How to Teach Your Dog to Swim and then possibly Dock Dive

Look at that AIR... That is my boy Jovi

Look at that AIR... That is my boy Jovi

I have decided I am an addict.

I am not sure if there is a program like AA I can follow, and I am not sure I really want to; but I am addicted to dock diving with my dogs.

I have spent the year following Ultimate Air Dogs around the country!  From Detroit to Florida, to Illinois to Maryland and some others in between! Check them out or go to one of their events!  Chances are I will be there too hahaha

They were just featured on David Letterman last week with the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.   How could you not smile watching dogs hurl themselves into a pool of water?

We may not have made it to Letterman but we did think this was a cool view

And I love it!

I recently spent 2 weeks living in a motel room and jumping all 3 of my dogs at their shows several times per day.

My dogs are at all different levels.  My oldest Malinois has learned the “chase” technique and is actively now chasing the toy up into the air to catch it while coming down into the pool.  Read more about his amazing journey from 1 inch to over 20 feet click here

This technique is the best way to get the ultimate distance out of your dog, because he is learning to jump up and catch the toy with a little reckless abandon as he comes down into the water.

The hard part is timing the speed of your dog racing down a forty foot dock, and throwing the toy appropriately so it is not too, high, too short or too far.  Your throws have to be perfect to get the best distance.  Trust me… it is not as easy as it sounds.  Jovi is now at 24 feet and 4 inches for his personal best!  Not bad!

My Fury Running and Jumping Straight Out Thanks Kelly O'Brien for the Photo

My Fury Running and Jumping Straight Out Thanks Kelly O'Brien for the Photo

kelly obrien furyMy girlie does the place and send.  I put her at the end of the dock and leave her on a stay, and she runs down the dock as fast as she can and pops out into the water after a toy I throw as far out into the pool as I can get!

She is at 21 feet 10 inches for her personal best… and if we can get our timing right for the “chase or catch” method I know we could blow past Jovi ;)  she has an intimidating amount of speed and you can literally hear the whole dock pop when she jumps.

My youngest Malinois is still learning.  He runs to the end of the dock, looks at the toy and considers whether or not he wants to jump in.  He is still hesitating at the end of the dock.

He loves his toy enough to always make the leap, but he doesn’t yet have the confidence to make a running leap.  His personal best is 13 feet jumping straight off the end of the dock.

He can jump straight up over my head over 9 feet… so some day when he puts the two together he will be a force to be reckoned with; but confidence is not something you can force.  You can only provide dogs with good experiences and repetition and hope at some point everything clicks together.  As with sport, it takes time and dedication.

So I have had a lot of people ask me to help them get their dog started, both swimming and then eventually to dock jumping.


My Pharaoh, you can see his hesitation... but he wants his toy!!!

My Pharaoh, you can see his hesitation... but he wants his toy!!!

First things first; your dog must be able to swim.

You think all dogs can swim right?  Wrong!!  Just like people, not all dogs can swim.  Some are too dense with muscle (thing English Bulldogs doggy life vests can help with this) and some just don’t know how.

The easiest way to teach your dog to swim is to slowly acclimate him to water by wading out on a beach and swimming with him.

My youngest dog HATED water.  We were walking one hot day near a shallow stream when I tossed his toy and he went about thigh high into the water.  He looked at me like I had tried to kill him and refused to get anywhere near water for many months.

I finally had to wade out waist high, with him on a leash with his toy and he would walk out on his tippy toes.  Although he would follow me because he loved me and he loved his toy; he would stiffen his tail and freeze his body as if to move as little as possible.

We worked on this for several months until it got too cold. I never gave up; if you give up a problem or behavior will never get better.  The best things in life take time and patience.

Then we went to Florida in March, and he was older and learned to play a little in the waves of the ocena and retrieve his toy.

At the same time I was working with Ultimate Air Dogs and my friend Brian Wilcox (co-owner) would lift my little Pharaoh up and put him in the pool and let him swim to the ramp.  After a few sessions, he was ready to go up the ramp and into the pool on his own for his toy.  A stick was his favorite toy and he learned to swim all over the pool to retrieve his toy.  He will now jump and swim for any toy but a clattering stick was what he wanted most of all in the beginning.

In order to teach your dog to swim he needs the confidence that he is not going to drown (again you can get a doggy life vest), and I think it is important that he have some drive or excitement for his toy.

Ultimately my water hater went into the water because he trusted me and wanted to be with me and because he lives for his toy.  My dogs have a very high prey drive, which I mold into "toy drive".

Build Drive

He Wants that Toy!

He Wants that Toy!

For more on building drive for toys click here.

Once your dog has an extreme drive for a “floating” toy… let’s not expect them to dive underwater; then you can get them to swim great distances for their toy.

Swimming is one of the best activities to make a dog tired and build muscle with no high impact.

My favorite thing about dock diving with Ultimate Air Dogs is the fact that I go home with exhausted dogs.  Most of the time they are passed out on their backs; upside down snoring in some corner in the motel room!

And, I am happy to drive 45 minutes to make the drive to swim and dive!

Once you have an adamant swimmer, you can find a safe dock (make sure the water is at least 4 feet deep and that the dock is not too high off of the water) to begin diving.  Although regulation docks are 40 feet long, in the beginning you only use a few feet and you throw the toy out short so your dog feels like he can get it.  You don't want it too far, or it is too far away to build his drive but you also don't want to just plop it into the water, it needs to be at about the 4 or 6 foot mark away from him to start.

Remember your dog needs to build his confidence before you can expect him to race 40 feet down a dock and fly into the water.

