The Dog Journal

FUN AND GAMES:

Dock Diving

Making a Splash: Dive into the Exciting World of Dock Diving!

The Dog Journal February/ March 2023

What is dock diving?

Dock diving, aka dock jumping, is the second fast-growing dog sport at this time. It consists of dogs running and jumping off a 40 Ft. long dock, landing in the water, and retrieving the toy that was thrown by their owner.

 The goal of this sport is to see which dog has the highest or the longest jump. Dogs that are competing should also have the speed needed to quickly run the length of the dock before diving into the pool.

 This sport is different than most other dog sports you may hear about and can have a range of differences depending on the location of each competition. In dock diving, there isn’t much of a team atmosphere other than you (the owner) and your dog as a dynamic duo. 1olored coats. Black sporting dogs were considered the best hunters during the 19th century and because of this, they did not usually keep dogs that had other colors. 

Before deciding to join dock diving competitions dog owners should take some things into consideration including their dog’s love/hate for water, their ability to obey commands, and how obsessed the dog is with toys. There aren’t any requirements to join dock diving competitions other than your dog being over 6 months old. However, the best-suited dogs are confident, energetic, and physically fit, but really, any breed of dog is welcome. 

 

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When and how did it begin?

Dock diving started in the 1970s in England. It didn’t make its way into the United States until 1997 when the US saw a competition at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. This is an event that still takes place today to give dogs an opportunity to showcase their athletic abilities. ESPN was the first to televise dock diving in the US and the popularity started to grow. Companies picked up on the sport and by 2002 they began offering the sport to the public through pet expos, conventions, and other dog events.

Fees and Training

When getting into the dock diving sport, the fees and costs you will have to pay depend on what area you travel to and what competitions your dog is entered into. If you travel, there will be the typical hotel, food, and gas expenses which can vary from place to place. The dog toy your dog will dive after is another expense. Of course, toys aren’t usually expensive but trial and error of finding which toy works the best could add up over time. Any time a dog is entered into an event, there is an entry fee. This could run anywhere between $20-$40.  

Training for dock diving should start with getting your dog to have a love for water.

Some dogs naturally love water while others need more exposure before freely jumping into it. Because of this factor, it is best to start the training process during the puppy stage so that the dog grows up in and around water. That’s not to say that older dogs aren’t able to be taught as well, starting young just makes the process a bit easier. You can start with a small amount of water in the tub at home or a small kiddy pool. As your dog becomes more comfortable you can gradually increase the amount of water they are submerged in until they are full-on swimming. Another idea if your dog is smaller or a puppy is to slowly carry them into the water. This way they feel comforted with you holding them and you can control the situation more with treats and things of that sort. Once your dog seems to feel comfortable in the water, let them swim around on their own, or jump in yourself and swim by their side to keep up the momentum.

The next part of training for dock diving is Fun & Games finding a toy your dog will be obsessed with. Of course, if your dog loves to fetch and retrieve, any toy may be suitable. If you are unsure if your dog likes to fetch, now will be the time to find a toy they love and start practicing. You can start on dry land to teach them the basics and pique their interest. If you know you have a retrieving dog, it’s time to move to the water. Be sure to choose their favorite toy to add motivation to them jumping in after it. Start with your dog at the edge of the water or on a step in the pool and throw the toy a shot distance. Starting with a short distance helps the dog feel more confident about going in after it. As time goes on and your dog is quick to go after the toy, go ahead and throw the toy a longer distance until you finally reach your end goal.

Anytime you’re training your dog to obey or to be ready for any sport be sure to let them rest and give them breaks. Especially when it comes to jumping and swimming, dogs can tire out quickly. Take it one day and one step at a time and have patience. 

Up close and personal with local dock diving competitors

I had the honor of speaking with local dock diving competitors Nicole Heller and Meredith Wille, who have their own stories to tell about their dock diving experience! 

