Dock Diving: Now for Herding Breed Dogs
An Introduction to Dock Diving
Dock diving is an exciting and fun dog sport that is growing in popularity. While most people assume Labradors and other “water dogs”are dominating the dock diving scene, some of the top dogs in the country are herding breeds! German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois, Collies, and other herding breeds possess qualities that make them good candidates for dock diving.
Such qualities are:
- Originally developed for utility and versatility, herding dogs are medium to high drive with good stamina and energy so they enjoy doing physical activities that tap into their natural instincts to run, chase, and jump.
- These breeds were designed to work in close partnership with humans so they love interacting and performing with their handlers.
- They are smart dogs and fast learners, making them fun to train in any dog sport!
Like many growing dog sports, dock diving is a novice-friendly and family-friendly activity that offers various levels of competition, depending on your experience and commitment. Most events have time for people to try dock diving with expert help regardless of experience level. You can literally “test the waters” with your dog before committing to enter the competition!
All dogs and handlers competing have the opportunity to earn placements, titles, and ribbons as there are different divisions depending on the size of the dog and the distance it jumps.
What is Dock Diving?
Think of dock diving as long jumping competition for our canine companions, but they land in a pool rather than a sand pit. The dog launches off a platform (the “dock”) and jumps as high or as far as he can to retrieve a toy that is thrown by the handler or is suspended over the water. Jumps are measured from the edge of the platform to where the base of the dog’s tail hits the water.
In a traditional dock diving competition, handlers choose from two popular techniques:
“Place and Send”
The handler throws the dog’s toy into the pool while restraining the dog. Some handlers will bring their dog to the edge of the platform and show them the toy in the water. The dog is then brought back to the desired starting point on the platform and released to jump and fetch the toy.
The dog is held back on the platform by a second handler (if allowed) or commanded to stay. The handler walks to the edge of the platform, commands the dog to retrieve, and throws the toy as the dog is jumping. The dog is “chasing” the toy in the air, tracking it with his eyes, and tries to catch it in the air.
Some dock diving events offer additional judged divisions based on whether the dog catches the toy in the air, how high the dog can jump vertically to retrieve a suspended bumper, or how far the dog can jump to retrieve a suspended bumper.
How Do I Get Started in Dock Diving?
Getting your dog acclimated to water is a good first step. Many dogs love water right away, but some dogs never warm up to it. Most dogs will learn to love water after a few positive experiences. Ironically however, herding breeds are among those dogs that often need a slower introduction to water and rarely jump off the dock on their first try.
It’s a good idea to take your dog to a beach that allows dogs so you can see how your dog reacts to water and whether or not your dog is interested in fetching toys out of the water. You don’t necessarily need to have your dog jumping into a pool or off of a dock or platform since the platform and pool at a dock diving event will be a totally new experience, even for a dog that loves water. However, your dog needs to know how to swim safely and have the desire to wade into the water and fetch a toy.
Second, your dog should enjoy toys as a means to interact and have fun with you. You will need to find at least one floating toy that motivates your dog to be in the water and play fetch. While food treats are awesome for obedience and trick training, they do not work well for dock diving. Spend time playing with your dog by using tug and fetch games as a way to develop your dog’s desire to work with you and his drive to fetch toys. This interaction doesn’t need to happen in or around water, though. The more you engage your dog in general, the more likely he is to trust that you, and that equals fun! Your dog needs to be willing to try new things with you, including jumping into the water.
Next, check out the various dock diving organizations (linked below) to see which ones are offering upcoming events in your area. Most events allow dogs to try dock diving for a small fee, but be sure to contact the hosting club to check first. Typically, you will have about 5-7 minutes each turn. Be sure to ask for help and follow all of the rules and safety procedures.
Your first several turns will probably go something like this:
- First, lead your dog down the exit ramp and into the water. Turn your dog around in the water and lead him back up the ramp. Every dog needs to learn how to safely get out of the pool and be comfortable on the exit ramp. Even seasoned competition dogs are led over to the ramp so they know how to exit the pool.
- Lead your dog up the exit ramp and then throw his toy so that he can wade or jump off the ramp into the pool and fetch his toy. When he returns with the toy, lead him out of the pool and up the ramp.
- Repeat step 2 until your dog is comfortable using the ramp to get out of the pool and is confident jumping off the ramp into the water, and is retrieving his toy.
- Take your dog up onto the platform and play with his toy. Allow him to check out the edge of the platform, but don’t pressure him to jump in. Play fetch or tug until your dog is comfortable playing with you on the platform, then lead him off the platform, down the ramp, and let him fetch his toy off the ramp.
- Take your dog to the edge of the platform and throw his toy in the water. It should be fairly close to the edge of the platform (the people hosting the event will help you with the placement). Encourage your dog to jump, but do not push him in. Dogs have an oppositional reflex, so you may want to lean down and push into your dog’s chest so you are pushing him away from the edge of the platform while verbally encouraging him to lean forward get his toy. When he jumps in, give lots of verbal praise!
Congratulations! You are now ready to enter the amazing sport of dock diving! Be sure to check out these dock diving organizations for events in your area and have fun with your dog!
Lies A. Rosema
Blue Horizon German Shepherd Dogs