How to Teach Your Dog to Swim and then possibly Dock Dive
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 http://www.ultimateairdogs.com/
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 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.
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".
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
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.