Head westward out of Lodi along Sargent Road, leaving the town hustle and bustle behind, and you’ll find a little piece of heaven — for dogs and their humans alike.
On the peaceful grounds of Sycamore Lane Kennels, surrounded by orchards and vineyards, All Dogs Sports Park offers a place for pups to play.
And they play hard.
There’s a competition-sized dock and pool for dock diving, piles of clean hay for “barn hunt” games, plenty of open grass for Frisbee games, a Flyball course and more. There’s even a pond to lounge by after a strenuous play session.
“It’s place where you can come and just watch and be,” said Sondel Fermer, who leads the Dock Diving classes at All Dogs Sports Park, along with other duties as one of the park’s managers. “It’s my happy place.”
Fermer would know. In addition to her work at the sports complex, she and her partner Dianna Bowling make up the human half of Team Timber.
Timber, a Belgian Malinois, is almost 6 years old, and she’s made a name for herself among canine athletes.
“We’ve competed all the way up to the national level,” Fermer said.
Timber’s favorite event is Dock Diving, and she won first place at the 2016 ICD Western Regionals, along with earning honors at several other competitions.
“We had such a great time with the sport that now we’re in a position where we get to give back,” Fermer said.
She and Timber want to show other human-dog teams how much fun the sport can be — and that anyone can do it.
The sports center isn’t just for large dogs. There are miniature dachshunds who dive with their bigger cousins, and Chihuahuas and other small dogs who play the other sports, Fermer said.
“They’ll have different-sized discs for the smaller dogs,” she said.
Every event is open to any dog of any size. Dogs must have their basic vaccinations (with veterinary proof of vaccines or current blood tests), covering rabies, bordetella, canine influenza, and the DHLP vaccine that prevents distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus.
Most dogs take well to the agility training and various events, as long as they have a drive to play and a little recall, Fermer said.
The trainers are all seasoned competitors with regional, national or international wins under their belts, but they’re happy to work with future competitors or those who just want to have a good time.
“We have a larger group of beginners than we do of the experienced dogs,” she said.
Some work their way to competitive level; for others it’s never more than special play time. If they don’t like one event, they’re sure to enjoy another.
“Most of the dogs that go out there are doing at least two or three sports. And you know, not all of them are great at it, but they have fun,” she said.
And Fermer and her colleagues enjoy teaching.
“It’s crazy, but it’s great,” she said. “It is so rewarding to see people playing with their dogs, and they’re having as much fun as their dogs are.”
The employees at All Dogs Sports Park often joke that the complex should be called the happiest place on Earth, but that nickname’s taken, Fermer said.
Still, she invited dog lovers to come out and see for themselves, and maybe try a class or two — though classes sell out very quickly, so be prepared to register well in advance.
“It’s just a great escape for the dog and the person,” Fermer said.