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Hastings youth is top ranked dog handler

This weekend, one of Hastings' own is competing for an international title. Miranda McClaine will be competing in the 2012 DockDogs World Championships, held in Dubuque, Iowa, Nov. 15-18.

Dogs competing in DockDogs competitions jump off a dock and try for the highest or longest jump or the fastest time to get from one end of the pool to the other. Miranda will be competing in two divisions: Big Air, in which the dog goes for the longest jump off a dock into the water, and Speed Retrieve, in which the dog has to jump into the pool and swim to the far side to retrieve the bumper toy.

Miranda got involved back in 2007 at the age of 9. Her family had just gotten a black lab named Fire, a trained hunting dog. DockDogs came to Hastings for Rivertown Days, and she and her father thought it would be fun to try it out. As it turned out, Fire was pretty good at it. His first Big Air was 16 feet, and his best jump at a national competition was 19 feet, 11 inches. Fire's best jump in a club competition, where jumps are measured manually instead of with cameras like they are at nationals, was 21 feet, four inches.

When the event stopped coming to Hastings, Miranda only got more involved. She and her parents started competing in competitions that were a little farther away but still in the area. Then they started competing in events across the Midwest. They've competed in events in the Twin Cities; Green Bay, Wis.; Bismark, N.D.; Dubuque, Iowa; Kansas City, Mo.; and Conway, Ark.

Earlier this year, the McClaines added a new dog, Splash, to the family. Splash has been turning out bigger jumps, and he's the one who earned McClaine the number one spot in the world youth handler rankings, putting out a 24 foot, 8 inch jump, beating the number two spot by six inches. The jump also earned her a sport in the world championships.

Miranda also placed fourth with Fire in Speed Retrieve in the veteran division. At the age of 8, Fire is considered a veteran DockDog. The fourth place finish earned Miranda another competition spot at worlds. Her father, Wayne, also got an invitation to worlds in both Big Air and Speed Retrieve.

DockDogs is a relatively new sport, having started in 2000. There are clubs in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, but it's still a relatively small niche.

"Not a lot of people do it. Not a lot of kids do it," Miranda said.

But that also means that the McClaines get to know many of their fellow competitors well.

"It's a really good group of people. These are dog people to the extreme," Cheri McClaine, Miranda's mother, said. "It's a family, it really is."

Miranda has gotten involved in the competitions not only as a competitor, but also as a volunteer. She'll step in as an announcer or will staff the ramp leading out of the pool to help the dogs safely out of the water, or whatever else needs to be done.

Competing is also a family event for the McClaines. While Miranda is earning top honors, both her parents also compete.

"We all do something," Cheri said.

The training involved for the dogs is relatively simple.

"They just have to like water and have a high toy drive," Miranda explained.

Splash was trained to jump mostly through normal playtime. Extra work goes into the specific techniques - like getting the dogs to look up in the air for a toy instead of in front of them, for example.

The McClaine dogs are not only impressive competitors, they're also ambassadors. The family's old dog would go around at events to collect money for canine cancer. The McClaines had him 12 years, and lost him to cancer. Now, Fire has taken over the role.

The McClaines are part of the DockDogs Northern Stars Club and compete under the name "Team Fire," since Fire is the dog who started it all for the family.