’s First Jump

When Bella was a puppy, Heidi took her to a friend’s pool. The first thing Bella did was jump in and belly flop. “We couldn’t believe it,” Heidi says. “Though all my other Labs have loved to swim, they have never jumped in water like that. So we started playing with the ball with her, and she would run and jump in the pool after the ball.”

Later that week, Heidi was telling a coworker about her puppy’s extraordinary pool skills. That’s when her coworker suggested she get involved with Dock Diving. Heidi couldn’t believe there was activity out there perfect for her water-loving Lab.

Although Bella was born a natural dock diver, the duo still puts lots of time into their training. Heidi rents a pool and trains Bella on the dock, does groundwork and games with bumpers and competition toys, and works with Bella at the CrossFit gym she owns. At the gym, they do ball throwing, sprinting, jumping, and speed work. They also go on two- to three-mile jogs some days.

Must Love Labs

When Heidi first met her husband Mitchell, she had three Labs: one of each color. “Since then, there’s been no going back!” Heidi says. “They are a fun, friendly, eager-to-please breed and they have great personalities!  It’s impossible not to love a Labrador.”

Mitchell, who grew up with a variety of dogs, quickly caught on to loving Labs. In fact, he was the one who brought Bella home from her breeder. “When he went to meet the litter and ‘pick’ our girl, and she ran right up to him. She jumped in his lap and he was in love! She still likes to sit in his lap.”

Heidi’s previous labs all loved the water, but they didn’t love jumping in the way Bella did.

Fly Bella, Fly

At one of Bella’s competitions, someone turned to Heidi after seeing Bella jump and said: “Wow, she really flies!”

That’s where the inspiration for Bella’s Instagram, @flybellafly, came from. Heidi and Mitchell use the account to share Bella’s jumping adventures. The couple also has another black Lab, 10-month-old Tessla.

So how does it feel to be the No. 1 ranked Labrador Retriever in the sport? “We are so excited!” Heidi says. “It’s hard to believe!  Bella is such a natural at this sport and is a highly focused, toy-driven dog, so it makes it pretty easy and a ton of fun. It’s her first year competing in this sport, and we are looking forward to many more.”

Join Bella

Dogs of any breed (including mixed breeds) can compete in Diving Dogs, and as long as you have access to a pool, it’s easy to get started. An easy first step is to purchase an approved diving toy to practice throwing to your dog.

Think your dog has what it takes to be Dog Star of the Month? Use the hashtag #ThisIsAKC on Instagram.