Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teaching your dog to dock dive (Part 1)

So, you’ve decided you want to try dock diving. Now what do you do? Just how do you teach your dog to dock dive? Can your dog dock dive like Spud and me?

To answer these questions, I’m again turning this post over to my mom. She did pretty good with that post last week. Take it away, again, Mom!

Thanks, again, Sally.

First, let’s clarify one thing. For some reason, some people think they can take their dog up on the dock for their first time ever, and, and because their dog enjoys water and loves retrieving, the dog is going to jump like the seasoned dogs like Sally and Spud. Their thinking goes something like this: "My dog loves water, swims all the time and loves to retrieve. He's can easily do this." And the truth is, the dog probably will make a good dock diver.

But first, the dog has to learn that skill. Many folk, unfortunately, do not see dock diving as a learning experience.

You wouldn't take your dog to try agility and just put them out with the hurdles and ramps and say "Jump over the hurdle," or "Go up the ramp." The dog would just stand there, of course.

Well, that's exactly what happens on the dock. Someone who is certain their dog will be a great dock diver takes their dog up on the dock, throws the toy out there, and says, "Get it, boy." The dog runs to the end of the dock and stops with no earthly idea what he's supposed to do. The toy is left floating untouched out in the pool or lake and the handler is left frustrated.

Let me add here that yes, occasionally, a dog readily jumps the very first time like he’s done it all his life. Sally was like that. The first time she tried dock diving, she flew off the dock like she had been doing it all her life. But those scenarios are rare.

Just as you have to teach a dog other sports such as agility, you need to teach your dog to dock dive. For some dogs, the learning curve is small, so the teaching process only takes one day. For other dogs, the learning curve is a little greater, so the teaching process might take days or even weeks, maybe months.

One more word of advice before the "How To" steps. It is very important that your dog have a good recall before you go to practices. Most of the practices are at a pond or lake or river, so when your dog exits, he need to know to come immediately to you. If your dog runs off with the toy expecting you to play a game of chase, that could be not only an inconvenience for those waiting for their turn on the dock, but also dangerous for your dog and others. At an event, it's not as important because there is only one exit ramp, and you will be waiting for him at the top of that ramp. But most practices are more wide open spaces.

Now, the following tips should help most people get their dog to jump for the first time.

The First Jump

Step #1

Get your dog used to going in the water to retrieve objects, not from the dock, but just from the edge of the pool or lake. In other words, get your dog comfortable and enjoying retrieving in water.

Step #2
After your dog is comfortable retrieving objects in water, take your dog up to the very edge of the dock. Do NOT put your dog at the far end of the dock and throw an object like you see the seasoned teams doing. Start up at the edge of the dock. Drop the toy right under your dog's nose. Do not throw the toy out into the pool; just drop it right under the dog's nose and encourage him to retrieve/get it/fetch, whatever term you use. If your dog balks, get down with him. Point out the toy; splash water on it; act as crazy and excited as you can to get him revved up and wanting that toy. Here are some photos of some people doing just that as they try to get their dogs off the dock.






And of course, here’s me with Hoppy!



This part of the process might take just a few minutes, a day or two, weeks, or occasionally, months. It all depends on the dog. But eventually, your dog will go off that dock!

Even if your dog has jumped off a dock at the lake, jumping into a pool (like a competition pool) is a totally different experience. The water is clear, and often the dog cannot see the water. For all they know, they are jumping onto a big blue thing.

Here are a few photos of dogs and their first jumps (if you want to call them jumps). Often, it’s more like sliding off into the water!





Maybe not the best form in the world, but when your dog makes that first splash, it will seem like an Olympic moment to you!

Here’s a video of a dog from the Buckeye DockDog club going in for his very first time. This is quite typical…and really cute!

Step #3

After your dog does make that first jump, it’s up to you to praise, praise, praise your dog! Act like he’s just won some Grand Championship! Then get him right back up on the dock and do the exact same thing. But still, do not throw the toy way out into the water expecting him to jump for it. At this point, your dog might only be jumping 1-2 feet, if that far. That’s fine! You goal at this stage should be to let you dog become familiar with just going from the dock into the water. Distance is not a factor…yet.

Step #4

Once your dog is comfortable going from the dock into the water, start throwing the toy a little farther out there…not 20 feet yet, but maybe 7-8 feet. The dog should still be jumping from the end of the dock, but now the dog should be getting a little distance.

Step #5

As your dog becomes more comfortable jumping from the end of the dock, begin moving your dog farther back on the dock to start the jump. Maybe start the dog 6 feet back, then 10 feet back, etc. Make sure the dog is successful before moving him back any farther. Soon, you will be starting your dog all the way back on the dock!

