Lessons from My First Dock Dive

(I have a hard enough time keeping up with one blog… don’t know how I thought I was going to do two)

1. Get a Wagon (and a Soft-Sided Kennel)

All week I was super excited for Harley and I’s very first dock diving experience. I read everything I could find about how to start your dog on the green dock, what to bring, and what to expect. I wanted to be prepared. I did not want to be that person who shows up with something completely illegal and gets kicked out of their first show. So, knowing what I did about the venue (inside) and that we were only going to be able to bring in what we can carry, I carefully pruned the suggested lists and we showed up with Harley’s big metal crate, one backpack full of towels and other miscellaneous gear (including human food), two chairs to sit on, and Harley.

Thankfully, I did a good job of packing. We used just about everything I brought and there wasn’t any point of the day that I was wishing I had packed something different. I never had to use my change of clothing but I’m glad it was there just in case.

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We got to the fairgrounds around 9:40 which ended up being a little too early. Because we hadn’t been competing any of the other days, we didn’t have a Dock Dogs wrist band that would allow us to get in the ground before it opens. Luckily someone from Dock Dogs came out to get us tickets before the mad rush of the fair officially opening at 10 am. Even though we had to wait a bit, it was a good thing that we got there early because we ended up getting a pretty good parking spot and didn’t have to lug that kennel too far.

When we got in and were able to set up, Eric and I were extremely jealous of both the wagons other experienced dock divers had to drag their stuff around and the soft-sided kennels that many people had. There was a large mix of all types of kennels including the wire crate we had brought but I think it would have been much nicer to have that soft portable kennel (I had been looking at them for horse shows so this was just kind of a push in the right direction). We ended up finding a good deal on one on eBay after the competition so we will be prepared next time.

The downside of not competing all week (besides not competing all week) was that we didn’t have a whole lot of places to set up our camp. Eventually we found a spot right near the back of the dock. Being the noobs to this sport that we are, we thought this was a great spot. It wasn’t. It was of course right where everyone lined up and waited for their turn on the dock. This made it extremely hard to get things we needed, like towels, and get back to our camp at all for down time.

Finally we were able to check in and begin practice!

2. Show the Dog the Ramp

Of all the ways that Harley rocked at the fair, the biggest was how well-mannered she was. Due to off the wall behavior at agility class, I think I was pretty safe assuming that she’d act pretty similar.  Well, I would have lost that bet. Through out the entire day, Harley was a class act. She was probably pretty confused why we were standing around but she consented to sit at my side through the long wait. Several people complimented me on how well she was behaving. This was a major compliment considering some of the other dogs!

Here’s one thing they don’t tell you: a dock dog competition is LOUD. I mean, it makes sense right? Lots of dogs, all excited to jump. A lot of them were barking and whining. Thankfully Harley did not do that.

It felt like a long time, but it was really only about twenty minutes until we finally got our turn on the dock. Harley was a little confused as we got up the dock and immediately ran across to the side facing the stands when I took off her leash.  I was a little worried she might fall off but luckily that did not happen. Instead I took her toy and led her to the front of the dock.

In all the guides I read about dock diving, they say to throw the toy off the ramp a few times so that the dog knows how to get out of the water. I had every intention of doing this but when I got up on the dock I got too excited and just wanted to get Harley off the dock. So I tossed the toy a few feet over the edge. Harley crouched down on the edge of the dock and slid down into the water. I was so proud of her! I went through the gate to the ramp and started calling her. Well, she had no idea where she went and went to the opposite side of the pool from me and tried to climb out! Thankfully there was someone up there who could push her back in. I jumped back up onto the dock so she could see me and guided her over to the ramp.

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From there, the rest of practice was smooth sailing. I got Harley back up onto the dock and tossed the toy for her. At this point, I just wanted to get her off the dock  and get her comfortable.  Now that she knew how to get out of the pool she was loving every minute. After our two minutes/two jumps were done we got back out and got in line for a second go. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for a second practice but that just meant it was time for the wave to start!

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3. Don’t Wear Jeans

I wasn’t the only new handler at this dock diving event. The Wrangler had us who would be doing our first dock dive raise our hands and I was pleased to see there were around ten of us.  We ended up being the fourth team in Group 2. The wave was completely full so I put Harley back in her kennel and went to watch some of the other teams in Group 1.

As the teams in Group 1 were starting their second jump, I went to get Harley from her kennel and started getting ready. We went for a short walk around the back of the building while we waited for the call to get ready for our group. Finally they called us in and lined us up and before I knew it, it was our turn to run up those steps onto the dock.

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Even though she had only gone up those steps once, Harley knew the whole point of this game. I unhooked her leash at the bottom of the steps and she went barreling up at full speed. She didn’t stop until the very edge of the dock where she looked back to see if I would be coming. The crowd loved her, which is always nice to hear. Because we hadn’t gotten a whole of chance to practice and I wasn’t sure if she would hold her stay, I chose to do the place and send method. This involves holding on to the dog, throwing the toy into the water, and then taking the dog back down the dock before letting them run down and jump off. Sort of like a wind up toy. Harley did not like this very much and fought with me the whole time when I was trying to pull her back, which was only about 5 feet. But this was her very first official jump and I wanted to make it good.

I let her go and Harley ran, hesitated, and then flung herself in the water. The jump was only 7’11” but she was now officially a bone-ified dock dog.

