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Training the Dock-Diving Dog

By: Crystal McClaren, Renowned Dock-Diving Trainer
Learn more about Crystal and her four-year-old Treeing Walker Coonhound/Doberman mix, Bo

Dock Diving Dogs ... a term most folks in the canine world around the country are becoming more and more familiar with. These remarkable dogs are becoming known as some of the most athletic dogs in the canine sporting community. While many canine competitions are focused solely on pure bred breeds, some of the most successful diving dogs are mixed breeds, both large and small and often times they are rescues from local shelters. While they may have little in common by way of breed, size and shape, one thing is certain, all dock diving dogs know how to have fun in the water.

One of the key traits of the successful diving dog is known as toy drive, an instinctual drive in the dog to chase after a toy, maybe a ball, a bumper or Frisbee.  Once a dog is engaged with a particular toy, slowly introduce him or her to the water with short sessions, typically 15 minutes or less. As common sense dictates, if your dog ever feels panicked in the water, immediately help him out and slowly reintroduce him to the water. Building confidence and drive in your dog is very important during your first introduction to water. The first water sessions with your dog can take place in a lake, a pond, the ocean or a backyard pool. Always be sure there is an easy escape route back to dry land or the dock. When the dog confidently enters the water to chase and return the toy, it is time to move the game to the dock and pool. . If you do not have a Dock Diving Facility in your area you can use a pool or any slightly elevated surface that has a safe surface with a minimum water depth of 4 feet.

Introducing your dog to the dock is very important to the success you will have as a dock diving team.. All positive training, never force or pressure your dog. Once again it’s all a game so have fun with your dog. The dock at a dock diving facility is 40 feet long. Start slowly by playing on the dock, running back and forth and then gently toss the toy in to the pool while the dog is engaged, not so far that he or she  loses sight of the toy, about 8 feet into the center of the pool is a good start. Sometimes it may be helpful to have another person in the water to coach the dog and help her find her way back to the exit ramp once they have made the plunge. If initially your dog is hesitant to make his first jump, it may be helpful to have another experienced jumping dog present to lead by example. It is very important to never push or toss your dog into the water; this will almost certainly break their confidence in both you and getting in the water. Once your dog has developed the self confidence and is jumping freely into the water the next step is to fine tune the dock diving maniac you have just created.

Your dog will develop a natural drive for dock diving, and it is very important that you master his or her dock obedience. In order for you to succeed as a dock diving team both you and your dog must have respect for one other on the dock.  When watching the best dock diving teams perform, you will see that the trainer and dog have a clear line of communication which can only come from mutual respect. You and your dog will only reach peak performance when you master your obedience on the dock.  The first communication to learn is a solid sit stay. Once the dog builds drive and becomes confident diving this becomes a difficult task. Choose an easy release word like OK or GO to release your dog from the stay command. I would not recommend using the dog’s name as your release word; it will be confusing for your dog when the announcer at an event is introducing you and your dog to the audience. It is important to practice off leash control on the dock. During competition, it is critical that your dog only release on your command word.

 When training your dog to sit stay on the dock prior to jumping, it is always a good idea to teach them to back up to a position while you are at a distance. Once the dog develops their drive they will scooch their sit stay in an attempt to get closer to you and to the pool. Teaching  your dog to backup will allow you to command them from your position at the opposite end of the dock to backup to the original stay mark. Now your dog is jumping with no hesitation and has a perfect sit stay. There are many different training techniques to enhance your throw and jumping distance. We will discuss this in a separate article. 

Conditioning the dock diving dog is simple and fun and one of the most important parts of being a successful diving team. Building the right muscle groups and muscle memory is very important to a successful diving dog. When it comes to developing the right muscles, think of Michael Phelps not Arnold Swarzenegger. Build a lean muscle slightly bigger in the rear by running, swimming, treadmill, hurdles, Frisbee, bike riding or any activity that is fast paced and forward moving. In other words you don’t want to have your dog pulling weights around at the beach for three hours.  While you are building lean muscle you are also building quick action muscle memory. Other ways to build this quick action forward moving muscle memory is to do fast relays. Take a toy and throw it 40-50 feet and then send your dog running as fast as he or she can to retrieve the toy. You want your dog to feel immediate urgency to retrieve the toy you throw as quickly as possible.  Having a conditioned dog will also aid in preventing injuries. One of the best training activities is the treadmill at a slight elevation. The treadmill builds great lean muscle all around while also developing balance and coordination.  Cardio and endurance training  play a major role in conditioning the diving dog.  Competitive events sometimes run 3-4 days long and you  want this to be the time when your dog hits its peak performance. Train aggressively 3-5 days a week while giving your dog at least 1-2 days a week to recover and rest. Your work outs should be more strenuous than a competition. This ensures that your dog will not be exhausted during competition.. The time spent training your dog on the dock is minimal compared to other training activities. I recommend 2-4 times per month of several hours dock diving as part of your training routine. Now that you have created a mean lean performance machine its essential to fuel their body with the proper nutrients. A food formulated for an everyday house dog is not adequate for your athlete. I recommend a high grade performance dog food, like Dr. Tim’s Momentum.

Follow these steps and you will have a great start at the amazing sport of Dock Diving.

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