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Dock Diving – Number One Rule for New (and all) Teams

Dock diving - Border collie chases dock diving bumper


Dock Diving has always been friendly. It is the nature of a thing to be attractive to other things in order to grow. While the sport and its people are friendly, there still exists a bit of mystery and uncertainty for outsiders stealing a glance at the turf runways leading to tanks of water.

As the sport has grown considerably, it’s become difficult for anyone involved in dog sports to ignore the call of the dock. Let’s pull back the curtain for those lurking on the fan pages and wandering by curiously at the cluster events.

Dock Diving
Australian Cattle Dog chasing the toy off the dock

The dock towers above all other dog events, quite literally. It can be an imposing structure for anyone who doesn’t already leap into a body of water from height. Typically docks are 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and have some variation of railings to keep the dog and human safely corralled. The official pools should be at least 45 feet long, over 20 feet wide, and hold 28,000 gallons of water or more. This is a serious structure.

For nearly any event you can just “show up” and participate to some degree, but it is probably best to get some practice time first. Review the organization and facility rules and information so you can feel a little more confident on things like signing up, scheduling, and if you need to be a member. Let’s assume you have done your prep work and are at a dock diving event, just to try-it. You will first check in with the admin team (usually working under a tent) who will give you all the information you need about where to be, and when, for your turn on the turf. Once checked in, you should potty and warm up your canine athlete and wait patiently for your allotted opportunity in the pool. Be ready when it is your turn to go up.

Review the organization and facility rules and information so you can feel a little more confident on things like signing up, scheduling, and if you need to be a member.

Once you and your adventure buddy have ascended the stairs or ramp and the gate has closed behind you, it can feel a bit like all eyes are on you. This is a good time to remember that this moment on the dock is just about you and your dog. Don’t worry about anything outside the dock except for the judge and dock crew. If you are taking your first brave steps on this strange new apparatus, keep in mind that both your dog as well as yourself, need some time to get acclimated and comfortable.

This brings us to “Dock Diving’s Most Important Number One Rule”.  As your dog’s caregiver, advocate and legal guardian, it’s your responsibility to make sure this experience is a good one. This is a very simple rule. Good experiences lead to fun, confidence and successful repetitions which build the foundation for desired results. So be patient up on the dock, go slow, have fun and let that be the core of your “dockventure”.

Dock Diving
German Shorthaired Pointer catches the bumper

Once you and Fido are safely trapped on the dock, look for a platform area with a ramp leading into the pool. For most teams and certainly all “newbies”, this is where the adventure begins. The entry to the pool, even from the ramp, with its many strange new surfaces, can be quite daunting. How do we proceed when our dogs freeze? What can compel our dogs into the mysterious blue abyss?

Our dogs are most likely to willingly enter the water via the desire to chase a toy, be with a human, or for the love of swimming. That’s about it. It’s generally beneficial to cultivate at least one of these options prior to standing on the dock, though if you find yourself absent all 3, you can still pursue your dock diving dreams with a slower start. Your best bet is to go to a “local” dock diving facility and engage an expert to support your quest. Each dock diving organization will have a website listing their facilities and events. Here is a link to the North America Diving Dogs facilities page where you can find one hopefully not too far from you.

Let’s assume your dog likes to chase a toy (this is the most desirable of ways to compel our dogs into the water), and facilitate the transition from the platform/ramp to actually jumping off the big dock.   Once a dog is entering the water confidently from the ramp, it only makes sense to try from higher up, though the leap of faith into a pool can be more complicated than you might think. Many people assume all dogs naturally want to swim and will jump right into a pool. This is not the case. Plenty of dogs approach the moment with caution and others even with trepidation. Again, in these instances, we need to revert back to Dock Diving’s Most Important Number One Rule which means we need to be patient, make it fun, and now, start to make it a learning game.

Dogs that jump in lakes, ponds, or the ocean may find the clear water a bit confusing. Many an owner has been exasperated when confronted with this phenomenon, expecting a leap but instead their usually exuberant water dog has some serious doubts about the glassy pool surface. Some splashing to break up the surface can be beneficial in these instances.

Dogs that jump in pools at home may also have reason to hesitate as the dock sits two feet above the water, often a daunting height for a first-timer. Just as no two people learn in exactly the same way, there are a wide range and variety of methods to reach this exciting stage in your dog’s dock diving career. As such, employing the assistance of experts at a local facility is often advised. Typically if enough confidence has been built from lower heights, like the ramp or a baby dock (if available), some cheering and positive energy, combined with the opportunity to fetch a toy, could be all that’s required to inspire that first, heart-stirring leap.

Dock Diving
The first splash off the dock is often the scariest

No matter the result, jump or no jump, as long as it was a good experience, you will likely find your next trip to the dock even more rewarding. Sometimes just sniffing, exploring and hanging out is the best experience on which to build. Desirable results often take time and it’s all part of the dock diving adventure.

Now that the veil of mystery has been parted, if you have resisted the urge to try your dog on the dock, consider visiting a dock diving facility or event near you this season.



Photo credit: Images by Kim Langevin, Blue Dog Photography