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The Ultimate Guide to Dock Diving: Tips and Techniques for Success

Haley photo


May 29, 2023

Dog Enrichment

The Ultimate Guide to Dock Diving: Tips and Techniques for Success thumbnail

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Have you been hearing the buzz about dock diving lately? This dog sport is becoming increasingly popular among everyday pet owners who want to do more fun activities with their dogs.

We’ve put together everything you need to know to get started — and be successful — at dock jumping competitions with your dog!

What is dock diving? How exactly does this dog sport work?

Dock jumping, also called dock dogs, is a popular dog sport that involves dogs leaping from a dock into a pool or other body of water in pursuit of a toy. It is a high-energy sport that tests a dog's jumping ability, strength, and retrieving skills.

What dock jumping competitions usually look like

Dock dive events are held in a fun and competitive atmosphere, with dogs of all breeds and sizes participating. There are a couple different variations depending on who is organizing the event.

Dock diving pool setup

Dock dive events take place near a body of water, typically a pool or a large natural water source. A level dock is constructed, providing a platform from which the dogs jump into the water. The dock is usually elevated to create a clear jumping path for the dogs.

Dock distance jump event

In the dock distance jump discipline, dogs compete to see how far they can jump from the dock into the water. The handler throws a toy or an object, such as a floating bumper, for the dog to chase and retrieve. The jump distance is measured from the end of the dock to where the base of the dog's tail enters the water.

Height jump or air retrieve event

In the height jump discipline, dogs aim to achieve the greatest vertical height while leaping from the dock. A specialized vertical "wave" or "air retrieve" apparatus is set up over the pool, and the toy is suspended at various heights. The dog must jump to grab the toy at its highest point, and the height is measured based on the highest point reached by the dog's paws.

Speed retrieve event

Speed retrieve is a variation of dock diving where dogs compete to retrieve a toy from the end of the pool in the shortest amount of time. The dog starts at the end of the dock and races into the water to grab the toy and return it to the handler as quickly as possible.

A labrador jumps off of a dock into a lake

Is dock diving the right dog sport for your dog?

Dock diving is open to just about any dog whether they're a mixed breed or purebred — but that doesn't mean every pet is going to enjoy it. And that’s okay! There’s a huge range of dog sports (and other noncompetitive activities) out there to pursue with your canine companion. No one type of exercise is inherently better than all the others.

That said, many people who try out dock diving end up loving it, especially if their dogs are natural water lovers. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not dock diving is right for you and your pup!

Dock diving dogs should be in good physical health

Like many dog sports, dock diving competitions are for dogs in good physical health. If your pet suffers from any gait, muscle, or joint issues, you should check with your veterinarian before pursuing a new activity.

You should also keep age restrictions in mind and avoid over exercising your puppy until their joints are well developed.

Dock diving dogs are a wide range of breeds

Some dog sports really favor working dogs because they require a combination of athletic ability, focus, and determination in the face of distractions. Dock diving asks for those things too — it’s still a challenging sport! — but the environment tends to be more casual and lends itself well to pets who are simply looking for a good time.

Dock diving might involve being near other dogs

Dock diving is one of many dog sports that’s compatible with a range of canine personalities, including pets who struggle with reactivity or fear issues around other dogs. While competitions usually do have many other pets and people present — and depending on the exact venue, things can get loud from time to time — each dog runs and jumps off of the dock by themselves. It’s possible to separate your companion from others if you need to.

If you’re interested in dock diving but aren’t sure your dog can handle performing around a crowd yet, get in touch with a professional dog trainer! They’ll be able to help you develop a training plan and set realistic goals.

We also have several articles on dog reactivity on the Sniffspot blog.

Benefits of dock diving

  • Dock diving is an excellent way for high strung, water loving dogs to productively channel their mental and physical energy.
  • Because dock diving is open to dogs of any breed, it’s a welcoming sport to a huge range of dog owners. This makes it the perfect environment to meet fellow dog lovers, form friendships, and ultimately feel part of a community. (This can be especially important in post-pandemic times, when many dogs and humans were unable to get enough socialization to keep them mentally healthy.)
  • Speaking of socialization: Because of the diversity of competitors, dock diving is an opportunity to give your dog safe, fun exposure to other dogs and people. While it’s generally not recommended for incredibly fearful dogs (you’ll want to do some foundational confidence building first) dog sports like dock diving can help you take your dog’s self esteem to the next level.
  • Dock diving is fun! While there are competitions, and some participants get pretty serious, many dog handlers pursue the sport simply for the joy of seeing their canine companion fly through the air and happily swim.

