The more I learned about dog sports, the more I wanted to learn how to get started in dock diving. Of all the different activities to enjoy with my dogs, dock diving seemed the most fun for my dog Bandit. There’s nothing more that he loves than splashing around in the water, after all.
You might be wondering how to get started dock diving with your dog. Here are the 5 steps we recommend:
- Join a local club
- Learn the rules
- Train your dog
- Sign up for an event
- Participate and enjoy.
Although these steps look simple enough, joining a club to competing in your first event takes a lot of time.
This guide will help you breeze through the steps needed to start. With dedication to completing this process, your dog will launch into the water in style on the competitive platform. Let’s start!
Why You Should Trust Us
All the information I’m about to share with you comes from the dock diving world leaders. I’ve spent lots of time scouring the web for credible info about this sport, from those who live and breathe it.
I’ve learned from the pros at DockDogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, and Splash Dogs, just to name a few. My research has allowed me to rub elbows with truly passionate dog trainers, vets, and others interested in dog sports.
As I’ve raised dogs since childhood, I can easily spot a good thing when I see one and dock diving is it. Many breeds of dogs absolutely love participating in this activity in the practice pool and at all levels of competition. For that reason, I am passionate about sharing info to help everyone develop a love for dock diving. I hope to join the sport with Bandit soon as he adores retrieving and playing in the water.
What’s It All About?
Now, let’s get started with our guide on dock diving for beginners!
Step 1 – Find and Join a Local Dog Dock Diving Club
Although you can certainly train on your own, it is best to find and join a local dock diving club. They will help you learn all the ins and outs of the sport as you navigate through the steps. With that support, you can confidently move forward, knowing that this activity is right for both you and your dog.
The best way to find these groups is through kennel clubs, dog breed clubs, and dock diving organizations. Asking your trusted vet, trainer, and groomer can also point you in the right direction. I found out about dock diving through social media groups.
From there, I searched online and found DockDogs, which maintains a list of dock diving clubs located worldwide. You just punch in your zip code, and they will bring up the groups nearest to you. Since most clubs meet at least weekly, you will want to join the closest one to your home.
If you are not ready to join a club and want to venture out on your own, check out the facility list from North America Dock Dogs, or NADD. They offer a look at all the official practice docks for use in the United States and Canada. As you use those docks, you will run into other enthusiasts who can help you move along in your training.
Step 2 – Learn All the Competition Rules
While working solo or with a club, you may decide to compete in just one organization’s events — or many. Although they are mostly the same, each organization has its own set of rules to follow. You will want to train your dog with these rules in mind, so it is important to learn them early.
Depending on the organization, the rules may cover:
- Dog and handler age restrictions
- Judging criteria
- Sportsmanlike conduct
- Accepted equipment
- Breed restrictions.
If the event awards titles, as many do, there are additional eligibility rules to consider in order to qualify. The rules usually cover the title levels to show you how to move up the ranks and what to expect. Even though Bandit is dual registered, I would only need to review AKC rules since the ABCA does not give out dock diving titles.
You can learn most of the rules from your club members, though it is important to also read the rulebook.
For 2020, you can get rulebooks at:
Check for changes regularly, as organizations adjust their approach to keep events fair and competitive.
Step 3 – Train your Dog
Train Your Dog on Big Air Basics
As with all dog sports, training for dock diving starts with basic obedience.
Dogs need to know how to reliably sit, stay, and release on command before learning the other tasks required for a successful dock dive.
Since they must remain on leash while moving around the venue and in a crate between turns, they should also be comfortable with those tools.
Bandit, for example, is hardly ever on a leash since I have plenty of room for him to run. So, he would need a primer on that before entering events or chaos could ensue.
After basic obedience, you should train for Big Air (longest horizontal leap) events, where core steps needed for dog dock diving are introduced.
Then, you can add Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve to the mix. Plan to train at a quiet lake that allows dogs or go to a purpose-built training pool if you have one in your area.
Before hitting the water, you will need to make sure your dog has strong swimming skills or put them in a life jacket. Then, get a high-value toy that floats, like a training dummy, and see if they will retrieve it when tossed near them in the water.
After getting your dog used to the water, put these skills together and see if your dog jumps in after their toy. If so, you are well on your way to raising a dock diving extraordinaire.
Once your dog understands the game, you can start integrating impulse control into the mix, as it will be incredibly crucial during competitions. To do so, just put your dog in a sit-stay about six feet from the edge of the dock. Then, toss the toy in the water and provide your release cue.
After your dog brings back the toy, move them a little bit further back from the dock’s edge for their sit-stay.
Also, throw the toy further out into the water for progressively bigger jumps.
Your dog will be leaping into the water after their toy, getting more and more distance with each jump before you know it. Reward big for a good distance to encourage your dog to really hop off the dock with gusto.
However always end your training sessions on a positive note to keep the game fun for your dog. I always try to stop the training sessions before Bandit looks tired to keep him eager for the next day out. This prevents having to end as he poops out, giving me a chance to find a positive moment to stop on.
