Twinsburg -- Until they adopted Duke, a Belgian Malinois, earlier this year, the Filler Family, of Birchwood Drive, had never heard of dock diving dogs.

But after starting his first season in June at 6 months old, Duke, with his human brother, Zak Filler, 14, as his handler, ranks third locally and 30th out of 458 nationwide in distance diving.

And Duke and Zak have accepted an invitation to compete in the North American Diving Dogs 2016 National Championship in Orlando, Fla., in December.

Duke was a natural at the sport, said Zak's mom, Michelle Filler.

"I can't believe how well he took to it," she said.

They learned about the sport out of necessity, she said.

Duke was adopted as a canine companion to their German shepherd mix, Lucy.

Michelle knew before adopting Duke that the breed is high strung and energetic. She just didn't know to what extreme.

"No matter how long I walked him and let him run around outside, I would come home tired and next thing I knew, there would be five of his toys on my lap," Michelle said. "I started researching things on the internet to keep his mind and body active."

She found a Dock Diving website, and thought it might be something Duke could do.

In dock diving, a handler coaxes the dog to dive for distance or height. There is also a dueling dogs competition, where two dogs race to the end of the pool to retrieve a toy.

At their first Buckeye Dock Dogs meet, Michelle, her husband, David Filler, and Zak took turns handling Zak for the three waves, or jumps.

"We saw a connection between [Zak and Duke] and knew they were going to be their own little team," Michelle said.

Duke's first jump was at his first competition, at 12-feet, 2-inches. The family has since found a practice facility in Shelby, Ohio, where Duke spent some time recently, practicing for the Dueling Dogs competition at Victory Park in North Ridgeville Oct. 8 and 9.

Duke's last jump was his personal best, at 24 feet. The world record is 31 feet, 5 inches, held by Vhoebe, a 3-year-old female Belgian Malinois.

With Zak's help, Duke the dock diving dog is filling a wall in the Filler home with ribbons and trophies.

Duke also has his own Facebook page, The Dynamic Duke, where you can see videos and pictures of Duke and Zak at work.

While 1-800-PetMeds is sponsoring Duke by supplying any medications the growing pup may need for the next year, Michelle hopes to find a sponsor that will help defray costs of traveling and competition fees, about $250 a pop for more local competitions, more for the finals in December.

Talking about Dock Diving and showing off Duke has given Zak more confidence around people he doesn't know, Michelle said.

"I've noticed a different comfort level when he has to have a conversation with a complete stranger," she said.

He has no problem hyping up the audience, which in turn, hypes up Duke for his dive, Michelle said.

Zak enjoys the competitions and the travel.

"It's fun getting to spend time with Mom and Duke," he said.

"That's my favorite time too," Michelle said. "On a four-hour ride, you have all the time you need to talk."

As for Duke, Michelle said he is a different dog when he's diving.

"I know it sounds crazy to say, but Dock Dogs has given him purpose."


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