Who’s looking forward to running at top speed down a dock and leaping into the water this summer?
If you feel you’re too old for that sort of thing, remember how you felt when you did it as a child? That excitement, joy and energy are all part of the sport of dock diving—for dogs.
In dock diving, dogs race down a dock and jump into a pool to retrieve a toy. The object is to see who jumps the farthest or who retrieves the toy the fastest.
Michelle Kane is the human part of Team Dash and Splash. Her canine athlete is Sasha, a four-year-old lab mix.
Together, their personal best jump is 26 feet 4 inches. More than 26 feet! That’s nearly the length of one of London’s iconic double decker buses.
However, Sasha did not start out as a natural dock diver. In fact, Michelle jokes that she had a “defective” lab because Sasha didn’t seem to like water. Then one day Michelle tried throwing a toy off a fishing pier at a local park. After a couple of tries, Sasha jumped. Soon after Michelle saw a segment about dock diving on TV and decided she needed to try it officially.
She found a dock diving event near her house and registered. Michelle describes their turn to jump. “As soon as I let her go, she jumped into the water, and I was like cool, awesome. We were hooked.”
Two months later, Sasha and Michelle were in another competition, and they haven’t stopped over the past four years. In October they went to the world championships where Sasha placed fourth in her division.
About dock diving
Dock diving is about how far your dog can jump or how fast your dog can retrieve.
Big Air (the distance competition)
Big air is the distance competition. The handler throws a toy into the pool and the dog jumps after it.
There are two methods for sending your dog for the toy.
The Chase Method
In the chase method, the dog sits at the beginning of the dock. The handler walks to the other end nearest the pool, gives the dog a release cue and throws the toy at the same time. The chase technique usually results in longer jumps.
The Place and Send Method
But some dogs are too excited to sit, stay and wait for their handler. In that scenario, handlers can use the place and send method where they keep their dog on leash, throw the toy, walk their dog back to the beginning of the dock and then release her. The drawback of place and send is your dog is jumping for a stationary object, so she’s not likely to jump as far.
Michelle says, “Sasha has what I like to call an impulse control issue. She could not for the life of her sit and wait for me to throw the toy.”
Michelle was resigned to doing place and send forever, but together she and Sasha have been able to move on to the chase method. “I’m actually very surprised at how well she listens to me when we’re on the dock,” she says. “Now she’s figured out if I ask her to do something then she’ll be able to do the thing that she wants.”
Speed retrieve (the speed competition)
Speed retrieve is the other type of competition. The dog has to run down the dock, jump into the water and swim to fetch a toy hanging at the far end of the pool.
How to train your dog for dock diving
As long as your dog is excited about jumping in the water, they’re a candidate for dock diving. Michelle emphasizes that any energy level is welcome in dock diving because the sport is all about the jump.
“You want to make sure that it’s something your dog is going to enjoy,” she says. “If they already swim in a pool or a lake, that’s always a really good start. See if there’s a [dock diving] facility or club nearby. That would be a great way to see if your dog enjoys jumping into a pool before you go and try a competition.”
(Most dock diving happens at pools, though there are some lake events.)
Which breeds are good at dock diving?
Dock diving is open to all breeds, big and small. Belgian Malinois tend to hold the distance records, as their physique is suited to jumping, but events could include dachshunds, terriers, goldens, collies, labs and many other types of dogs.
Michelle has seen tiny lapdogs and “big dogs that thump down the dock… They’re going to be slower and they’re not going to jump as far but ultimately if they’re having fun that’s really what matters.”
Your dog doesn’t have to like other dogs to compete. Some dogs will wear muzzles until they go up to the dock, which is a contained area where they can jump without interacting with other dogs. Most organizations have rules to help keep dogs safe. For example, dogs need to stay 8 feet apart and four-foot leashes are preferred. “Even the nicest dog can be territorial about the dock because it’s their favourite thing,” says Michelle.
Basic obedience skills
Your dog should have basic obedience skills, especially recall so that she will come when getting out of the pool. (There is a ramp for dogs to exit.) A reliable sit and stay are essential if you want to do the chase method of big air.
For big air, you also have to find the right toy. For Sasha, it’s a green floating stick. Other common toys include a squeaky Wet Wubba or tennis balls.
It really is a team sport
While your dog may be a natural for dock diving, she won’t reach her full potential without a good throw from the human side of the team. At the world championships, one of Sasha’s first jumps was a piddly 14 feet because Michelle threw the toy straight up, rather than out.
Before their next jump, Michelle says, “I was sitting in line practising how I was holding it and how I was going to throw it and then she got a 24 foot jump. Anything that’s not a great jump is my fault.”
For speed retrieve, Michelle advises working on your reaction time to release your dog as soon as the clock starts.
Michelle also advises having a mental checklist. “I have to focus on making sure she sits, placing her where she needs to be, knowing that she’s going to break and I’m going to have to put her back. And then all of that is distracting from the fact that I have to hold onto the toy in a certain way… I really had to mentally slow down.”
Michelle also says it’s important to remember the basics: give your dog some exercise to warm up before the jump and make sure you have a blanket or towel to dry them off after they come out of the water.
Competing in dock diving
Dogs are categorized based on how far they can jump. Michelle explains, “If a Great Dane jumps as far as a dachshund, they’re in the same division.” The divisions ensure fairness so that dogs compete against those of similar abilities.
If you’re interested in trying a competition, all that’s needed is to register, pay your fees and show up. “As soon as you say I’ve never done this before you’ll have four people next to you at the pool helping you,” says Michelle.
Championships are by invitation and require teams to qualify.
Each of the dock diving groups offers memberships, and you can also join local clubs. The camaraderie of a club is a major benefit, but they also offer early bird sign up for some events.
Michelle’s favourite part of dock diving is how much fun Sasha has.
“When we’re sitting in line waiting for our turn she’s crying and barking and whining and pulling and no amount of anything gets her to stop until she gets up there. Then she’s quiet as a mouse, waits her turn, waits for me to tell her—most of the time. The look on her face after she gets in the water for the first time is what every human or animal parent hopes for.”
Sasha’s excitement level!
Dealing with Sasha’s excitement was one of the hardest things for Michelle when they started competing. “All the other dogs love this game. Somehow in our group Sasha is always the only one that is losing her mind. It was really embarrassing.”
She’s come to accept Sasha’s reaction. “We are at a dog event. Dogs bark. She is excited. That’s normal. I definitely had to let that go.”
She also emphasizes that it is important to go with the flow. Some days, a dog may not want to jump. Or the competition may not go your way and someone out-jumps your dog.
“Your dog has no idea if it’s going to win. Your dog has no idea that it’s trying to win. Your dog just knows I get to do this fun thing. It’s so much fun to win, but that has to be secondary to the fun your dog is having.”
After nearly four years in the sport, Sasha and Michelle have come a long way—way farther than 26 feet four inches. They have a wardrobe of doggie bathing suits, sponsorship from Primalvore, and Sasha is the number 4 master jumping dog and the number 5 nitro speed retrieve dog in the world.
But for Michelle it’s all about that feeling of racing down the dock and launching into the water. She says, “It’s exciting that I’ve found something for her that she loves so much.”
Have you ever tried dock diving with your dog (formally or informally)?
What dog sports would you like to see in future posts? Let us know in the comments!
See some of our other dog sport articles:
Julia Preston writes for That Mutt about dog behavior and training, working dogs and life on her farm in Ontario, Canada. She has a sweet, laid-back boxer mix named Baxter. She is also a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.