We’ve established our love for the sport! My dog and I love the game, and I want to get a little more serious about participating in dock diving competitions. What should be my next steps?
Groundwork—the answer is groundwork. Just like any sport, dock diving can be stripped down into several different foundational components that are worked on individually. Breaking these parts down, and working on them separately, will help your dog perform better in the game once you’ve put all the pieces back together. What’s the first groundwork task I should practice with my dog?
I always tell people to get their dogs motivated to jump off the ground for their favorite toy. Again, this can be any toy, but per my previous post
, I recommend using the Dokken double rope super bumpers if you plan to take part in any of the games (extreme vertical, fetch it, etc.). Practice getting your dog comfortable leaving the ground for the toy with all 4 feet, without worrying about his landing. It’s important for your dog to be able to leave the ground with all 4 feet without regard for the landing, or he’ll always be looking down when he jumps off the dock. How do you recommend setting up for this game?
Typically, I start with the dog in a sitting position, holding the bumper in the air, and then encourage him to jump for the toy. Depending on the size of your dog, this may be waist high, shoulder high, or even over your head. Make sure your dog has a soft area to land on, such as grass. The ground shouldn’t be slippery, to avoid injury. When he grabs the bumper, it helps to lower him to the ground by holding on to the other end, to prevent a splat when he lands. He’s grabbing the bumper with all 4 feet off the ground—now what?
This is going great! What next?
- I typically move the dog to a platform. I use a halved Vari kennel for the dog to place on.
- I have him wait on the platform and work on holding the bumper out in front of him.
- I give him the “GO” and expect him to grab the toy from my hand before touching the ground. Again, on a soft, nonslip surface.
- Once the dog is grabbing the bumper from my hand straight in front of him without a reach and fall, I start to move the bumper out. This gives the dog the confidence to drive off the platform toward the toy, without worrying about the landing.
The exercises mentioned above will help your dog build confidence jumping for all the games typically played in dock diving competition. I have one other section of groundwork I do with my dog that focuses on the big air, distance discipline of dock diving. For this game, I set up a short jump, typically no higher than 6”-8”. The jump can be a flyball jump, an agility jump, or something similar built at home with PVC pipe. I start the dog in a sit very close to the jump, and get him comfortable with jumping over the jump. I then move to getting him to jump over the jump and grab the toy from my hand. He understands that game! He sits and jumps over, grabbing the toy on the way past! Is that it?
One more step! Start giving him a little more space to run toward the jump, starting around 5’ and going back to 10’ or so. As he runs toward the jump, give the toy a very light toss in the air so he can catch it. This will help him to track the toy and learn how to be successful in grabbing the toy on the toss. Getting him confident with catching on the toss will help him achieve that extra stretch in the air when the toy is just out of his reach, which can result in a farther jump! Are we ready to get back in the water?
There’s one last game you can practice without your dog. This will help your throws. Practice standing where your jump is and throwing your toy for your dog. Ideally, you’d put the toy right in front of your dog, at the height he jumps and the distance he travels. As he gains more confidence with the game, you’ll be able to increase your height and distance to improve your dog’s performance. Putting these games together, then introducing the same routines to the dock, will help with your dog’s overall performance in dog diving competition. These exercises are all great to continue practicing throughout your dog’s career in the sport. They’ll help with conditioning, muscle memory, and grasping the full concept of expectation and personal ability.