Could Your Dog Be a Dock Diver?

Anabel Dflux

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This summer, it’s possible that water sport events for dogs may be postponed or canceled, but that doesn’t mean your furry swimmer can’t still practice his favorite summer sport at home. One popular sport for the hotter days is dock diving, a canine competition in which dogs leap off a ramp into the pool to retrieve a toy. Their jumps are measured for distance, and the competition can get pretty fierce among these athletes! Fun for both human spectators and the dogs participating, dock diving is great exercise and keeps your dog stimulated as they dive in, chasing after their favorite toy. The best part? Your dog doesn’t even have to be a water breed to enjoy it—dock diving is open to all breeds and pups of all shapes and sizes participate in the sport.

A strong “toy drive” and a love for swimming is the winning combination for dock diving.

Dock diving develops a great bond between human and dog, as each team is just the owner/handler and their four-legged companion. Jump distance is measured from the end of the dock to the base of the dog’s tail when it breaks water. There are five divisions; Novice, Junior, Senior, Master, and Elite. If your dog is registered with the American Kennel Club, these divisions are applicable for titles.

Here’s how you can start getting your dog ready to participate in dock diving:ANABEL DFLUXANABEL DFLUX»

First, your dog needs to know how to swim. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs naturally know how to swim, and few know how to swim well. It’s on you to help them out. The American Kennel Club recommends picking your pup up and carrying him or her into the pool. You then lower the dog into the water gently, praising for every effort.

And there are other approaches to teaching a dog to swim. After gently lowering a dog into the water, some trainers lift the dog’s back legs to encourage them to kick—once they kick and realize it propels them, and they learn. Another way is to snap on a life vest so the dog is able to relax because they are floating, and they then move their legs to get around and learn to swim that way. Always start in shallow water, so that the dog can feel the bottom if they get scared or nervous.

Building confidence is really the key to success in this sport (and in your dog’s life in general!). Take your dog into different kinds of water for them to really become familiar with H2O. A dip in a stream, lake, or pond is refreshing in the hot summer, and it’s also wonderful exercise!

If your dog likes to retrieve, you’re already ahead of the game! Try throwing a ball or floating toy out into the water for your dog to bring back. Remember to be excited and encouraging—your dog will feed off your energy! A strong “toy drive” and a love for swimming is the winning combination for dock diving.

Find a pool with a ramp. There are many local dock diving clubs you can join, as well as training facilities where you can enroll your dog. Or maybe just get together with a friend who doesn’t mind your pup hanging out in their pool. The key is to have a ramp, so that you can teach the dog to jump off it. Before you begin teaching your dog to jump, make sure that they know where the exit is in the pool. The exit is not always where the ramp is, and that can cause a dog to panic.

Dogs have been known to do better at dock diving if they are already soaked. This allows the dog to temperature test the water, so give him a good soak before he gets in the pool.

Now, for the hardest part: jumping off the ramp. This is difficult for a lot of dogs, as they have to trust that they will land safely in the water—not always an innate instinct. One way to encourage your pup to take the leap of faith is to throw a toy a short distance into the water. The key is to throw it out just far enough that your dog knows he has to jump but still thinks it’s reachable. If you throw it too far, the dog won’t even try to retrieve it. If you land it too close, the dog won’t be able to figure out how far he needs to jump. The best distance is around 10 feet.ANABEL DFLUXANABEL DFLUX»

Some dogs may pace back and forth, as they want to take the jump but are hesitant. You may want to show your dog what you want him to do by giving him a very gentle nudge in the tush with your knee (not your hand). Just a light touch to show him the direction you want him to move. If your dog’s shoulders are lowered, the pup is definitely contemplating jumping in, so a gentle nudge will help encourage this. Don’t ever push or throw your dog into the water. This will cause them to panic and will give them a negative association with this new activity, which is supposed to be fun.

Once your dog is willing to jump in the pool, follow with actual training that includes “placing and sending.” In this technique, you walk the dog to the end of the dock and hold the dog back while throwing the toy into the water. Then you walk the dog back to the starting point, place the dog, then release or send the dog to go get the toy. You also want to build your dog’s drive to catch his toy in midair—this is where professional dock diving trainers or competitors can help you out! Remember that this whole sport should be nothing but a positive experience for your dog for them to learn to love it.

Some of the canine organizations supporting dock diving in Southern California include Splash Dogs, Southern California Dock Dogs, and Agape Ranch Dog Sports, as well as others.

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