What It Takes to be a Dock Diving Dog

If you enjoyed last month's post about stepping up your dog mom game and checking off items on the Doggy Bucket List, you probably saw that one of the activities listed was teaching your dog to dock dive!  To help you achieve this goal, I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview Erica, who successfully trained her labs, Ash and Alder, to dock dive!  With her insights, you can get a better idea of how to start, avoid disasters, and motivate your dog to win a few ribbons, just like Ash and Alder! 

Make sure you give them a follow on Instagram to see their adventures! @ashandalder_thelabs

Note: These information are only based on personal experiences.  The process, fees, and training techniques may vary based on the training facility that you enroll in. 

🐾 Why did you decide to train your dogs to dock dive?
Erica: I had been wanting to give it a try with Ash for quite awhile because he loves to swim!  Last winter, I took Ash to a pet expo in downtown Columbus, OH. We paid ten bucks for a “try it” round, which is 6 minutes of pool time.  While waiting in line for the previous person to come out of the pool, Ash was doing his high pitched whine that he always does when he is excited about something.  He was also shaking uncontrollably because he was just so excited that he couldn’t contain himself.  That is when I knew that I found something that he absolutely loved!
Ash wearing his medals proudly! 

🐾 What kind of toy do you use to throw?
Erica: I use a specially made toy that is a cylindrical foam bumper surrounded by a heavy duty cloth cover with Ash and Alder's names embroidered.  It is made by Marie Buckingham from the Gated Dock training facility in Ohio.  I like it because it is not too light or too heavy which makes it easier to get an accurate throw.
Look at the height on that jump!  

🐾 Any strategies on how you get them really excited about the toy and go after it?
Erica:  Start out by playing fetch with their favorite toy at a really short distance on leash and toss the toy a couple feet.  Praise the them when they go after it and if they don’t, you could try luring with a treat or even smear some peanut butter on the toy.  Then, if they don't want to come back with the toy, offer them a treat or do a light tug on the leash.  Praise and reward with a treat when they return.  After they get the hang of short distances, gradually toss the toy farther.  Do these exercises in a short time frame so that your dog does not get bored and remains excited and interested in the toy.
Ash's little brother, Alder, shows off his puppy diving skills! 

🐾 What kind of category do you compete in? Big Air, Speed Retrieve, or Extreme Vertical?
Erica: Big air, speed retrieve and extreme vertical are terms used by the DockDogs organization.  Ash has done big air and extreme vertical, a category in which he qualified for the world competition!  Next year I would like him to compete as an Iron Dog which is sort of like a triatholon where the dogs compete in all three of those events and are scored separately against other dogs who also compete in all three.
North America Diving Dogs (NADD) uses the term “Splash," which is the same as “big air."   In this category, your dog jumps as far as they can after the toy without having to catch it and the distance is recorded.  They also do air retrieve where the toy is suspended in the air 2 feet above the dock.  The location of the toy is placed at wherever you think your dog can knock it off or grab it.  If it is a successful jump then the toy is moved out another foot.
Ultimate air dogs is the last organization in which we have competed. They offer splash, fetch it, catch and chase it.
Keep your eyes on the prize!

🐾 Do you prefer the "chase" or "place and send" technique?
Erica: I prefer the chase method, however it is the more complicated of the two.  Your dog has to be good at the "stay" command because they have to stay put while you walk up to the edge of the dock.  Once you get to the edge you release your dog and throw it as they are running toward you.  It sounds easy, but the timing and force of the throw can be quite difficult to master.  I am still working on it.
With the place and send technique, you walk up to the edge of the dock and throw in the toy while holding your dog.  Your dog marks the toy, then you walk back to where you want them to begin their running start.  I started out with place and send and moved up to chase once ash learned to keep his eye on the toy.  I will start Alder with place and send next year. 
Excitement Level: 10 

🐾 Do you have any care routine after a day of dock diving? 
Erica: After jumping they get dried off with a chamois that I can squeeze all of the water out of and reuse.  It is much better than having a thousand wet towels hanging to dry.  I make sure to get in their ears with a towel so they get nice and dry.  My labs, especially Alder are quite prone to ear infections. 

🐾 Is there a cost for these events?
Erica: I usually spend $120-$200 over a Saturday and Sunday event just for Ash.  The events range from $20-$30 per competition jump.  Jumps are held about every two hours usually starting at 9 am and ending between 4-6.  Most of the events have a rule stating that your dog has to jump in 3 splashes before they can be allowed to participate in the final round. 
Ash looking dignified and proud! 

🐾 What do you have to do to qualify?
Erica: Other than fees, the only qualification is that your dog has to be up to date on vaccines and in good health.

🐾 What is the one thing you love most about this activity and the one thing you dread? 
Erica: It makes me so happy to see my dogs are having the time of their lives.  But I dread packing and unpacking for trips!  There is so much stuff to bring!  I look forward to possibly taking the camper to some events next year.
Chase dreams and sunsets... and sometimes squirrels. 

🐾 What is the biggest disaster you've had in this journey?

The first time I took both Ash and Alder to Splash Your Pup, an indoor swimming facility for dogs in Ohio, it was a disaster.  Alder threw up in the car because his tummy wasn’t used to long car rides.  We got there and they were both going crazy and it was difficult to keep them under control together.  Alder was really nervous about the pool.  He had never been in clear water like that before. We tried to get them to potty before they got in, however the excitement of the situation got their bowels moving and both the boys decided to take a number two directly in the pool.  Four hours of driving for barely 15 minutes of fun.  Needless to say we have not been back.  I have since learned to get the dogs excited beforehand so that they poop before going in the pool.  I am also better at gauging their body language so I know when they need to go.