Thursday, January 3, 2013

Casey and Dock Diving

Dock Diving is a somewhat new and extremely fun sport for dogs and their handlers. Basically what it entails is a dog running down a 40 ft dock, jumping off of that dock and into a pool or pond. The handler’s job is to motivate that dog enough to get them to jump as high or as far as they possibly can. This is achieved by either throwing a toy as the dog is running so that the dog sees it and chases it into the pool, or by throwing that toy into the pool and then restraining the dog at the end of the dock so that they can run into the pool after it. However in the short time that I have been attending and competing in dock diving events, I’ve seen every variation of what I described above including a team where the owner took the dog to up to the dock, told him, “jump!” and she jumped off into the pool.

I first got interested in dock diving a few years ago when I was attending dog training school. One of my classmates had a dynamite pit bull that could just fly out off the dock and into the water. Knowing nothing about the sport, I first decided to take my weimaraner, Pepper, who was about 10 months old at the time, into the pool area with a toy, thinking that she would be SO excited that she would just jump in and snatch that toy like it was nobody’s business. Well that definitely didn’t happen. What did happen was her prancing around the pool and trying to paw at the water attempting to get the ball. So I took off my shoes, jumped in the pool and then pretty much just dragged Pepper in with me and was helping her swim, or at least doing what I thought was help…. Which pretty much ended up in Pepper panicking and me having completely scratched up legs. I chocked it up to, “my dog doesn’t like to swim” and just put that whole dream to bed.

After coming to Doglando in 2011, I definitely wanted to try again, I mean come on we are completely set up for dock diving here and it seemed like a no-brainer that I would be able to get my dog to dock dive. I was even teaching the Dock Diving classes for pete’s sake! It wasn’t until March of 2012, when I was helping a friend run her dog, that Pepper finally went into the pool. So I had Pepper loose in our pool area, and myself, the other dog that was running, and a coworker were practicing on the dock. We were throwing toys, encouraging our dogs, saying “go go go go go!” and praising and reinforcing our dogs when they would come out. Pepper started to get really hyped up… I mean REALLY. She was running around the pool on the ground, barking, trying to get at the balls we were throwing into the pool for the other dogs. Well on one throw that I tossed into the pool, all I saw was this gray blur and
then a huge splash and wouldn’t you know that Pepper had jumped from the ground, at least 4 feet into the air, and then over the side of the pool and into it, swam as hard as she could to get that tennis ball I had thrown, and then perfectly retrieved it back to me. I say perfectly… well perfectly for her, in hindsight it was probably a little sloppy but I was so completely overjoyed and impressed that I didn’t care. From then on, I knew I had what I could make into a highly driven dock diving dog.

It has been a long road from there to now. From that moment I had Pepper in the pool every chance I could get, and we worked on exactly what I was teaching in my classes, technique, throwing ability, but most of all drive. Her desire to actually go in and get that toy. At first we started throwing it in really short so she could go off the ramp and get it, and then gradually progressed to getting here so excited to get that toy that she was going off the actual dock. We have competed in three events… well two to be exact. The first time I had Pepper on a dock other than the one at Doglando, she completely balked. Maybe it was the environment, the noises, or the stress to perform that I was projecting on her. But whatever it was, she wasn’t going in the water for anything and so I pulled her from the competition, with a very bruised ego. Here is the dock diving instructor at Doglando, and her dog won’t even jump. After shedding some very overdramatic tears, I went home, called it a day, and then started practicing even more with Pepper from that point on.

Since then, we have had the privilege to work with Bill Helfer in a workshop here at Doglando, and we have been able to compete at Doglympics and at the Holiday Splash, where Pepper received her personal best of 14’5”. I couldn’t be more proud of her, and of myself for taking a dog that was completely scared of the water to a confident, driven dock jumper. I love seeing the ribbons she has won tacked up on my refrigerator every day. We have so much more to accomplish too! That’s what
is great about this sport, is that you can really get into the fun of it with your dog. Sure it’s great to get ribbons and beat out other dogs, but the most fun I have is when I put Pepper at the end of the dock and then scream, “go go go go GO GO GO!!” as she is running towards the edge. If she makes it off or if she balks, she’s still the same dog, the best dog.

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