STOCKBRIDGE — Susan takes a running start off the dock, leaps out over the water with her legs spread wide, then lands with a loud splash. Her technique isn’t perfect — think modified belly flop — but the distance is impressive.
“Thirteen feet,” somebody says.
When Susan surfaces, she celebrates the accomplishment by panting loudly. Water drips off her thickly matted fur.
Susan is a 2-year-old golden retriever, and on this day, she took turns dock-diving with canine companions Bubba and Capri into a pool — it specially was designed for this type of activity — that recently was installed at Camp Wagalot, a dog day care center on East Street.
Camp Wagalot’s owner, Jennifer Andrews, got the idea for the pool from a friend, who thought it would enhance her business, which also offers day care, boarding and training.
“It took me three years to figure out how to make it happen,” said Andrews, who is a certified dog trainer. The 41-foot-by-21-foot above-ground pool, which opened last month, is 4 feet deep and includes a long runway that Andrews said is regulation size for dog diving, which is an actual sport. (An organization known as North America Diving Dogs operates its own Hall of Fame and holds events that are sanctioned by the American Kennel Club).
To measure the length of each dog’s dive, distance markers are located along the sides of the pool.
Andrews, who overcame an early fear of dogs — she was 5 when attacked by a Doberman pinscher in her hometown of Savannah, Ga. — said it cost more than $70,000 to build the pool at Camp Wagalot, which has been located at her home in Stockbridge since 2011.
Andrews, a former recruiter and trainer at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, started her business after getting laid off during the Great Recession.
“I was 40 and didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “I was laying around the house and discovered that all I wanted to do is be with my dogs all day.”
Camp Wagalot’s pool has no therapeutic purpose.
“We are not a therapy pool,” Andrews said. “It’s for exercise and entertainment.”
Besides diving, Camp Wagalot’s pool also serves as a canine swimming facility. Andrews said water activity provides a good workout for dogs.
“Ten minutes of swim time is like 10 hours of play time,” she said. “It’s good for their joints and keeps them active.”
As Susan, Bubba and Capri showed in a recent demonstration, dogs love the pool. But, the facility’s size takes awhile for dogs to adjust to, Andrews said.
Dogs typically enter water from land, not by diving or jumping off a dock, so that they can see what’s underneath them and determine an exit strategy. But, Andrews said canines often fear pools because they can’t see the bottom before they go in and don’t know the way out.
“They start flailing around,” she said.
Camp Wagalot’s pool has a ramp that leads out of the water and onto the dock, and Andrews said one of the first things she teaches the dogs that use her pool is how to exit the facility safely via the ramp.
Each dog is fitted with a life preserver when in the pool, as an additional safety measure.
“You have to acclimate dogs to the pool because they’re hesitant to go into the water at first because they can’t see the bottom,” she said. “But, once you build their confidence, they want to go in no matter what.
“They get a little tired, but it takes awhile.”
Andrews also goes into the pool with her dogs and said many dog owners do, too. Any dog owner can use the pool at Camp Wagalot by making an appointment.
Among the three canines that participated in Camp Wagalot’s recent dog-diving exhibition, Susan’s 13-footer was the longest jump. But, dogs that participate in official dog-diving competitions can soar much farther.
Spitfire, a 4-year-old whippet from Olympia, Wash., dived 31 feet from a dock in October 2018, according to SBNation.com, and has made several dock dives of over 20 feet. Spitfire’s feats have become so spectacular that he is known as “the Michael Jordan of dog diving” by aficionados of his sport. He has a Facebook page with 6,200 followers.
Dog diving — it originally was known as dock jumping — made its debut as a competition in 1997, at the Incredible Dog Challenge, an event put on by dog food manufacturer Purina. ESPN began broadcasting dog-related athletic activities in 2000, as part of its Great Outdoor Games competition, and will be holding a full day of dog-related programming Aug. 26.
Andrews is planning to start a dog-diving group called Berkshire Flight Club next spring. She wanted to do it this year, but construction on the pool didn’t begin until May. She eventually wants to use the pool to train dogs for dog-diving competitions, but right now she plans to use it for fun.
Andrews’ pool, located on an elevated piece of land next to her house, gives Camp Wagalot a country club feel.
“The only thing we’re missing here,” she said, “is the ocean.”