If your dog runs down the dock, but hesitates at the end before jumping, that’s okay. It might take a while for him to gain the confidence to jump without hesitating and thinking about it first. Once that confidence factor is okay, the hesitation at the end of the dock will disappear.

Now, your dog is a dock diving dog for sure. How long will it take for your dog to reach this stage? Who knows? Some dogs become a dock diver in just one day, while other might take weeks or months. But it will happen!

Your next step is to improve on your dog’s distance and form. I’m sure Sally will be posting some tips for that endeavor in one of next week’s posts.

***NOTE*** Steps 3-5 are for the newbies whose dog jumps for the first time like the dogs in these photos…the ones who very hesitantly make that first splunge. If, the first time on the dock, your dog readily jumps out into the water, you can skip steps 3-5. Your dog is ready for Sally’s Part 2 post coming next week.

Let me say “Thank You” to Sally for allowing me to be a guest writer, again, in her blog. It’s always such an honor to partner up with such a great literary talent.

See you on the dock,

Nancy (the Trainer of Team 3 Dawg Flite)

Proud member of Dixie Dock Dogs

Thanks to the following people for contributing photos or video for this post: Whitney (Chicagoland DockDogs Club), April (Rocky Mountain DockDogs Club), Cindy (Mokan DockDogs Club), Ron (Puget Sound DockDogs Club), Christy (Puget Sound DockDogs Club), Sue (Club 3D), Kris (Club 3D)


barb said...

Sally, your mom did quite a nice job with this post. I'm going to bookmark it so when I am able to give Casey a try at dock diving, I'll have a handy reference. The photos are really funny. I can just see Casey falling off the dock like that.

Martha Basset said...

What a lot of information there is about learning to dock dive!
Well done to your mom for sharing all that information - she knows a lot about the subject.
Is there any way we could learn to dock dive without getting our paws wet?
Martha & Bailey xx

Mason Dixie said...

I love the video. My Aunt Mabel tried to jump once but hit her bum on the dock and never again. I love to jump though. =)

Life With Dogs said...

This is a great series. I'm sure there are a number of aspiring participants who would take away much from this post.

Sola is a born natural. I can't stop her from jumping!

Chester's Mom said...

Sally, your Mom really knows what she is talking 'bout! I found out first hand all about that big jump and how scary it is. We only wish we had someplace where we could practice and work up to the big league like you. Summer's comin' and I have a feeling we're gonna be driving around like you guys did lookin' for a new practice spot last year. Mom would like me to add her 2 cents here. She said for first time 2 leggers to use caution when coaxing on the end of the dock. The "flat-belly" like some of the pictures is a REALLY good idea. I almost took Mom into the pool with me when I tried to go in between her legs. Maybe some 2 leggers are into that, but she wasn't so fond of the idea. So thanks for all the great info on these posts. (She really is a natural at this, Sally. Just like you being a natural born athlete!)Woofs and diving slobbers!

PTdogger said...

hey sally, this is some good stuff. i hear theres some dock diving coming up hear near where i live. i'm thinking of taking my dog and giving it a shot he's a lab so he would love it. i'll use your moms tips.

Chester's Mom said...

Pee. Ess. I can't wait to try that nose in the air condition vent. Sounds simply wonderful. Thanks1

littleduckyqueen said...

Very nice.... Zisa still has not made it past step 1.. We have been apart of GWDD since feb '09. We are still trying and she is still excited when we get to the jump sites... she will jump when she's ready but until then we'll be the cheerleaders and canine cancer walkers :)

G said...

My dog Chester is 2 and just got his first swim session. My dad and I were so excited. I think that now I might want to try with him. I live in New Jersey, does anyone know where I could find a lake with a dock? Thanks :)

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Rick said...

I just came across this post. Andrew is only 5 1/2 months, but we'll try diving when he gets a little older. We have an inground pool so he'll do that this summer. At what age do you think he could try dock diving? I'm thinking his body should be fully developed.

Roxann said...

Thanks for the info! I jut adopted a 10 month old pup chesapeake/standard poodle who will end up huge. He loves to swim and retrieve. I did just as you said and it worked! He did jump off the dock first time, nearly straight down:) More work to do, but oh so fun

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Ragtimelil said...

Thanks so much for the instruction. My 3-yr-old bc just learned to swim this summer and now is taking flying leaps into the water - but not from the dock. I wasn't sure how to get his confidence up so he would do that. This post is just what I needed!

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