There are a lot of different dog sports to choose from when you want to become more active with your dog, but many require equipment (like Agility), a team of several dogs and owners (Flyball being an example) or access to other animals (herding), and they might not be viable options for everyone.
A sport that only requires access to water (a lake with a dock or a larger pool) is Dock Diving, also known as Dock Jumping, and it could be the ideal option for those living remotely or who prefers to train alone with their dogs. Dock Diving requires some basic obedience, but not much else, and any dog that loves the water can participate.
What Is Dock Diving?
For a dog that loves water, there is probably no simpler and more suitable sport than Dock Diving! This sport is also referred to as Dock Jumping or Dog Jump, and the basic idea is for the dog to run on a flat surface towards the water and jump in after a toy thrown in by the handler.
In competitive Dock Diving, the dock is usually about 40ft long, which gives the dog enough distance to build up a good speed. The dog will stay at the start of the dock while
the handler stands on the very edge; at a given signal the dog will start running towards the handler, the handler throws a toy into the pool and the dog jumps in after it.
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Sounds easy? It is. The goal in competitions is for the dog to jump as far as possible, and while a beginning canine might only jump 2 feet into the pool, professional diving dogs are known to jump distances of around 30ft on a good day. A 30ft jump is impressive to both witness and to think about, and it should not be the goal of someone whose dog is just starting out.
After the jump, the dog will retrieve the toy and bring it back to the awaiting handler, while the length of the jump is documented by the judge or judges. The dock is covered with rubber or artificial turf to give the dog grip during the build-up, and the handler can start anywhere on the dock they want (it does not have to be all the way back).
Dogs with good knowledge of basic obedience are usually told by their owner to sit and stay before the owner walks up to the edge of the pool, while more enthusiastic dogs (or dogs with poor self-control or that have not yet learned the ‘stay’ command) are restrained by a second handler before it is time to jump.
Both methods are generally allowed also when competing, which means your dog does not necessarily need to know any commands, provided he or she has a passion for swimming and retrieving toys. In terms of rules and the need for basic obedience, it is probably one of the easiest sports to get started with.
Dock Diving Competition Varieties
In some competitions, the dog might also be signed up to jump towards a fixed goal set at a certain distance from the dock. A crane or similar is then used to hold the toy at the set distance (for example 21ft), and the dog’s task is to jump straight out and try to grab it from where it is hanging in the air.
If the dog misses, another toy is thrown into the water to avoid discouraging them, but it will usually get them disqualified if missing two times in a row. This variety is slightly more advanced than regular Dock Diving, and not for the beginner.
Jumping towards a fixed object can be difficult for dogs with poor eyesight, as it requires them to aim profusely for the target, and certain weather conditions or temporary distractions could also affect a dog’s ability to perform well in these types of high-achievement competitions.
Best Breeds for the Sport
This is another sport where any dog that loves the water can participate, but some breeds might be more likely to enjoy- and excel in Dock Diving due to their genetic makeup and what they have been originally bred for. Retrievers, such as the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever, are naturally very good at retrieving objects from the water, and they would probably love playing this with you (possibly more than any other breeds)!
For competitions, however, they might be a little too heavy-set to gain the speed needed for a long jump, but this depends on the individual dog (in this case, a field-bred Labrador would be more likely to do well than a show-bred lab, due to their slightly more agile built).
Breeds commonly spotted at larger competitions are Belgian Shepherds (Malinois in particular), Border Collies, Flat-Coated Retrievers, hunting breeds like the Pointer and the English Setter and a variety of water-loving mixed breeds, but there are many more dogs out there that might surprise you.
No two dogs are the same, and the only requirement is for the dog to love water, for him or her to be a good swimmer and for there to be a basic understanding for the concept of retrieving. If your dog fits the bill – there is no harm in giving it a try.
Smaller breeds, provided they enjoy getting themselves wet, can also learn to do very well in dock diving, and it is perfect for an afternoon activity! Most active competing dogs, however, are medium-sized to large, and it might be difficult to find a contest with fair competition for your smaller fur friends.
There is nothing to say that to practice Dock Diving you need to compete, however, and you can use it as a fun thing for you and your dog to do together; either if you have a large pool (it should be at least 4ft or 1.2 meters deep for your dog’s safety), a lake or the ocean somewhere close. Doing something just for fun is often the best way to activate your dog, so don’t let your dog’s size or breed stop you from participating!
How to Get Started
Does Dock Diving sound like the right thing for your dog? Great! Now let’s see how you can get started. You can have a look to see if there are any local kennel clubs with regular Dock Diving activities or courses, as this would give you the opportunity to learn from the pros in a safe and controlled environment.
For those living in smaller towns, cities and more remotely might not have this option, though, and then you can start on your own and use it as an exciting way to play with your dog. The first thing to do is to find water where you can practice. A deep enough pool of the right size works perfectly, or otherwise check to see if there are any lakes nearby that might have a dock for your dog to jump off.
Before you can throw a toy into the water and expect your dog to follow, you need to make sure your fur friend is comfortable in the water. If you have never introduced them to water before, you will not want to throw them in from a dock, but to instead let them explore on their own until they are ready to try swimming.
Try throwing in toys and treats from the shore and let them walk into the water in the beginning or put on a bathing suit and get in there with them! If your dog is hesitant to swimming, getting in the water with them might make them feel more comfortable.
Never throw a toy from the dock or into a deep pool unless you know your dog can swim. Observe closely as they adjust to being in the water and wait until they are ready to take the plunge. Keep in mind that your dog should be Dock Diving for their own pleasure; because they enjoy jumping into the water, and not to please you or because you are telling them to. Keep your priorities straight and let Dock Diving be a fun and enjoyable activity for the two of you.
Use rewards to show your dog when they have done something right and let them play for a while after successfully retrieving a toy from the water. Verbal praise is also great for directing dogs to successfully perform a task, and don’t worry if you end up sounding a little silly with your overly happy and high-pitch voice! Dogs don’t care about what other people think, and neither should you.
Dogs are not always great at showing when they have had enough, and they can often be so caught up in a game that they fail to notice themselves that they are tired. Keep the Dock Diving sessions short, as it requires tremendous physical effort to jump off a ledge, into the water and swim back, and pay attention to signs of tiredness or exhaustion.
Avoid overdoing it, especially in the beginning, and take the weather into consideration. Hot days are great for water play, but hot weather can also overheat your dog more quickly than you may realize, even though they are un the water.
Keep fresh drinking water at hand and offer your dog a drink regularly. This applies even if you are Dock Diving in fresh lake water, as not all dogs are prone to drink from the water they swim in, and they might forget about being thirsty which increases the risk of overheating. A reliable dog water bottle can be really handy at these events.
Dock Diving is a fun and physically challenging activity for dogs that love water, but it should only be attempted with proper preparation and after the dog has been cleared by a licensed veterinarian.