I met Harley at the ramp and cheered for her as she swam back to me. She was so pleased with herself. Just as I was clipping the leash on to her, Harley ducked between my legs, instantly soaking my jeans from the knee down. Between the waves and the practices, I didn’t dry all day. It was my badge of honor: now I was a bone-ified dock dog handler.

But next time I’ll be wearing shorts.

4. Trust Your Dog

Everyone was so nice at this event. From the organizers to the other competitors, everyone wanted to help and encourage everyone else. I met a lot of great people, including a fellow eventer who recognized my JLE jacket. Even though we’re all competing against each other, everyone wants you to do well.

And everyone was impressed when they found out it was Harley’s first event. As we came down the stairs from our first official jump, the Wrangler asked if Harley had ever gone off a dock before. I confirmed that it was her first time and he looked impressed. He congratulated us and we moved to the back of the line. That wasn’t the only time people seemed surprised that Harley went right into the water with only slight hesitation.

It seemed that Eric had been right. All week I had stressed that I was going to take things slow and that Harley might not go in the water. This was different then jumping into the river at Marymoor, afterall. Eric kept telling me that he knew Harley would go right in as she’s never been afraid to jump off anything.

For our second jump in Wave 12, I decided that I was going to try to start using the chase method of dock diving. Sit the dog at the end of the dock and have them run down and chase the toy off the edge. I didn’t know if this would work but Harley was being so good that I thought I’d try. When it was our turn we ran up the steps and onto the green dock. I sat her down about ten feet away from the edge and walked away from her. She sat perfectly. When I turned back to look at her, I crouched down and asked “Ready?” Harley crouched and as I yelled go she ran towards me. I tossed the toy and she jumped with no hesitation.

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Was it a perfect example of the chase method? Far from it. In fact, as we saw later in video, she doesn’t really chase the toy at all but jumps in knowing it’ll be there. But she kept her down stay and didn’t hesitate at the edge. This jump reached 9’9” but was a significant improvement over the first.

5. Forget the Towel, Chamois Are Your New Best Friend

While Groups 3 and 4 finished, Eric and I dried Harley off and went to find a spot to hang out in the sun. We brought our lunch and watched the fair goers. Harley lay at our feet. Tired but not quite out of it yet. I would have liked to see more of the dock diving but I didn’t want to put Harley back in her kennel and I was also hoping to dry out in the sun.

The practice time after the last group went fast. It was a 1 minute/1 jump practice and I opted to only get in line once. Harley was being good and I didn’t want to wear her out. The handler’s meeting was kept short as we were running behind and suddenly it was time for Wave 13. This time we were the sixth jump in Group 1.

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My plan was to do the chase method for both jumps of this wave. We had done this during practice and Harley, again, had been perfect. I was hoping that with each jump we could get her a little further back.

For the first jump I set her behind the line for Speed Retrieve. This resulted in a 10’5” jump. I couldn’t have been prouder of her. We came off the ramp and down the dock steps, Harley had again soaked me as we did this. Despite her being tired, the minute we passed the steps up to the dock Harley lunged for them. I had to drag her back down and laughed as we grabbed a towel and to dry off. She clearly loved this game!

The group that was camped next to us saw me trying to find a non-soaked towel and handed me a blue synthetic chamois to try. I was a little skeptical but this thing was amazing! Pulled so much water off of Harley and I could easily wring it out and use it again.  We ordered one after the competition and it will be our go to for any sort of water sport with the dogs.

6. Always Check the Results

To finish the day, Harley did her second jump in Wave 13 and managed to stretch out a few more inches to get a 10’7” jump. And that was that. Our first dock diving competition was over. I was so proud of how well Harley had done but sad that it was already over.

We packed up our camp, throwing the wet towels into the crate and collapsing it. Anything else we stuffed back into the backpack.

Before we left, I went up to the registration table to thank the organizers for putting on such a great event. We had so much fun and everyone was so helpful. Before I knew it, she was handing me a first place medal for Wave 12. Apparently, Harley’s 9’9” jump was the farthest one in the Novice Division (0’1” – 9’11”). That was pretty cool and we would have left without even knowing that she had placed.

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Eric and I were pretty sure she hadn’t placed in Wave 13 since she had now gotten over ten feet though just barely, but we stuck around just to make sure. This time we were able to watch some of the other dock dogs and saw some awesome 20’+ jumps, including the world recorder holder for big air. As we expected, no placings in Wave 13 but that didn’t diminish the fun we had.

Driving home, we had one tired and crabby puppy. She completely crashed after a hard day of playing and behaving but I know she enjoyed every minute of it. I knew I wanted to do this again. In the meantime though, I’m going to have to start working on teaching her to actually chase after the bumper.

7 thoughts on “Lessons from My First Dock Dive

  1. I have only heard of dock diving recently. It looks super fun! We have a Golden who LOVES jumping into the pool for his tennis ball. I think this might be right up his alley. And if you get a soft-sided crate, I’d love to hear your decision. I am taking Control Unleashed classes and beginner agility with my Doberman and I’ve had to borrow the training facility’s crate because I just have the heavy metal ones at home (that don’t transport easily). This is a great post!

    1. Thanks! We used the new kennel today at our dock diving practice so I’ll write up a quick review here in the next few days.

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