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See You On The Dock

German shorthair pointer dog about to land in a pool after jumping during a dock diving competition. ©Adobe Stock.

Soaring to new heights. Leaps that defy gravity. Incredible strength. Fearless determination. Does this sound like your dog? If so, your dog might love the sport of dock diving.

By Julie Althaver

Competitive sports for dogs began in the late 1970s and by the mid-90s television stations started taking an interest in the competition. In 1997, pet food manufacturer Purina® sponsored and produced an Olympic-style event that brought the best-of-the-best dogs together in various sporting disciplines, the result was the creation of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.

Over the years, the sport of dock diving has gained in popularity and spread to other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Austria. There are now several organizations that run jumping competitions, and each organization has its own rules, regulations, and standards for its trials. Competitors work their way up and compete in world
championships or other national events.

Dock diving, sometimes called dock jumping, is a fun, exciting, easy sport that has dogs running, jumping, fetching, and splashing.

The premise is pretty simple: you, the handler, place your dog anywhere along the dock and throw your dog his favorite toy into a pool while he waits on the dock. On your command, your dog barrels down the dock, flings himself off the end of it, lands in the water and swims to grab the toy. The goal? To have the longest jump possible (which could be as short as two feet for beginners or as much as 30 feet for more experienced dogs.)

Constructed thirty-five to forty feet long, eight feet wide, and two feet above the water docks are covered in carpet, artificial turf, or rubber matting. Your dog will be motivated and driven to soar when they know their prized toy is just out of reach, a technique that keeps your dog’s momentum going to get the best launch angle possible. The sport of dock diving truly tests your
dog’s agility and athletic ability for height, speed, and distance.

Dock diving, the premier canine aquatics competition, is open to all dogs at least six months of age regardless of breed, size, shape, or ability. Its popularity is making it become the fastest growing competitive sport for our four-legged friends.

Dog diving features three primary disciplines:

  • Big Air®, otherwise known as the “long jump for dogs.” The dog, which may be placed anywhere on the 40-foot dock, runs and jumps into a 40-foot pool of water after a throw toy is tossed. Both human judges and digital imaging measure the distance from the end of the dock to where the base of the dog’s tail breaks the water’s surface.
  • Speed Retrieve® is a timed event judged on a matter of strength and speed. At the far end of the pool, a bumper toy is suspended two inches above the water with a starting indicator light above it. The dog is then placed at the 20- foot mark on the dock, and when the light turns green, the handler releases the dog. The time clock stops once the dog pulls the toy from the Speed Retrieve bracket.
  • Extreme Vertical is otherwise known as the “high jump” for dogs. The dog must start at the 20-foot mark on the dock, run, then jump to catch the suspended toy. Each dog has 60 seconds to jump in the air while  attempting to grab the bumper toy from the extended arm. Every dog has a second chance if, during the first run, the dog misses the toy. With each round, the bumper toy gets raised in two-inch increments as the  competition progresses until the dog that jumps the highest wins the match.

There is a fourth discipline, the “Iron Dog Challenge.” This competition
encompasses all three disciplines competed in at one event. The dog with the best overall scores in each discipline wins. There is a handicap system developed by DockDogs® International to level the playing field for the size and age of the dog.Just as humans are not built like Superman—“faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,”—not every dog is designed, or motivated, to be a dock diving dog. So, before you start the sport with your pooch, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Not all dogs can swim. Make sure your dog is comfortable running and leaping into a pool of water without the ability to touch bottom. If you are not sure how your dog will react, start by finding a lake, shallow pool, stream, or body of water where the dog can wade out. Remember to take your dog swimming frequently to build up his/her excitement,
    strength, and endurance.
  2. Understand what motivates your dog. Dogs usually are driven by either food or a toy. Identify a particular toy or food they love to help motivate them into the water. For dock diving itself, it is better to have a toy rather than food since toys are the only thing you can throw into the water during competition.
  3. Get your dog accustomed to going up and down a ramp. Even the most experienced water dogs will need some exposure to going up and down a slope. Ramps are simple to build by erecting two-foot boards on a box or the back of a truck surface and gradually make it incline. Never incline the ramp beyond a 45-degree angle. Training your dog to go up and down the slope will help alleviate fear if the dog has never been exposed to a ramp before.
  4. Find a sanctioned dock diving pool and schedule some time with your dog. An approved dock diving pool verifies the facility is adequately insured and inspected for safety. 
  5. Join a dock diving club or find a dock diving event near you. There are clubs and facilities across the United States.

Okay, you’re probably saying to yourself right about now, “Dock diving, why that sounds like a competitive sport my dog would love to try.” Great news, there’s a facility right in your back yard.

Pet Nation Lodge, a full-service dog boarding, grooming, training, and daycare facility has the only sanctioned Dock Diving Pool in the Cincinnati area.

Opened to the general public, and located in Loveland, Ohio, the Lodge boasts a 44-foot outdoor pool that is perfect for training your dog in the sport of dock diving. They can even teach your dog to swim and feel comfortable in the pool. 

Pet Nation offers a “Try-It Orientation Splash” to make sure your pet can exit the pool safely, swim comfortably, and is not in any visible stress or pain. They are an affiliated club of DockDogs® and frequently hosts events during spring, summer and fall at their pool with Kentucky DockDogs and Buckeye DockDog Clubs, along with “Fun Days” and practices. 

For as little as $15, you and your pooch can try out the sport for 20 minutes. You will need to complete a waiver form, show proof of vaccination, and pay the nominal fee. An experienced member of their team will help you, gradually and gently, introduce your dog to their pool, the dock, and the ramp.

Hours are Monday through Friday 2:00 – 7:00 p.m. or earlier by appointment, as well as Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., or by appointment. Please bring your pet’s favorite floatable toy, a towel, swimsuit (if you prefer to participate with your dog), and a chair if you decide to be a spectator instead of a participant.

The facility also offers several other options, including:

  • Open dock: $25 Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; $5 for each additional dog in the family
  • Open Dock for “Frequent Flyer Card”: $100 for 5 Splashes; $40 per additional dog
  • Private Splash: $20 without a trainer or $30 with a trainer for 30 minutes; $10 per additional dog 

Like the idea but prefer a group class? Pet Nation Lodge also offers professional dog trainers who come to the facility and work with you and your dog on the three disciplines of dock diving: Big Air®, Extreme Vertical, and Speed Retrieve®. For more information about their group classes, as well as dates and times, please visit the company’s Facebook page.

Besides individual or group training sessions, Pet Nation also caters to individuals or groups who are looking to rent their pool for birthday parties, fundraisers for animal rescues, team building events, or to simply jazz up meetings. To rent the pool and exercise yard for three hours, call 513-697-7387 for more information and pricing.

Summer is the most enjoyable season to get involved in the sport of dock diving. Whether you are a novice in the sport or want to compete in a sanctioned event, dock diving teaches your dog fundamental training principles. Disciplines that will help you, as the handler, build a solid obedience relationship with your dog through play habits, communication, mutual trust, and teamwork. Moreover, dock diving provides your dog with
an excellent physical activity where patience, confidence, and endurance merge to form one great playtime.

As they say in the sport…“See you on the dock!”

Julie Althaver is a dog-lover and freelance writed based in Northern Kentucky. 

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