Everyone thinks their dog is the best, but Mike Ferron’s dog Buck is No. 2 in the world
A few years ago, 55-year-old Mike Ferron of Gorham was big into hunting. “I was looking for a dog for hunting,” he says. “You see, if you shoot a deer and can’t retrieve it, you can legally use a dog to track the deer.”
Ferron chose a 5-week-old black male Labrador-hound-Shepherd mix, who was the runt of the litter but the only black male of the eight puppies. Not having had a dog in more a decade, Ferron told just about everyone he knew that he was going to Mexico, Maine, to pick one up, and his sister and a couple of acquaintances happened to be looking for puppies. So it was that Mike found himself driving around southern Maine, dropping off Buck’s golden-colored brothers, rather like a dog catcher in reverse. And then it was just him and Buck.
“He’s awesome,” Ferron says, adding that Buck is now 2 1/2. “We look for shed antlers in the woods—you know, deer horns—they make good dog chews. He goes kayaking with me. We fish together. And he goes on my friend’s surfboard. And then one day we were messing with a Frisbee in the yard, and he was going 6 or 7 feet high.”
Ferron remembered seeing “DockDogs” on ESPN and, curious about Buck’s jumping ability, found a DockDogs training pool in Berwick called Seacoast DockDogs. That was the spring of 2017.
A few months later, this man and his dog were named Rookie Team of the Year.
Buck trains with an Xdog weight vest, and he’s on a very strict, high-protein diet—not to say he doesn’t curiously sniff and taste random stuff when on a long leash. But, unlike most dogs, Buck has an Instagram account, team T-shirts and $325 in prize money in a bank account to pay for event registrations. Buck has enough medals and ribbons on the wall at home that they’re practically functioning as wallpaper. And Buck recently picked up a sponsor: Berlin City Toyota/Lexus of Portland (which probably has something to do with his human’s paintless dent repair business, Dings Happen).
Taking the leap
DockDogs is about the joy of dogs jumping into a pool to see how far or how high they can jump and how fast they can retrieve toys. Around the world, 39,000 dogs have taken the leap.
“It’s about the dog,” Ferron says. “There’s no pushing in the pool. Some of these dogs get up there and don’t even seem to know there’s a pool. They can do what they do, and they are still your dog.”
Of course, Buck started small, first jumping off a regular made-for-humans dock on Little Sebago. Then, at his first official DockDogs event, his jump was measured at a mere 6 feet 11 inches.
“He got in the water,” Ferron says. “That’s all that matters.”
Dogs compete in Big Air (jumping for distance), Extreme Vertical (jumping for height) and Speed Retrieves, which Ferron describes as “kind of like doggie drag racing.” Dogs competing in all three categories are eligible to compete in Iron Dog competitions—and, yes, Buck has won several of those.
Buck is ranked No. 2 in the world in club events, No. 2 in Iron Dog club events and No. 4 in Extreme Vertical. In Speed Retrieves, he’s slightly lower in the rankings, coming in at No. 11, because he loves to swim and, rather than starting with a power jump, leaves himself more distance to doggie-paddle.
Buck’s competitive spirit kicked in—or maybe it just looked fun—once he watched top dogs from around the United States and Canada compete in a three-day event outside PetLife in Scarborough in June 2017.
“I brought him up to the bleachers to watch,” Ferron says. “And his next jump was, like, 17 feet.”
By the end of that weekend, Buck was jumping 20 feet 5 inches, which put him in the semi-pro finals and earned him fourth place.
Next, Buck went to New Hampshire, where he jumped 20 feet 11 inches, made it to the finals and took home third place.
Man and dog were both hooked.
Making a splash
By the end of last summer, Buck—and, of course, Mike—had invitations to the DockDogs World Championships in Tennessee. It was Buck’s first indoor competition, and the pup could have been rattled by the noise of 800 dogs in a facility with five pools. But, no: He took third place in Big Air—in the Elite Division.
There’s Novice class (6 feet to 9 feet 11 inches), then Junior, Senior, Master, Elite and, finally, Super Elite (25 feet and above). In 2017, Buck made it to Super Elite with a personal best of 26 feet 11 inches. This past July, he broke his own record, jumping 27 feet 8 inches at an event in Bennington, Vermont.
“He loves it,” Ferron says, smiling. “But I’m careful not to tucker him out. Now that he’s doing what he’s doing, I’m like a worried parent, going ‘Don’t hurt yourself!’ I don’t play any Frisbee with him anymore, because he jumps too damn high. Buck jumps so high I don’t have him mess with regular docks. When we’re home, away from pools, I run sprints with him to keep him in shape.”
Sport is nothing new to Ferron, who has enjoyed competing in archery, motorcycle drag racing, arm wrestling, darts and bass fishing.
“But this is so much more fun for me, because it’s my dog,” he says, mentioning the social aspects and the travel. Many events involve camping out with other DockDogs—and their humans, of course. And the invitations keep coming—including the Super Retriever Series Crown Championships in Alabama in November (to be aired on the Discovery Channel) and the Ultimate Air Games in Missouri in September.
But, at the end of the day, no matter how many medals they have, they’re just a man and his dog—a dog who refuses to be fooled by the supplement-in-peanut-butter trick, who loves to run around the neighbor’s yard with his cat friends and who enjoys relaxing with “Animal Planet.”
“There’s always someone to come home to,” Ferron says. “He’s a nut, but he’s my nut.”
Follow Buck’s adventures on Instagram: @teambuck_go_buck_go
Buck’s brother Boone, who was adopted by Pamela Ferron Randall of Buxton, is afraid of water.
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.