Review of the Basics
I found this treasure trove of videos from North American Diving Dogs that helps you train your dog in dog dock diving basics:
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Train for Height, Speed, or Both
If you are interested in Extreme Vertical or Speed Retrieve events, you will need to train for them. After learning Big Air basics, dogs tend to catch onto these other games quickly.
For Extreme Vertical, you need a safe way to suspend a double rope bumper, or training dummy, over the open water past the end of the dock. For that reason, using a dedicated training pool is ideal because they have an adjustable arm designed to hold the bumper with magnets.
Once you have the toy in place, you have to entice your dog to jump up and grab it.
After they understand the game, work on the sit-stay and release while moving the bumper up about two-inches with each successful grab.
When training Speed Retrieve, you will need to teach your dog to race to their toy at the end of the pool as quickly as possible.
For example start by suspending the bumper at the end of the pool and encouraging your dog to go get it.
Many people toss the toy up rather than out at first, then switch to the suspended bumper once their dog starts putting effort into jumping high. Then, you work on releasing them from a sit-stay right as the tree light turns green, much like drag racing.
When working on speed runs, the biggest challenge is getting your dog to take a big leap without the toy guiding their route and going fast to the pool’s end. Although you can try amping them up with a lot of excitement and rewarding big for the fastest times.
Bandit has a lazy, meandering way of retrieving, so I suspect Speed Retrieve will involve a lot of intense training. He likes to leisurely trot along, sometimes taking a premature victory lap, before getting the job done. But this wouldn’t work well for the dock diving discipline.
Step 4 – Sign Up for Your First Competition at the Local Level
After completing your training, you have to sign up for a competition to see how you do. Only once you pit your dog against other competitors can you fine-tune your training techniques.
However, you can find and register for events by checking the dedicated pages on each organization’s website, including:
You will need to pay the fee to register after making sure you’ve fulfilled all the requirements. For NADD, for example, you must pay for their annual membership to participate in their events. The membership fee is separate from event registration costs, as a result, making the first competition somewhat costly.
Before the day of the event, grab the current rule-book and brush up on all the rules for the competition. You can ask questions upon arrival, but the review will give you a good idea of what to expect. This is especially important if you haven’t reviewed any rules since you first began learning how to get started in dock diving.
You will also need to make sure you have all the right items on hand to help the day go smoothly.
- Snug-fitting collar with ID tags
- Waterproof four-foot leash
- Food and water bowls
- Poop bags
- Two towels
- Bumper toys
- Life jackets.
We’ve made a couple of recommendations on the best products to buy below.
|Waterproof dog collar||Dogline Biothane collar||Nylon webbing. Best color selection. For all sized dogs.|
|Kurgo Muck collar||Great selection of patterned collars including the American Flag. Dirt and odor free. Lifetime warranty.|
|Go Tags reflective dog collar||Personalized with pet name and phone number. Resistant to dirt and oils as well. Made from biothane.|
|Waterproof four-foot leash||Waudog||Heavy duty dog leash for medium and large dogs.|
|Food and water bowls||Ruffwear Quencher Cinch Top||Waterproof, collapsible, closeable dog bowl.|
|Dog poop biodegradable bags||Earth Rated Dog Poop Bags||Extra thick and strong. Guaranteed leak-proof.|
|Two towels||Soggy Doggy Super Absorbent towel||Shammy (chenille)-style. Quick-drying.|
|Bone Dry dog towel||Microfiber-style. Best value for money.|
|Snuggly Dog Easy Wear dog towel||Wearable-style. Fast drying microfiber.|
|Bumper toys||Chuckit! Amphibious Bumper Fetch and Float Toy||2 sizes and assorted colors. Made from nylon, rubber and foam.|
|Chuckit Amphibious Bumper Dog Toy||Unsinkable. Medium sized. Imported.|
|Katie’s Bumpers Original Dog Toy||Made in the USA. Made from recycled plastic. Dishwasher safe.|
|Life jackets||Ruffwear K9 Float Coat Life Jacket||Suitable for active water dogs/kayakers. Available in 5 colors and 6 sizes.|
|Outward Hound Granby Life Jacket||Budget, high quality option with 3 colors and 6 sizes available.|
If you are looking for a crate to travel with your dog to the dock diving events, we’ve got you covered with these articles you can read:
Remember to bring a change of clothes (or two!) for yourself just in case you have to hop in the pool — or fall in!
With this guide on how to get started in dock diving, you can try this fun sport with confidence you are on the right track. However, through your efforts, you can see if you and your dog even like the sport and want to continue with the competitions.
Perhaps Bandit and I will see you dock diving as soon as we get through all the training steps. However, it may take a while, as changing his showboating ways might prove just a wee bit challenging.
Even if you do not stick with dock diving, you are likely to develop an even stronger bond with your dog and meet many new friends along the way. But you can always just stick to taking your dog swimming.
Whether you and your dog take to dock diving, if you both love the outdoors, there are lots of activities you can enjoy with your dog. Start simple with some outdoor dog toys to keep your dog busy and move to hiking, running, frisbee, flyball, treibball, and other great outdoor activities you and your dog can bond over.