If you’re the proud owner of a water-loving pooch, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an activity that you and your companion will enjoy more than dock diving. This competitive sport started in 1997 and has continued to skyrocket in popularity ever since.
Intrigued but not sure where to begin? Whether you dream of going pro or simply want a new activity to try out on your next lake trip, we have all of the basics covered right here.
What is Dock Diving?
Dock diving (sometimes called dock jumping) sprung onto the scene in 1997 at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. It’s now recognized as a sport by various international organizations, including the United Kingdom Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club, and the Canadian Kennel Club.
When partaken in professionally, the sport can be highly competitive. It even found its place in the Guinness World Records when, in 2019, a four-year-old Whippet named Sounders leaped an impressive 11.02 meters!
Dog Dock Jumping Basics
To compete, dogs begin at the end of a dock or raised platform, which is usually 30 feet in length. The dogs are then encouraged by throwing a favorite toy to sprint to the end and jump, launching themselves off of the platform and into the water below. The aim is leap the farthest or the highest.
Prizes are often awarded depending on the category of the competition. If you would like to get involved in the community, you can find upcoming events through North America Diving Dogs.
Not competitive? No problem! Part of the sport’s popularity is its inclusivity of all ages and breeds, as well as that the diving can be as simple or as complicated as you and your dog want to make it.
How to Teach a Dog Diving Skills
Focus on the basics.
A love of the water and an ability to swim will take your pup a long way in dock diving. Encouraging a confident swimmer to leap off of a dock will be easier, and far safer, than pushing a dog that isn’t quite as self-assured to dive headfirst into the unknown.
If your dog loves the water but isn’t an overly confident swimmer, take some time to build up their skills before trying out this activity. Water-based play is the best way to do this.
Remove the pressure and focus on just having fun with your dog. You can then gradually move on to plunging into the water, immersing their head, and eventually diving from a dock or other platform.
Be sure to work on your dog’s recall as well. While dock diving is incredibly exciting, you need to be able to quickly refocus your puppy’s attention on you should any precarious situations arise.
Dust off those retrieval skills.
A desire to retrieve is valuable when it comes to dock diving. Or at least some dedicated dog retriever training.
This isn’t to say your dog has to be a Retriever to participate. If your pup loves a game of fetch in the backyard, they’ll likely love it just as much in the water! Working on the fetch command on land first will ease the process when you are ready to move on to dock diving.
Graduate to water fetch.
Once you’ve aced fetch at the park, you can graduate to playing fetch in the water! For starters, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a floating toy. This will make it clear to your dog where in the water they need to aim (and also stop any favorites from becoming sunken pirate treasure).
Start in shallow water first.
We recommend starting the game in shallow water for the first few rounds. This will give you quick access to your dog if needed. It also means fewer distractions for your dog.
Focusing on swimming and retrieving may be overwhelming for your dog the first few times they attempt it. Don’t place too much pressure on them to immediately swim for the toy. Reward them verbally when they do, and follow up with a treat when they successfully return to shore with the toy.
Get ready to dive right in!
Once you’ve perfected the basics, it’s time to dive right into the deep end.
Dock diving has a strong focus on teamwork, and this will be your time to shine too. It’s your job to keep the experience pleasant and exciting. Be prepared to get involved yourself and, most importantly, perfect that throw!
Choose a safe space for your first dive, where your dog is unlikely to be impacted by strong currents or underwater obstacles. If your dog has never jumped into the water before, you will want to start with something small in length and height.
Begin by throwing the toy off of the dock. Do this by holding the toy in your hand and running straight for the edge of the dock. Once you reach the end, toss the toy into the water.
Running alongside your dog will help build their excitement. Hold back a little bit – you don’t need to aim for a long jump immediately. You want the distance to feel achievable for your dog and throwing it too far into the water immediately can discourage them.
The throwing of the toy into the water should encourage your dog to follow. If you’ve been practicing your fetch command then implement that here, and your dog should race the length of the dock. Some dogs will then immediately leap in the very first time, while others will pause to take stock of the situation first.
If your dog pauses at the end of the dock, that’s okay! You can encourage them verbally to take the plunge, celebrating them loudly if they do so.
Demonstrate how much fun it is to dock jump.
If your dog is still hesitant, then it might be time to dive in yourself. Run from the beginning of the dock with the toy and encourage your pup to follow along. Don’t pause here to throw the toy.
You want to give it a quick toss while still in motion and throw yourself straight into the water afterward. Your dog is much more likely to take a leap of faith if they know you’re waiting on the other side.
Never force your dog to dive. Pushing your dog into the water can be incredibly unsettling for them and will discourage them from ever wanting to take the plunge. At worst, it can cause your dog to panic and lead to some seriously unsafe situations in the water.
Dock diving can take a little while to piece together and that’s okay. Keeping your sessions frequent and the steps consistent will help diving become second nature to your dog. New things take time and in the beginning, it’s all about building their confidence.
Time to Give Dock Diving a Go!
Once you and your best friend have mastered the basics, you’ll have a great summer party trick and maybe even a new professional skill! Dock diving with your dog is an incredibly rewarding pastime and most importantly of all, a whole bunch of fitness-focused fun for you both.