Nicole has created a team of Border Collies and goes by “Team Slayer” when competing. There aren’t any requirements to have a team name, but many owners like to come up with one just to make things more fun. She says that “they can be pretty much anything from breed specific (Team Malinois Mania) or just for fun (Team Blissful Jumpers). Nicole got started in dock diving with her first Collie, Rogue, back in October of 2015. She said that she originally planned to put Rogue in agility competitions until a co-worker introduced them to dock diving. Once they were introduced to this sport, they were both hooked! Since then, Nicole has added 4 more Border Collies to the family; Natsu, Katsuki, Weisz, and Vi. Team Slayer has been to the DockDogs World Championship 6 times and have placed in the top 6 of their division 9 different times! Rogue secured 6 of those, Katsuki secured 2 of them, and the other one was Natsu. Meredith has her own clinic in PA and has been in the veterinary field since 1988. However, she also spends her time traveling and enjoying the dock diving sport with her dog J.R., which is short for Johnny Rose, a main character from a highly favored tv show. Meredith has bred dogs for over 20 years and within that time 10 or 11 of those breeds have been Pharaoh hounds. J.R. is the first Pharaoh Hound that she has had luck getting into dock diving. However, J.R. didn’t get into this sport with luck alone, and Meredith has put in a lot of time throughout his life making sure all the pieces for dock diving were included in his life. She started the process at a young age by pushing his drive for a love of toys. She spent time making sure he had the drive to play with and tug on toys. At about 5 months old Meredith began putting him in water. Of course, she started him in about 2 inches of water to get started and played with the toys in the water. That way, as he grew up, water wasn’t a big deal. Once J.R. was around 10 months old, she introduced him to the actual sport of dock diving. 

Though it may not have come as easy to him as it would for a dog breed such as a Labrador, because of the prior training, dock diving came fairly easy. That is a big milestone for a Pharoah Hound as J.R. is the only dog of that breed that is competing in the sport. Meredith tried with the other Pharaoh pups in the past but she feels that she may have started the training a little too late in life compared to J.R. Pharoah Hounds originated in Ancient Egypt so they are more used to desert life rather than water life.

The beauty of dock diving, as Meredith says, is that any dog of any breed can join in as long as they have a love for water and an obsession with toys. As uncommon as it is for this breed to compete in such a sport, Meredith and J.R. found themselves not only competing at the NADD (North American Diving Dog), but they finished 12th out of 90 dogs. This led to them being invited to nationals, which was a whole new level for them and an accomplishment, as he is the only dog of that breed to ever go to nationals.

At nationals, the competition is held indoors with 4 pools in one room. The facility hosts about 1200 dogs during the competition which made for a big distraction for J.R., as he had never seen another dog jumping next to him at the same time. Besides that, the place was full and loud compared to smaller competitions. This includes 3 judges, people who time the competitors, photographers, dock cleaners, and more. She hopes that they can return to nationals this year and that J.R. feels more comfortable this time around after having more experience. Meredith’s clinic has big plans of partnering with a local club organization to put together an outdoor dock diving facility by summer and hopes to have an indoor facility within the next year or two. In February, she plans for her and J.R. to travel to several states including Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and more. This is a way for them to see other indoor facilities to get ideas for the one she’s putting together, plus it’s also a great way for them to get in more practice in new environments, as they prepare for a competition coming up in Minneapolis. On this trip, Meredith is looking forward to traveling with her fur partner and hearing other trainers’ stories, all while getting J.R. more comfortable in the sport they both love.

I asked Meredith where they typically practice and what changes she Fun & Games would like to see in the future of dock diving.

Her response showed that these two questions go hand in hand as she said that it is challenging to find proper places to practice, especially during the winter. There was a local facility at one time, but it ended up closing about a year prior for unknown reasons. The only other local place to practice is at a pool that doesn’t seem to fit into the safest of dock diving arenas. The ceiling is low, and the dock isn’t very safe for dogs. In the summer, Meredith found herself traveling 3 1/2 hours both ways to a training facility to work with a trainer that had more experience in the field.

