Now that you've learned the basics of dock diving (DockDogs ®), you're looking at your four-legged companion lying at your feet and wondering "Could my dog do that?"
To determine if your dog is a candidate to become a dock diving athlete, he or she will need to have "toy drive." Toy drive is the strong desire to chase and -- preferably -- retrieve a toy. A dog with strong toy drive will go through, over or around nearly any obstacle to retrieve the toy. If your dog can't get enough of playing fetch, you might have a DockDog on your hands. Dogs who only sometimes chases a toy or become easily distracted while playing, will need training to learn focus and increase this drive before moving to the water.
Besides toy drive, you'll need a strong "stay" command. It's your discretion whether your dog sits, stands or lies while staying, but your dog will need to wait while you walk away holding his or her toy. If your dog doesn't already have this skill, start slowly and gradually increase the duration of the stay and the distance between you. If the toy is too tempting, add it after you've built a strong foundation of this behavior.
Once you've mastered the stay command and your dog can barely contain himself while waiting to chase a toy, it's time to move to the water. Remember, always start slow and keep things fun. At this point, don't worry about asking your dog to stay; you're just trying to get him or her comfortable retrieving from the water. Moving too fast may confuse or scare your dog and training for too long can lead to exhaustion, soreness or injury. Start with short throws into water without a drop off (the bank of a pond or the ramp of an indoor pool). When he or she is consistently retrieving the toy, progress to jumps off a surface a few inches above the water. Slowly increase the height off which he or she jumps. Once he or she is comfortable jumping off a platform, you can re-introduce your stay command and gradually increase the run-up distance.
Remember, all dogs are different and will learn and progress at different speeds. Some dogs may take to the sport right away while others will take years to master the skills involved. Never push, toss or force your dog into water. Doing so will instill fear instead of eagerness. If you push your dog in, you will very likely lose any progress you've made. While it's natural to be excited to start competing in the sport, patience is your friend when building a consistent, high-performing canine athlete.
Look for future articles for more details about training and competing with your DockDog.