Risks of dock diving

  • Dogs leaping from the dock into the water may land awkwardly or collide with the dock, leading to injuries such as sprains, strains, or even fractures. High-impact landings can put stress on a dog's joints and musculoskeletal system — especially if they repeatedly jump from significant heights or at incorrect angles. While this is a small risk with proper training and competition setup, it’s important to be aware of it.
  • Dogs with pre-existing health conditions, joint problems, or certain breeds prone to specific health issues should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine if dock diving is suitable for them. Some dogs may have limitations or increased risks due to their health status.
A dog swims through a pool while carrying a red bumper toy

How to get your dog started dock diving

Think dock diving may be a good fit for your dog? Read on!

Attend a dock diving event in person first if possible

The best way to get started is to attend a dock diving event in your area. This lets you see for yourself what your canine is expected to do and the format of competitions.

To locate your local dock diving community, there are a few things you can try: 

  • Search Facebook for dock diving facilities nearby
  • Research dock diving online by searching for phrases like “dock diving near me” and “dock diving dog training near me”
  • Ask a local trainer or pet care professional if they have any information or experience with dock diving

Like any dog sporting event, finding a community of dog guardians immersed in the sport can provide a great resource for answering any questions you may have, learning about future competitions, and finding out what it takes to train a dock diving dog.

Dock diving organizations

Several organizations host dock diving events and competitions around the world. Some of the prominent organizations dedicated to dock diving include:

  • North America Diving Dogs (NADD): NADD is one of the largest dock diving organizations in North America. They offer a competitive platform for dogs of all breeds and sizes. NADD events can be found in various locations throughout the United States and Canada.
  • Ultimate Air Dogs (UAD): UAD is another popular organization that hosts dock diving events across North America. They provide opportunities for dogs to compete in distance jumps, as well as other dock diving disciplines.
  • DockDogs: DockDogs is a well-known international organization that organizes dock diving competitions in North America, Europe, and Australia. They offer various competitive divisions, including distance jumping, vertical jumps, and speed retrieve.
  • Splash Dogs: Splash Dogs is a dock diving organization that primarily operates in the United States. They host events and competitions where dogs compete in distance jumps, and they also offer other dock diving activities.

Begin foundational dock diving training with your dog

If you can’t find a dock diving community near you, or if you simply want to see if your dog would even enjoy participating in such an activity, there are some things you can do at home to assess your dog's interest and current skill level.

Ask your dog to chase a toy you throw

In dock diving, dogs leap off of the dock in pursuit of a toy. Experiment with whether or not your pup enjoys chasing objects you throw! Bumpers are traditionally used in dock diving events.

You can read more about teaching your dog to fetch in this article.

Practice swimming

Dock dogs obviously need to be comfortable in the water. If your dog is a natural swimmer, that’s great! You can move on to having them jump into the water from raised surfaces. If they’re hesitant about getting their fur wet, though? You’ll want to start slowly acclimating them to calm bodies of water to see if swim sessions become something they enjoy.

A relatively private outdoor space — like a Sniffspot location near you — is a great option for teaching your dog to chase a toy or explore water features in preparation for dock diving.

Work on other basic skills like focus, recall, and impulse control

You can read more about teaching your dog a basic cue in this article and learn about recall training in this one. These are good skills to build if you want to compete in any dog sport with your dog.

Practice settling in busy environments

While dog sports generally make us think of fast-paced action, resting is also a huge part of any competition. You should teach your dog to become comfortable at rest in a crate so that they won’t be disruptive or overly excited while other teams are competing during their downtime. This makes sure you’re respectful of the sport environment and sets your dog up for success by ensuring they’re well-rested for their own jumps!

Other ways to exercise your dog besides dock diving

If dock diving doesn’t sound like your thing — or even if it is and you’re just looking for some other fun activities, too — we’ve put together several guides on keeping our dogs in top physical and mental shape. Take a look below!

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Olivia Petersen, CCS, SAPro, FDM
Owner - Sound Connection Dog Training
WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management
Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification

Haley photo


May 29, 2023

Dog Enrichment

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