I always find it interesting….those little things that lead me one tiny step toward another until I’m immersed in something totally new. As many of my friends can tell you, I’ve followed my heart down quite a few paths in life that led to some totally unexpected fun. It’s happened again, this time with a dog sport…Dock Diving.
Because I happen to love the water, about this time last year, I wanted to help Willow, my then 5 month old Australian Shepherd puppy, learn to enjoy the water. She loved the shallow creek beside our house, though wasn’t too keen on immersing her entire body into a pond or a lake, so we took advantage of a little social facilitation with a friend’s water-crazy Labrador Retriever, Daisy to help her learn to get more than her feet wet. Social Facilitation is where the intensity of a behavior can increase due to the presence of another dog performing the activity. Voila! Before long, Willow was easily and happily following Daisy into the water. I added a doggie life jacket (I love the ones made by Hurrta) as insurance to make sure Willow would be totally comfortable when she took her first few forays into deeper water. Fear can often be one trial learning, so I wanted to take extra special care to create a positive experience with water and swimming. I again took advantage of a little social facilitation with Rio, a doggie friend that Willow adored. Dogs don’t always naturally take to water or are natural born swimmers, so it took some time to help Willow learn to swim and we practiced frequently.
Next it was watching Daisy the Lab perform some fine launching off the dock for a water toy at the Fish Pond Cabin dock in May of last year. Even though Willow was hesitant to jump off the dock, it was a great way to help her experience “fun” while on the dock and with Daisy also having fun jumping into the water. We practiced focus and attention, a few sit/stays and down/stays, always reinforcing with food or the chance to fetch her water toy on land. Ok, I was getting hooked.
Then came the chance to sponsor an experienced Dock Diving Team. Our friend and fellow colleague Erin James Cook was seeking sponsors for her team (Team Menadpode) at last year’s dock diving event in our immediate area and Cold Nose College signed on as a sponsor. As her sponsor, we spent the full three days at the event and I’m here to tell you, what a fantastic spectator sport! OK, call me totally HOOKED!
Before I knew it, I was into Dock Diving. You may have seen it on television. It’s easy to understand and wildly fun to watch. The participating dog jumps off an elevated diving dock into a portable pool and the dog with the measurements for the longest and highest jumps is the winner.
We’ve come a long way in this past year with a slow and steady training pace. We’ve done lots of practice jumping from land and exiting the water in a variety of places…the beach while on vacation, a friend’s lake to name a few.
Our friends Susan and Bob Ryder of Pawsitive Transformations and their adorable Daisy the Lab visited again last month and while having fun on a low dock at Fish Pond Cabins, Willow made her first jump off a dock, followed a week later by her first jump off a regulation dock. You surely heard this trainer exclaiming with excitement! While Willow launched a few times that day, she was still a few steps away from eagerly jumping each time, so more practice was needed and at her second practice on a regulation dock, she aced it!
The skills a dog needs to enjoy the sport are the ability and drive to fetch a thrown toy, a love of the water, the ability to swim and a solid stay. It’s important you work at your own dog’s pace, especially as it relates to comfort in the water. You don’t want to push or shove your dog in the water and end up with a dog that’s afraid. Game over! You always want to set your dog up for success. The fun is certainly in the journey vs. the destination (though that’s cool too!). Your dog should be enjoying the sport as much as you do.
Whether you’re considering this sport or merely want to watch see some awesome dogs in action, then get yourself to Cohutta Country Store to enjoy the Dixie Dock Dogs Cohutta Blue Ridge Challenge on June 21, 22 and 23 held at Cohutta Country Store. Some of the best dock diving dogs in the country live in North Georgia and you’ll see some incredible dogs at the event participating in Big Air (longest jump), Extreme Vertical (highest jump) and Speed Retrieve (fastest retrieve). Willow and I are entered in the Big Air on all three days, so come on out and cheer us on. It’s all about teamwork and training with an accent on FUN. See you in Blue Ridge and Happy Training!
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Professional Dog Walking Academy Instructor, a Peaceable Paws Canine Behavior & Training Academy Instructor and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com