When he stops pausing at the end, you can begin adding more distance and working on your technique.

Be patient, my little guy has been jumping for several months and still doesn’t have the confidence to fly.  And, personally I don’t care; as long as he is having fun that is all that matters.  If he always stops at the end and jumps straight out; that is fine with me.

Of course I hope for a 30 foot jumper and a trip to NYC to be on David Letterman… but let’s face it; the most important thing in your dog’s life is to just enjoy spending time together doing things you like!

Once you get him jumping into a pond or a lake; then it is time to find an event with a regulation pool.

Always take them up the ramp and let them swim in the pool first.  They need to know where the ramp is and how to get out in order to be confident.  It doesn't matter how many shows I have been to, I take even my most experienced jumpers up the ramp and into the pool EVERY event!

The shiny blue-ness of the pool can be intimidating as it is not what they are used to jumping into; add a crowd of people surrounding the pool (something that used to bother my big jumper Jovi) and it looks like they are flying into a crowd of people.

Most dogs need to acclimate and get used to the pool too!

I personally like Ultimate Air Dogs over any other organizations although I have jumped with others, because 99% of the time (of course depending on the amount of dogs, time, the ability to get your dog to the event) they are willing to work with you and help you make your dogs successful!

I intend to follow them around the country for years to come!  Find events here

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  1. Lily Lau says:

    Hahaha, this was so funny! I think the only ones that love to see dogs jump and swim more than us are the doggies themselves! They seem to enjoy some fresh water 😀


  2. dian miller says:

    i have a lab/germanshepard mix he is so smart but i cant intertain him enought his energy is to much .this might help .love it


    Minette Reply:

    I LOVE swimming!!! My dogs can’t keep it up for more than 20 to 30 minutes it is great exercise


  3. Susan says:

    We have a house on a lake. Our Goldens, may they rest in peace, loved to chase balls on the water, leaping from the dock. We have a 6 mo. old golden doodle now who has learned to swim, is confident swimming, loves, loves, loves chasing a tennis ball, but will not jump in. Is she too young? We are lowering her into the water now. She knows how to swim to the stairs to get out and usually makes a beeline.


    Minette Reply:

    6 months is just right at least normally.

    It depends on the dog and the confidence.

    I must admit that after months of swimming in the pool and jumping off the ramp into the water my youngest needed a slight push into the water off the dock.

    It HAS to be GENTLE so as not to push their head under water and your timing has to be just right.

    Wait until her rump in high in the air and her head is low looking at and thinking about the ball and gently push then praise lavishly.

    My guy needed to gentle pushes then he realized he wasn’t going to die and what was expected of him and now is still not flying off the end… but one day he will!


  4. Ruth Shewan says:

    I love this story! It’s a thing of beauty to watch the dogs dive. I think our yellow lab may have been a fish in a prior life. He can’t get enough of the water. 🙂 The first time we introduced him to the water, I had a nice ramp installed and carefully trained him to use it as I always am concerned about our dogs getting out safely if they should happen to fall in accidentally. He did a great job and caught on immediately. The next time he jumped in the water he immediately bypassed the ramp and went straight up the ladder. Now he refuses to use the ramp. Is that okay for his joints? Also, we can’t seem to swim with him as he panics and feels like he has to ‘save us’. He is fine if we are in water where we all can touch the bottom. Any suggestions? Thanks again for a great story!


    Minette Reply:

    Any repetitive jarring to joints is bad… that is why in agility the dogs are forced to move far down the ramps before exiting. Only you can see how far he is jumping down and work more on his exits.

    Use a leash and swim more, toss his toy, soon he will realize you are capable of swimming too.

    I used to have a Rottweiler YEARS ago that would pluck any child out of the water and bring them to shore, only taking them by their clothes… (thank goodness, just the idea scares me now, I was 18 then).

    They must realize no one is going to die


  5. Pamela Kutscher says:

    Neither of my current dogs (Sheltie mix and a Boston Terrier) love the water very much but my first Boston would have loved the sport if it had been around (or maybe it was and I just wasn’t aware of it). Once she learned that she could swim it was hard to keep her out of the water! She would even dive for things on the bottom.
    Thanks for the video–it was so much fun to watch the dog having so much fun!


    Minette Reply:

    He is a good boy and he loves his diving, my husband needs to stop telling him STAY so much hahahaha… hard to train humans.

    We are hoping he breaks 25 this weekend!


  6. Linda Hoffecker says:

    My two blue heelers had such drive for their tennis ball that they’d have jumped off the Space Needle to get to it. I taught the first one, at about 13 months (she was a stray and arrived here at about 6 mos) to love the water by starting just dropping the ball in to the water along the bank of a lake. She’d walk in to get it and I’d praise like she just saved the world.. Each little toss for days spread out, she’d go farther out and the say she couldn’t touch the bottom, her eyes got big but she still got her ball.. Eventually, she’d cry to go fetch her ball in the water. Second dog arrived here at age 9 already loving her ball and swimming. It was like giving kids candy to go swimming. Too bad we had to wait until summer altho both of my dogs would have swam thru icebergs for their ball! Never caught one in mid air, tho.. Have fun!


  7. Jean says:

    I’ve found my dog prefers to dock dive into “dirty” water (like a lake) versus the clear water of a pool. Wonder if it is the blue coloring throwing her off?

    Anyway, I’ve found that foster dogs who hate water amazingly learn to swim when they are given the opportunity to watch other dogs swimming. I think they just don’t want to miss out on the fun. 🙂


    Minette Reply:

    I agree, most dogs will swim in murky water easier…. that is usually where to start and then teach them a pool is the same


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