To talk about Timber, we have to talk about the whole team, Team Timber… Sondel Fermer, Dianna Bowling and Timber.
Our path to Timber started with our previous dog, Sierra. Sierra was a pound puppy that looked very much like a Belgian Malinois… in fact we believe that she was mostly Malinois with maybe something else mixed in. She was the smartest dog; she made Dianna look like she was a professional trainer. I remember Dianna saying, “this Malinois breed is awesome, if I were to ever buy a pure breed, I would get a Belgian Malinois.”
Sierra was a huge part of our life and we were tremendously impacted when we lost her suddenly on February 1, 2013. It was one of those things where she was “fine” that morning and was gone by that afternoon. We were not prepared for the loss at all. Mind you, this was only a month after my ATV accident where I was recovering from 6 broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured pelvis, nerve damage and a heck of a concussion.
Flash forward 5 months… Dianna made the comment “You know, I might be about ready to start thinking about maybe getting another dog.” I took that as “Do it, get one now!” So I immediately got online to search for our new dog.
We knew we wanted to get another Malinois, Sierra was a dream dog… smart, calm, a cuddler, loved everybody, loved hiking, and kinda’ liked playing in the water… We wanted another Sierra…
We had always rescued our pets, but this time, I wanted to get Dianna a full-bred Malinois.
So, after some online searching, I found a 3 ½ month old Malinois puppy. The biggest sign for me that this was the dog for Dianna… the post said her birthday was March 14th (Dianna’s birthday)! “It’s a sign”, I thought. Unbeknownst to Dianna, while she was off running errands with her father, I drove out to TugDogs and met with Erin Krammer. I saw this absolutely adorable puppy and was instantly ready to take her home.
Erin and I talked while I played with ‘pink-diamond-collar’ puppy. I got to meet Timber’s mommy, Ruby… and I listened to Erin while she talked about how this working dog was going to need a job. I was like, “Yea, yea, we’ve had a Malinois before… Dianna trained our previous dog so she knows what she’s doing…” All the while, the puppy was digging up the planterbox on the porch. (see picture)
We are very active, love the outdoors, have had previous experience with the breed and other shepherd mixes. So I was totally confident of my choice and brought her home. “S-u-r-p-r-i-s-e! I got you a puppy!”
After about two weeks, Dianna told me I brought home the devil dog. Timber was non-stop go, Go, GO! We couldn’t seem to control her. Dianna tried everything to teach her boundaries. What she was allowed to chew on, what she wasn’t and so on. Timber was stubborn, strong willed, and consequences meant nothing to her. She’d prefer to do her own thing regardless of what yummy treat you may have for her. She chewed toys to pieces in a matter of seconds, then phone cords, laptop cords, eyeglasses, outside lighting fixtures, you name it! Chewing and biting things were so much more rewarding than getting praise and yummy treats.
Timber wasn’t like any dog that either of us had ever had before. Surprise! She really was a little devil dog.
Over the course of the next few months, we learned the true meaning of a working dog and what a high drive, high energy, very fast, Malinois really was. Her breed is often referred to as the “Ferrari of dogs.” This is not a breed for inexperienced owners, let alone pet dog people. We also learned what “needing a job” really meant. Clearly, she was going to be a challenge. Maybe even too big of one for us, mere mortal pet owners.
We could see she had greatness in her; there was just something about her. More than once we felt she was too much for us, she needed an experienced trainer. Again, there was just something about her…so we began our steep learning curve. Only it wasn’t steep, it was straight up vertical. We researched, took obedience classes, read articles online, bought books and DVDs. We immersed ourselves into learning about the breed and new training methods. Who knew there were so many?
We even had multiple conversations about whether we were the right home for this dog or not. We didn’t give up and kept working with her. We started to really understand that Timber DID need a job. So, we took her to bite work (Protection Training) and obedience training. The trainer worked with both Dianna and Timber… this was huge! The Protection Training brought Timber and Dianna closer and they were having a blast playing together. Plus, Timber now had a place to expel some of her crazy energy. Dianna’s handling confidence built up and got stronger and stronger.
Dianna heard about a place not far from us that had just installed a dock diving pool for dogs, and they were teaching introduction classes. So, she thought she would surprise me. She signed me and Timber up for an Intro to Dock Diving class. She said, “This could be something fun for you and Timber to do together”.
Timber took right to it and was jumping 15+ feet that first day off the big dock. While the other dogs in her intro class were just getting comfortable with entering the water via the ramp. That was it, Timber had a blast, we had a blast, we were hooked. The instructor said to us, “Do you have any idea what you have?”… and we were like, “um no, we’re just here to have some fun with our dog.”
The instructor encouraged us to attend our first competition just two weeks away. We did and had a great time, meet so many nice dog owners and handlers. And well, Timber, she jumped 25 feet 9 inches. Surprise! We were hooked!
Timber absolutely loved it, in fact she thrived on the crowd reaction. Timber and I were bonding; the dock was becoming OUR place. Timber was still a handful, so Dianna would handle Timber to the dock and hold Timber; I did the throwing. Who knew how hard throwing would be?! So, we all practiced together… and we became Team Timber.
A couple of weeks later we headed to the SplashDogs National Championship in Reno, Nevada. We ended up the 2014 National Champions in the Pro Division. Though not without challenges… Timber would “lose all of her brain cells” whenever we went to a dock. She was over the top with her energy and barking. She was just so crazy excited; it was difficult to control her.
After Nationals, Dianna reached out to our breeder, Erin, for help. Timber ended up staying for a board-and-train. It was originally planned for 10 days and ended up being 3 weeks. Plus, additional training after that with Erin so we could learn how to handler and play with Timber. It was a lot of long, hard work…
We started the 2015 dock diving season with a calmer dog and continued to improve on the dock. We had a couple of setbacks throughout the year but overall the hard work paid off and we did have multiple people approach us and say stuff like, “Is that the same dog?”, “I remember that dog from nationals, you’ve done a great job”, “What a difference”.
We were able to take this crazy dog and provide her with the tools to play with a ‘calm brain.’
In early 2015 we reached out to Lise Ann and Scott to take our training to the next level. Scott is a master at training the perfect throw… the height and the timing. Lise Ann has an incredible eye for breaking down the dogs jump and what needs to be adjusted to get the most out of the dog. They’re the perfect training team.
Since then, we have…
• Competed with multiple dock diving organizations all over the country
• Competed in the 2015 & 2016 Incredible Dog Challenge Western Regionals twice, placing on the podium in 3rd place and 1st place respectively.
• Traveled to St. Louis for Incredible Dog Challenge Nationals twice, placing top 10 two years in a row
• Become one of only a handful of dogs who have jumped over 29’…Setting the diving dog distance jump record at the Agape Ranch pool with a 29’4″
We continue to train with Lise and Scott, sending them video to analyze after events and meet up in person when we can to learn from the best.
Now, with everything we’ve learned, and continue to learn, we make a point to help educate people about the challenges of the breed. We meet people who see Timber jump and they want to get a Malinois… We explain that this is not a family dog, this is a working dog that needs an experienced dog person with a lot of time to devote to challenging the Malinois with activities.
Timber has completely changed our lives and taken us on a completely unexpected journey that we are so thankful for. She opened a completely new world to us. We have gained a whole community of friends and support. I can’t image life without Timber and the dog sport community now!
Video of Timber’s 1st year of dock diving: