Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Started in Dock Diving

Are you looking for a dog sport that your entire family, canine included, can enjoy? Dock diving may be just what you're looking for! In this sport, dogs jump from a dock that is usually 40 feet long into a pool set up with distance markers that is also 40 feet long. Dogs run down the dock and into the pool to retrieve a toy that was tossed by the dog's handler.

Both dogs and people can enjoy dock diving without a lengthy training regimen. Some teams – handler and dog – have become accomplished jumpers after just a few attempts at their first event. In dock diving, success is not measured by the distance jumped but by how much fun you and your dog had. Dogs have as much fun jumping 3 feet as they do jumping 23 feet.

Participants at these events are often asked by spectators how to get started in dock diving. First, you need a dog that is not afraid of the water. The more they love to swim the better. Your dog needs to be leash controlled in an unfamiliar environment and non-aggressive to other dogs at the event. Another important factor is "toy drive," and the greater the drive in the dog, the easier it will be to overcome any hurdles they may encounter.

Remember, you are asking your dog to do something that most dogs are not familiar with – to run down an open dock and jump into a pool of clear water that is probably located somewhere the dog has never been before. The dock diving platform usually consists of a 6 foot high scaffolding/trailer dock that they must climb up stairs to access. It may be located in the parking lot of a sports store, or in the middle of your local state fair. It may be complete with spectators surrounding the sides of the pool and the hum of the upbeat music and pulsing voice of the announcer that stirs the crowd (and some teams) into excitement. Sounds intimidating, but most dogs overcome these distractions within minutes as they place their trust in their handler.

If you find yourself and your canine companion at a dock diving event without the benefit of practicing at a local lake or pool, there are a few things to remember. First always make it a positive experience with your dog. Remember, having fun with your dog is paramount, even if he does not jump. There will be many other handlers at the event that were once in your shoes, so use them as a tool to help you and your dog. They will be more than willing. At every step praise your dog and remember it's his first time too so he will be just as nervous as you.

The next thing is often the hardest for handlers to do – leave your ego in the car. It is not important for a first time dog to jump a great distance. What is important is that the dog has a positive experience and they figure out what you want them to do. As you walk them up the stairs to the dock, remember to praise and assure them. They trust you. Familiarize them with the dock and lead them up and down the dock a couple of times. Confidence is building with every step and it is that confidence that will allow your dog to improve with every jump.

Take your dog to the pool end of the dock and let them take a look at the pool and its surroundings. Let the dog examine the two foot drop into the water. This is one of the biggest hurdles. Have your dog's favorite toy (floatable & non-edible) ready and get your dog enthused about fetching it for you. Return to the edge of the dock and toss the toy 7-10 feet out onto the surface of the water. No closer as it becomes a downward dive when you want the dog to jump out. Too far and the dog realizes they cannot get that far, causing some dogs to try to run outside of the pool to get it.

Remember when you took your first dive in a swimming pool? You did not do it from the 20 meter board but rather from the side of the pool. Take your dog 5-10 feet back on the dock allowing the dog to maintain eyesight with the toy. Encourage your dog to retrieve their toy then take them off lead and let them go, all the time encouraging and praising. First time dogs will usually take a couple of strides, hesitate, then jump. If the dog jumps you are on your way!

Don't be afraid of getting wet; give them an affectionate hug as they exit the pool, praising them on what an outstanding job they just did. Do this immediately – don't wait until you get out of the staging area. If the dog does not jump, reset the dog and try again while keeping the positive reinforcement flowing. If he stops the second time, go to the edge of the dock and encourage him from there. If you feel your dog is not going to jump, allow them to go down the exit ramp into the pool and swim out to retrieve the toy. This helps ensure a positive experience for the dog.

Remember, you must take small steps before you take larger ones. With your help and encouragement your dog will build confidence and you will both succeed. Again, the unwritten law for all dock diving participants is “keep it fun.”

By Dan Jacobs of Team Missy
Sponsored by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods

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