Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Wonderful World of Dock Diving
Fill a 40-foot pool with 30,000 gallons of water. Assemble a crowd of dog enthusiasts. Then unleash a pack of pups who live to soar and make a splash.
Welcome to the fast-growing canine sport of dock diving.
Depending on the organization, it answers to the following names: DockDogs, Splash Dogs and Ultimate Air Dogs, which was started by former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox. Regardless of what it's called, the sport features canine athletes of all ages, sizes and breeds who jump for distance or height from a dock into a deep pool.
Splash Dogs founder Tony Reed first witnessed the sport in 2002. On a lark, he entered Sierra, his black Labrador Retriever, into an event. Sierra immediately took a liking to dock diving and now owns a personal best distance leap of 20 feet.
Reed is most impressed that his ageless athlete surpassed 15 feet — after celebrating her ninth birthday. “I guess you could call her the Betty White of Splash Dogs,” he says. “But she is a great example of how this is a sport for dogs of any age who love to retrieve, love water and have a toy drive.”
DockDogs CEO Grant Reeves has already devoted his career to orchestrating live events, but after adopting a pair of Golden Retriever puppies named Caesar and Clancy, and seeing how much joy the duo exhibited in dock diving, he's all about making the canine sport the best — and biggest — it can be.
“The appeal is global,” Reeves says. “We host events in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, and more countries are clamoring to come onboard. Everywhere there is a competition, the crowd is always fired up. We just have one rule: Never take the fun out of this by making it a job for your dog.”
What Exactly Is Dock Diving?
Dock diving is a three-in-one sport, composed of Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve events.
Big Air is the original dock competition. The rules are simple: You have 90 seconds to get your dog to sprint down the dock and go airborne, just like an Olympic long jumper. Top honors are bestowed upon the canine with the best vertical jump. The flight distance is measured based on where his back legs splash in the pool, so smart dogs who learn to tuck in their hind legs before landing are at an advantage.
Speed Retrieve is best suited for dogs who love to swim powerfully and quickly. A pup must paddle the length of the pool to retrieve a mounted object at the other end. The canine who does this fastest is champ.
Extreme Vertical attracts dogs who delight in soaring high. For this competition, a competitor sprints down 20 feet of dock before leaping skyward to grab onto a device called a bumper that's mounted to a circus acrobat-like swing bar. In each round, the bumper is raised by two inches until there’s a clear winner.
Sports enthusiasts constantly clamor for ultimate champions. That’s why the NFL has the Super Bowl and baseball has the World Series. In dock diving, the competitor with the highest combined score in Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve is crowned Iron Dog.
How Can I Get My Dog Involved?
If you're blessed with a water-loving dog, dock diving may be a great sport for him. Start by attending an event, so you can talk to the organizers and other dog owners. You don’t need to invest a lot of money in expensive gear, and there are divisions based on a dog’s level of experience and size.
There are two basic ways to get a dog from the dock to the pool: The first, Place and Send, is best suited for speedy dogs. A handler takes the competitor to the end of the dock and then brings him back to the starting point for a temporary stay, before giving the canine a green light to jump as he sends a toy across the pool.
The second technique, Chase, caters to canines who can maintain a stay at the starting point of the dock. The handler then heads to the end of the dock, releases the dog and times his throw so that the object is directly in front of the dog's nose all the way into the water. The goal is to motivate the pup to literally chase the object into the water.
Where Can I Catch a Dock Diving Competition?
Dock jumping made its debut in 1997 at an Incredible Dog Challenge event sponsored by Purina.
Since then, more and more communities have hosted dock diving competitions.
By the end of this year, DockDogs, the largest of the three organizations, expects to host more than 300 sanctioned events in more than 150 cities. And for those who just can’t get enough of the canine sport, there's also an app for that — the DockDogs Spectator App.
“This is a fun sport that gives dogs the chance to swim, run, jump and get their adrenaline pumping,” Reeves says. “I predict it will become the number one canine sport in the world because it is such a crowd pleaser.”
Related Stories on Vetstreet
Vetstreet attended the finals of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge where dock jumping competitions got their start. If you are interested in the amazing things canine athletes can do, you should definitely check out our coverage of the event. Click on the links below.