A hush falls over the crowd as the leader paces at the edge of the swimming pool or lake. Seconds later, the competitor is airborne, the crowd erupts in applause and the whirl of freeze-frame cameras attest that every move is documented.
Is it an Olympic diving event? No. But it is one of the fastest growing canine sports in the United States: dock diving.
What is dock diving?
For many dogs, dock diving combines two favorite pastimes: swimming and chasing toys. To participate, each dog races down a dock, launches into the air in pursuit of a high-value toy or toy “bumper,” then splashes into a pool or other body of water.
It doesn’t matter if the dog actually catches the toy. What matters is the distance it leaps, measured from the end of the dock to where the base of the dog’s tail (where the tail attaches to the body) enters the water, according to North America Diving Dogs (NADD), one of several dock diving organizations in the United States.
Currently, a Whippet named Slingshot holds the top NADD ranking for going the distance — an average of 34 feet per jump.
Another national dock diving organization by the name of Dock Dogs takes the competition a step further. In addition to “Big Air,” a competition similar to the long jump exercise described above, they also promote “Extreme Vertical,” an event that measures how high a dog can leap off the dock to capture a toy dangling above the water.
“Speed Retrieve,” a third event, emphasizes hustle over distance, encouraging dogs to race against the clock to retrieve a bumper toy from the end of the pool. Finally, the Iron Dog Challenge rolls all three disciplines into a single event for those overachiever dogs.
What breeds make good dock divers?
Although most dock diving competitions are open to any breed, size or age of dog, certain water-loving retrieving breeds, such as Labrador or Chesapeake Bay retrievers, are naturals. Other breeds, such as Belgian Malinois, have earned top titles as well.
As long as your dog has strong swimming and obedience skills and is generally athletic, he or she will likely be the first in the pool in no time at all.
That said, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog doesn’t have any physical conditions that might prevent it from joining in the fun. For example, brachycephalic, or flat-nosed, breeds such as pugs and bulldogs can be swimming-challenged and may be better as poolside cheerleaders.
How to get started
Whether you want to explore dock diving simply as a fun activity for you and your pooch or you’re interested in serious competition, chances are, you can find a training facility near you. There, experienced trainers can coach you and your dog from the basics to more advanced skills.
As an alternative, if you live near a lake or own a pool, you can start getting your dog comfortable with jumping into the water. The “launching” surface should be non-slip to provide safe footing and traction and be no more than three feet above the water surface. The water should be at least 4 feet deep, and make sure there aren’t any hidden hazards or strong currents your dog may not be able to overcome. If your dog isn’t a strong swimmer yet, consider a life vest.
Start by tossing the toy in into the water from the edge of the dock, then gradually move back and throw the toy farther. Reward your dog with plenty of praise each time he or she successfully leaps into the water.
What are you waiting for? It’s the perfect time of the year to go jump in a lake.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.