Dog Sports Breakdown: Dock Diving

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Katie Grzyb, DVM on May 12, 2019
Dog Sports Breakdown: Dock Diving

Reviewed for accuracy on May 1, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Think you might have a dock diving dog? If your pup loves to jump into a lake or pool for fun, then there’s a good chance you may be right, says Steve Mize, operations manager for North American Diving Dogs (NADD).

Combine your dog’s love of water with her strong drive to fetch a favorite toy, and your dog just may be an ideal candidate for this exciting dog sport.

Dock-Diving Basics

Dock diving is a fast-growing dog sport. The most common event, distance, is pretty simple: You toss a toy into the water, and your dog leaps off a raised platform into the water to retrieve it, swimming back with the toy.

The pup that jumps the farthest in his category (usually broken down by experience and size) comes home with the blue ribbon. Judges measure distance by recording where the base of the dog’s tail hits the water.

Air Retrieve is another dock-diving dog event. The goal is for a dog to knock off or grab a bumper (rubber dog toy) that’s hung 4 feet above the water. For every successful grab or knock-off, the bumper is moved 1 foot farther from the dock.

While water dogs like Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers are naturals, the truth is that any canine over 6 months old that isn’t afraid of the water can compete—from Yorkies and Bulldogs to mutts. However, if you do have a brachycephalic dog breed, you should speak with your veterinarian prior to competing.

The Benefits of Dock Diving

Sports for dogs are an excellent way to strengthen your bond with your pet through play while also giving her a good workout—and dock diving is no exception.

“But it’s so much more than going up to the dock, jumping from the dock and then going home,” says Mize. Traveling to the event with your dog, staying in a hotel, working with her—there are so many elements to it that deepen you and your pup’s level of companionship.

“Whether your dog jumps 2 inches or 10 feet, it doesn't matter. It's just about building that excitement, building that drive and starting that game of, ‘I'm going throw it and you go jump and get it,’” says Mize.

Dock-Diving Training Process

You can also take a class or work one-on-one with a trainer at a dock-diving facility, which can be found on NADD’s website.

Getting Your Pup Used to Water

“If a dog doesn’t have experience with water, I highly recommend starting with a private lesson to build confidence and a love for the water first,” says Katy Chadwick, the owner of the Brightside Training and Boarding in Dacula, Georgia, which offers dock-diving training as well as other dog sports classes.

This can take one session or several, Chadwick explains. “We always start by having an instructor in the pool with the dog, and oftentimes, the owner will come in as well.”

Sometimes a pup needs a dog life jacket for a few sessions to get comfy and confident in the water—and some dogs, like Bulldogs, always need a life vest, even when they’re competing.

Teaching Your Dog to Jump

Once your dog is swimming well and can fetch a toy in the water, a trainer can teach him the skills needed to take off, jump and track the toy.

“One of the biggest components is teaching the owner how to correctly time their throw and how to place the toy in order to bring out the best possible jumps in their dog,” says Chadwick.

To get the most out of training sessions, Chadwick recommends keeping them to 20 minutes tops (with breaks) and no more than twice a week.

The goal is to keep it fun for you and your dog, so stop the session on a good note and before your dog is tired. And, as with any type of training, patience and encouragement go a long way, she adds.

If your dog burns out or stops having fun, take a break for a while, and then try again if your dog is willing.

Dock-Diving Equipment

You don’t need specialized equipment to start your pup on dock diving, especially if he’s already shown an aptitude for it. You’ll need a dog that is fond of water, a dock, a body of water, towels for dogs, a waterproof dog collar and enticing dog fetch toys that float.

Here are some dog toys to try:

Tips for Dock-Diving Toys

Avoid toys that force your dog to open his mouth too wide and swallow too much water as he swims back, Mize notes.

To get your pup excited about whichever toy you choose, Mize recommends saving them for dock-diving events only. That’s what he does with his three dock-diving dogs.

“When they see those toys, they're super excited. They know, ‘Oh, we're going jumping today.’ It kind of sets their mind,” he says. (One of his dogs loves grabbing the flappy strings of the Kong Wet Wubba dog toy.)


Curious to see if your pooch can become a dock-diving water dog? NADD events frequently have tryouts where you and your dog have a couple of turns at the dock with a coach.

The coach will get your dog going down the ramp and jumping into the water, and you’ll be able to tell if your dog (and you) will be into it.

Just make sure to always give your pup’s ears a good cleaning after any water activities in order to avoid ear infections.

By: Linda Rodgers

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