Ducks and docks sum up the uber-active life of Drake, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever from Salt Lake City. His owner, Gilbert Latta, is an avid fisherman and game fowl hunter who's been training Drake in the outdoors since he was a pup. Drake was even named after the Drake Mallard duck.
"From the day we got him he was going fishing and camping with us," Latta said. "I took him hunting for the first time in the fall of 2011 and he did great! His first bird retrieved was a blue winged teal."
Whether it's camping or fishing with the family, Drake is always by Latta's side, especially when bird hunting; doves, ducks, and pheasants are Drake's specialty, and he'll soon add grouse hunting to his list of skills. But there's one remarkable talent of Drake's that Latta discovered during a fishing trip to the Weber River.
"The fish were not biting, so we took to playing fetch in the river," Latta said. "I would make him sit and stay about 20 feet from the river, throw the stick, and let him go for it. He was jumping so far that he was almost hitting the other side of the river."
Latta's interest Drake’s unique jumping ability piqued when he discovered an advertisement for a Splash Dogs dock jumping competition at the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheep Dog Championship and Festival in Heber Valley, Utah. "I knew we had to enter. When we showed up, and he saw the pool, he started whining like crazy. As the saying goes, he has taken to it like a duck to water."
Drake placed second that day, and now dock diving is this Lab's driving passion with many records and ribbons to show for it. During Drake's first year dock jumping, he hit 17 feet 2 inches. This year, Drake is regularly jumping in the 20 feet range, landing him in the Pro class. In July Drake placed second overall at the Splash Dogs competition, beating his personal best with 20 feet 8 inches.
Drake stays fueled with premium dog food and the occasional fish skins, which are high in omega fatty acids to keep his coat in tip-top shape for the water. Drake also trains for dock jumping every day, and Latta makes it a family affair. "He plays ball in the house, practicing his sit and stay commands," Latta said. "The kids are learning to give him commands, as well. My daughter, Anabelle, will be doing the junior handler competition at Splash Dog this year after she turns 6. I think she will be the youngest junior handler they have ever seen."
In early September, Drake again jump to a personal record, 21 feet 2 inches, and took home a blue ribbon in the Pro division on his second day, Latta said. "We jumped three days in a row and took sixth place in the finals."
That stellar performance has landed Drake a spot in the Splash Dogs Nationals Dock Jumping Competition in Reno, Nevada, in mid-September.
Drake's bond with Latta is hard to ignore, and together they carry on an important family tradition. "Raising hunting dogs goes back many generations in my family," Latta said. "My kids love Drake. He protects them and cleans up after them."
Latta said that many men have spent years alone in the wild with nothing but a good dog. "The phrase 'man's best friend is his dog' does not come from nothing, and I can proudly say I live this. My wife teases me that I love the dog more than the kids. I tease her back that I can make more kids but Drake is one in a million."