HINSDALE, N.H. -- The entire Vaillancourt family is heading by car to a competition in Iowa.
Count it up: That's five sets of eyes, 14 legs and two tails.
John Vaillancourt is bringing his wife, Kim, his son, Zachary, and their two canines to the 2012 DockDogs World Championships in Dubuque, Iowa. It is a by-invitation-only event, and he and his family have received three invitations.
John will compete in the novice Big Air Division with the family's golden retriever Simon and the Speed Retrieve event with Storm, a chocolate lab. He and Simon are currently the National Big Air Champions. Zachary, ranked 17th in the world, and Storm will take part in the youth Big Air Division.
Kim, who regularly competes but did not get an invitation, said the sport is an incredible family event and has helped bring Zachary, 9, out of his shell.
"It's really, really fun," she said. "I can't even describe how much fun we have with it."
Dockdogs.com compares the Big Air event to "long jump for dogs." Each canine starts off anywhere on a 40-foot dock and then runs and jumps into the water after a throw toy. The distance is judged electronically from the end of the dock to where the tail set of the dog breaks the water's surface.
The Speed Retrieve is a timed event. Each dog is placed at the 20-foot mark of the 40-foot dock and when the handler releases the animal it darts to reach a bumper toy suspended two feet above the water at the end of the pool.
Kim described the event as "doggie drag racing."
She said all first-place finishers get $300 and "a really pretty ribbon."
John said his family doesn't practice this time of year because they attend so many competitions during the spring, summer and early fall. But he said DockDogs is a huge event and will be televised on Outdoor Channel.
The Vaillancourts have been competing for about three years. It all started when Simon was a puppy and enjoyed leaping off a dock and into the lake by their house. Someone saw Simon and told the family that type of thing is actually a competitive sport. Kim did some investigating and before long, the Vaillancourts were driving to their first competition in Maine.
The sport has become a labor of love for the family. John said the events are for both the casual and ultra-competitive participants. He said it is intense, relaxing and enjoyable all at the same time.
"I enjoy the camaraderie, the people we meet and the people we compete against," he said.
Registration is set for Thursday and competition lasts from Friday to Sunday. John said his family left Hinsdale Tuesday tonight for the 20-hour road trip.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.