Dart II, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois, was panting when led back to his kennel after his first DockDogs aquatics competition July 12 on the opening day of the Franklin County Fair.

Dart II, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois, was panting when led back to his kennel after his first DockDogs aquatics competition July 12 on the opening day of the Franklin County Fair.

"I know he had a great time," said owner Pamela Karr, 62, of Blacklick.

Dart II competed in the extreme-vertical segment, one of three DockDogs competitions.

Four daily DockDogs shows are scheduled the final days of the county fair Thursday, July 17, through Saturday, July 19, at the fairgrounds in Hilliard. Performances are scheduled at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. between gates 3 and 4.

DockDogs is as much about camaraderie as the competition, participants say. Many travel as far as 300 miles to enter a competition and share techniques they find successful in improving their dogs' performances.

Karr said she began competing in 2007 with Dart, the sire of Dart II. The elder Dart died from bone cancer, she said.

"I saw a competition on television, then looked up shows on the Internet," Karr said. "I've been doing it ever since and go to about five shows a year.

"The people I meet are great and everyone helps each other out with methods and things like that."

The extreme-vertical segment of DockDogs is modeled after an Olympic-style high jump.

Dogs aim for a "bumper" suspended above the water eight feet from the edge of the dock. The dog must grab the bumper from the hooks or knock it off the hooks. A dog is allowed one miss and is disqualified upon the second miss.

The competition starts at a height of 4 feet, 6 inches and the bumper is raised in 2-inch increments. Owners can enter their dogs in the competition at any height.

Dart II began at 4 feet, 6 inches and reached 6 feet, 2 inches. The winner July 12 reached 6 feet, 10 inches.

Also competing in the extreme-vertical segment July 12 was Jeff Wells, a detective with the Parma Police Department in suburban Cleveland.

Wells, 43, began competing in 2007 with a Belgian Malinois named Ares, the offspring of his K9 service dog.

"I'm competitive, (but) it's still great to get away for the weekend and get together with people who have the same interests as you," Wells said.

He has traveled to Minnesota and North Carolina with Ares, but doesn't travel quite as far with his new partner, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Bonkers.

Bonkers made 6 feet, 4 inches but was eliminated in the next increment.

The winner of the event gets $100. Second place earns $50 and third place, $25.

"You don't get rich doing this, but it's nice to recoup some of your gas money," Wells said.

In addition to the extreme-vertical segment, DockDogs has a long-jump event in which dogs jump as far as possible out from the edge of the dock and a retrieval race in which dogs run 20 feet on the dock, dive into the water and swim a distance of 40 feet.

DockDogs began in 1999 as a filler event in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games at Lake Placid, N.Y.

"Fifteen years later and we're out of control," said Bob DeWire, event manager for DockDogs.

DockDogs now is a national organization, based in Medina in northeast Ohio, and it includes a growing number of local clubs, including Buckeye DockDogs. Clubs are managed geographically, DeWire said.

There are 37 clubs in the United States and one each in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Italy, he said.

"All breeds are welcome," DeWire said.

Common competing breeds are Belgian Malinois, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, golden retrievers and German shorthaired pointers.

DeWire said he manages about 250 shows a year and the Franklin County Fair show will serve as a qualifier for the DockDogs national championship scheduled Nov. 12-16 in Iowa.

"This is event is about sportsmanship but most of all it's about the dogs," DeWire said.