Does your Labrador love to swim? Will he do anything for his favorite toy? Many dock dogs are Labradors, but what exactly are dock dogs – and what is involved in the exciting new sport of dock diving? Anna Burke investigates:
Maybe it is time to think about dock diving. Dock diving is a low key, exciting canine sport that grows in popularity each year. Jump on the bandwagon, or off the dock, and see what all the fuss is about.
What Is Dock Diving?
Dock diving, also called dock jumping, first appeared at the 1997 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. The sport was an instant hit. There are now dock jumping organizations in the U.S. and around the world devoted to the sport.
The premise of dock jumping is simple. A dog and her handler compete to see how far the dog can jump off of a dock and into a pool. All the handler has to do is throw the toy into the pool. The rest is up to the dog.
What type of dogs can become dock dogs?
There are no barriers to entry with regard to breed or type of dog. Your dog does not need to be AKC registered for example, to become a dock dog. Mixed breed dogs can enter too! But of course water loving athletic dogs like Labs are ideally suited to the sport
What Are The Rules?
The rules of dock diving are straightforward. Your team consists of you and your dog. If you want a friend to help you hold your eager retriever back, that is fine too. Each team gets a few tries at the dock. How many tries and how often you can compete varies from competition to competition, but all events have openings for beginners.
Docks are approximately 40 feet long and 8 feet wide. There is plenty of room for your dog to get a running start. Minimum pool size is 21 feet long by 9 feet wide to give your dog lots of space to jump and land safely. Pools have the measurements labeled on the side so that judges and observers can appreciate how far a dog has jumped.
To compete, all you have to do is throw a toy for your dog and encourage your dog to jump after it. The dock dog’s jump is measured from the where the base of his tail hits the water to the edge of the dock. Most events use cameras to accurately measure the exact distance. Beginner jumps range between two and nine feet. A select few experienced jumpers can jump as far as thirty feet, an incredible distance for a dog. Don’t worry if your dog can’t jump that far. Having fun is the ultimate goal of dock jumping.
How Do I Train My Labrador To Dock Dive?
Dock diving is fun and easy to teach your dog. Unlike agility or Rally, diving does not require your Lab to know a long list of commands. All he needs to dive are two things:
• Ability to swim
• Strong toy drive
Labradors are natural swimmers. Your Lab probably loves splashing in whatever water he can find. That does not necessarily mean he is comfortable leaping into deep water. Practice swimming before introducing him to dock diving. Take his favorite toy to a beach, lake, pond or any available body of water where it is safe for him to swim. Throw his toy into water just deep enough for him to take a few swimming strokes. If he is comfortable, increase the distance.
Some dogs find swimming intimidating. Be prepared to get wet. You might end up swimming with your dog to help him understand water is fun. If you are having problems getting your Lab to swim, introduce him to water at a slow pace and never push your dog too much. Throwing him into the water will make him fear it even more.
Once your lab masters swimming, it is time to teach him how to jump. If you do not have access to a body of water, find a dock diving event near you. These events allow beginners the opportunity to test the waters with their dogs for the first time.
Keep in mind that the pools at dock diving events look different than the water your dog is used to. The water is clear, not murky like a lake, pond, or ocean. He will feel like you are asking him to jump into open space. It is a good idea to walk your dog into the pool first. This shows him where the ramp is and lets him know that this is another fun place to swim.
For his first jump, reach down and splash the water at the edge of the dock to remind him there is water below. There are two techniques for getting your dog to dive:
• Place and Send
The chase method is simple. All you have to do is place the dog where you want him on the dock and throw the toy into the water. Your dog will chase the toy and leap after it. The advantage of the chase technique is that your dog naturally leaps up and after the toy in an arc, rather than merely jumping into the water and swimming. This gives him a longer jump.
The first time you try the chase method start with your dog close to the end of the dock. Get him very excited about his toy. Remember this is supposed to be fun for your dog. When he can barely stand the excitement, toss the toy into the water. Your dog will want to jump after. The first few times he might be scared. Don’t get frustrated. Repeat the chase until he is brave enough to dive after. Give him lots of praise his first jump.
Increase the distance as he grows more comfortable. Start him farther back on the dock and throw the toy. The more speed he develops, the farther he will jump.
Place and Send
Place and send works just like it sounds. Begin at the end of the dock with your dog on a leash. Get her very excited about her toy. For this method it is helpful to have a toy that sits high up in the water so that she can easily locate it.
Throw the toy into the water, but do not let her go after it yet. Walk her a few feet back and then release her. She will rush towards her toy and out into the water. If your dog does well in obedience she may find this method more stimulating. She understands that she has to work for her reward.
To increase her jump, walk her back a little further each time. The more distance she has to pick up speed before you release her, the longer her jump. Place and send is a slightly more advanced technique. Your dog may need to begin with the chase method before she masters place and send. Try both dock diving approaches and see which works best for your dog.
Where Can I Find Local Dock Diving Events?
There are dock dogs all over the world and dock diving events are held all over the country. There are even clubs devoted to the sport. Here are a few organizations to help you and your furry friend get started:
Some events require registration, others do not. Look into the event prior to showing up. If your dog is not yet ready to compete, taking him to a dock diving event is a great way to get him familiar with the atmosphere and work on his socialization. Take the opportunity to observe the other competitors and learn from them.
Dock jumping is a low key, fun sport and most handlers are eager to share their experiences with beginners. Events are held outside and inside. You can dive year round with your dog even when the temperatures outside start to drop. Dock jumping events are exciting. Lots of dogs and handlers attend. You and your dog will meet many other dog teams, which can be fun and stressful. Keep your dog on a short leash and be respectful of other dogs’ space to prevent accidents.
How Much Water Is Too Much?
Dock diving is a low impact sport. Swimming does not wear on your dog’s body the way other canine activities can. But dock dogs are still athletes and need to be rested when appropriate. If your Lab seems sore after a few jumps, give her a rest. No sport is worth your best friend’s health.
Labradors coats are designed for swimming. Their outer hair sheds water while the undercoat keeps them warm. Sadly, Labradors are still susceptible to water related issues. Brush your dock diver regularly and check his skin to make sure he is not experiencing discomfort. Too much water, especially chlorinated pools, can lead to dry, flaky skin. Lakes and ponds are muddy.
When rinsing off your dog use only a very mild dog shampoo and conditioner. Try not to use shampoos too regularly as this strips the coat of its natural oils. Dogs who frequent the beach similarly need the salt and sand washed or brushed out of their coats.
Any dog that swims on a regular basis is at risk of an ear infection. Your Labrador’s floppy ears put him at even greater risk. Dry his ears with a towel or cotton swabs after a swim. Consult your veterinarian if your dog scratches at his ears, if his ears develop a yeasty smell, or if his ears appear red and inflamed. These are all signs of an ear infection.
Dock dogs have more fun!
Join the exciting world of dock diving Labradors this summer with your Labrador Retriever. Dogs young and old love dock jumping. So do their owners. Find a dock near you and see if your pup is up to the challenge!
Keep Your Lab Happy And Healthy
Want to find more ways to keep your Labrador happy and healthy? Then check out The Labrador Handbook. A complete guide to the world’s favorite dog.
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Dock Dogs: A Guide To Dock Diving has been revised and updated for 2017
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