A 9-year-old boy from Ballard County and a 10-year-old black Labrador retriever may seem like an unlikely team, but when it comes to dock jumping the pair are making quite a splash.
Ballard County third grader Patrick Johnson and his partner, Wilson, have been dock jumping together for nearly three years.
Also known as dock diving, dock jumping is a dog sport in which dogs compete in jumping for distance or height from a dock into a body of water.
Although the main action of jumping is performed by the dog, much of the outcome depends on the human in the partnership, since the right timing and aim are essential to success.
Sunday, Johnson and Wilson will be one of three junior handler teams in the finals of the Super Retriever Series Crown National Dock Jump competition in Huntsville, Alabama, which features the best dog and handler teams from around the country.
Johnson and Wilson qualified for nationals in Johnson's first solo competition as a handler, finishing second in an event at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Illinois, two months ago.
Johnson's interest in dock jumping began at the first Ballard County Waterfowl Festival three years ago, after helping Wilson's owner, Martha Veach. Wilson also does agility trials and has gone to national championships in Orlando for several years.
"I asked someone to help me at the Waterfowl Festival because my husband wasn't there, and I remember seeing Patrick shoot his hand up into the air," Veach said. "He was 5 or 6 then."
Johnson has helped Veach many times since their initial meeting three years ago.
"They just got to be friends," Veach said. "Patrick loves Wilson, and Wilson loves Patrick."
Although Wilson never had official training in dock jumping, Veach would take him to The Game Reserve, where he would jump off the dock and into the lake.
"We would just go out there and let him swim," Veach said. "In my opinion, with sports like this, the dogs either have natural talent or they don't, and Wilson does. I had some really good advice from national competitors when he was younger, who recognized that natural talent in him."
One of the national competitors to recognize Wilson's talent was Rande Murphy, who together with his dog held the world record for distance in dock jumping in 2010.
"He helped me learn some tricks to get him to jump farther," Veach said.
Wilson has a personal best jump of 27 feet. With Johnson, the dog's best so far has been 22 feet.
Johnson said he did not know anything about dock jumping before he met Wilson, so when he found out that he would be going to Nationals with him, he felt happy and said he and Wilson make a "pretty good team."
"He's good at jumping and I'm good at throwing," Johnson said. "He's been a national champion four times."
Carolyn Johnson, Patrick's mom, said it makes her happy to see her son active and not tied to an electronic device.
"I'm just glad he is able to get out and do something," she said. "It is neat for me to watch him do something like that, in such a small field that he can excel in."
Since Patrick plans to continue pursuing his passion for dock jumping, the Johnsons are training their own dog, Brady, for the sport.
"I'm just really proud of Patrick," Veach said. "It's a big honor for a little kid."
At the finals in Huntsville, the pair will get two rounds of two jumps each, and the longest jump wins. The distance is measured from the end of the dock to the spot in the water where the base of the dog's tail hits.
The competition will be streamed live on the Super Retriever Series website at www.superretrieverseries.com.