Because of this, she hopes to see more proper training facilities in the future that keeps the safety of the handler and the dog in mind. The goal is of course to get the longest jump, but with each competition this must be done within a certain time frame. This can vary depending on the organization hosting the competition and the level of the competition. At the NADD you have 4 minutes to complete two jumps back-to-back, or 3 jumps if you choose to request a practice jump. When competing at nationals, however, your dog only has 2 minutes to complete two jumps back-to-back and there is not an option for a practice jump. There isn’t always a big reward system, but it all depends on the competition. Some of them only give ribbons which will be given to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. 

small dog breed the Jack Russell Terrier swims in the lake with the ring in his mouth on a summer day

To find dock diving competitions you can search your area within a certain mile radius to see what’s available, as most organizations have their own website showcasing upcoming competitions. When going through an organization, the dog must be registered through that particular organization in order to compete.

Other dock diving stories

The AKC (American Kennel Club), hosts the diving dog’s premier cup where the top 3 winners can receive prize money. In this competition, the judges rank each dog based on two separate categories and a first, second, and third-place winner is chosen for each category. The first category is distance jumping, which is the basics of dock diving in which the dog with the longest jumps wins. The second category is considered “air retrieve.” During an air retrieve there is a bumper hanging in the middle of the dock’s width about two feet above the dock. Each dog must jump for the bumper and try to grab or completely remove the bumper from where it is hanging. The dogs are allowed two attempts to participate in the air retrieval. 

Dock diving has become a big part of the lives of dogs and their owners all around for several reasons. Whether it’s for fun, athletics, or simply for more bonding, dock diving brought a whole new life to a dog named Lady Di. Lady Di, an American Bully, had been tied to a tree most of her life as a puppy and ended up with anxiety, skin problems, and other issues. She was finally rescued, but was hours away from being euthanized, when her now owner, Lauri Alberti saw her online and decided to drive to California from her town in Montana to save her. Lauri stated that Lady Di was terrified of everything and everyone, but she was determined to give her a better life. The bond quickly grew when Lauri introduced her to dock diving and the instructor at Montana K-9 Aquatics told Lady Di that they would one day be best friends. Although they were unsure of how she would do in dock diving, to their surprise, she took to the sport pretty quickly and in turn helped them form an even deeper bond. To this day, because of Lauri and the dock diving sport, Lady Di has become an entirely different dog compared to the day she was adopted.

For many, dock diving seems to be the sport that brings dogs out of their shell and helps them get into a fun environment. Take a dog named Allie for instance. Her owner stated that Allie is typically quiet, reserved, and sleeps all day but when she’s taken around the dock she’s brought to life, joyfully running and barking, ready to jump. They nicknamed Allie as the “Alliegator” when she was a puppy and went on to create a team name known as “The Allie Gators” for dock diving competitions. Although Allie hasn’t been in a top spot during her dock diving journey, she has become one of the top jumping Labrador Retrievers in New England and eventually qualified for nationals.

We can’t talk about dock diving without mentioning the dynamic duo, Spitfire, and his handler, Sydney. Sydney was only 16 and Spitfire was 8 when they made the rise of dominating the dock diving arena. Between 2016 and 2019, Spitfire broke 21 world records and has become known as the “Michael Jordan” or “Lebron James” of dock diving. This Whippet had no issue falling in love with dock diving from the very beginning of their journey, and he seemed to be a natural. Sydney and Spitfire have traveled across the United States competing and dominating competitions everywhere they go. Spitfire is believed to be the best there has ever been in this sport, reaching up to 30MPH when running down the dock and reaching a distance of about 31 ft in the air before he ever hits the water. To this day, the duo continues to add to the legacy of Spitfire.  

Overall

Dock diving has tremendously grown over the years and continues to grow today. If you’ve never had the opportunity to look into this sport or if you have been thinking about introducing your dog to a new sport, dock diving is a fun and easy way to do just that. The sport takes work and training, but, in some ways, it is easier than other agility dog sports. If your dog already has a love for water and has a favorite toy, you are already closer than many when they start the training process. Getting into dock diving can be a great way to create a deeper bond with your dog and can be fun for both of you. When competing in dock diving, expect a lot of travel and a lot of wet paws coming your way!

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