Dog Sports Highlight: Dock Diving with Lori Leonhardt

by Lori Leonhardt

Dock Diving Instructor

| Harvard's K9 Center

Water splashing, dogs barking, people cheering and laughing. Those are just some of the sounds you will hear at any dock diving competition. Competition dock diving is a relatively new sport that started in 1997 with Purina’s “The Incredible Dog Challenge”. Rumor has it that the sport originated from hunters betting on whose dog could jump the farthest when retrieving water fowl. It has since blossomed into a popular sport with organizations hosting events across the US and other countries. The best thing about dock diving is that any dog that will jump off a dock into the water can participate. There are divisions for dogs jumping 1’ to 40’.  Also dock diving is not just about competition. Once your dog learns the fun of flying into water, any dock over any body of water can turn in an enjoyable outing for you and your furry friend. 

Of course, any dog that enjoys swimming will love dock diving. They are usually jumping off the dock on the first lesson.  However, some of my favorite students have been the reluctant swimmers, the ones that “will never swim”, that think this is the worst idea ever, and that we are trying to drown them.  Watching that light turn on, the look of joy on that dog’s face when it realizes that swimming is the best thing ever, makes me realize I have the best job in the world. Those are the dogs I remember forever. Those are my “remember when” dogs when I hear of them beating previous PB (personal best) or see them pulling their owners into any nearby body of water. 

When you sign up for your first event, you will encounter several options, depending on the organization. Unless your dog has special training, you will want to sign up for distance jumping, often called “splashes” or “waves.” This is where your dog will jump off the dock and be judged for the distance jumped between the end of the dock and the base of your dog’s tail. Your dog is then placed in a division based on its best jump of the entire competition. Be sure to bring your dog’s favorite water toy, towels, crate, water and bowls, shade, chair and snacks for both of you. Also be dressed to get wet. If your dog beats his/her personal best you get to jump in the pool with your dog.  

The questions I am most often asked about dock diving are:

  1.  What breeds are the best jumpers?  My answer is your dog/breed is the best jumper. I have Catahoula’s. I have had dogs that have jumped 5’ and dogs that have jumped over 21’. I have had as much fun jumping Katie, my short jumper, as I have with the bigger jumpers. 
  2. How far should my dog jump? As far as he/she is able.  Every dog regardless of size or breed will jump differently. I have seen small dogs jump over 20’ and Labs jump 10’.  There is no set guideline on how far a breed or size will jump. We can usually improve distance, and safety, with teaching proper throwing skills, timing, and working on the dog’s drive off the dock. If you want to improve your dog’s distance, and ensure they are landing safely, then dock diving classes will make a big difference.
  3. Shouldn’t every dog start from the very end of the 40’ dock? No, especially beginner dogs. We all love to see dogs racing down the dock and flying into the air and catching the bumper. It’s a thing of beauty. It is also something that takes time to safely teach. Again, find an experienced handler or classes to help you find the best methods for your dog to reach their full potential. Some dogs never need to use the full dock to get their full distance. 
  4. Can my “fill in the blank” do this? Absolutely, as long as they have some type of drive. For dogs with little toy drive, but with food drive, I start with hot dogs in a floating pouch.  Dogs are amazed they can swim and eat hot dogs at the same time. What could be better? Eventually we transition to toys.  
  5. What can I do at home to practice for dock diving? Teach toy drive: Balls, although many dogs’ favorite, are harder to track in the air and catch. Fortunately there are hundreds of water toys on the market just at the end of an internet search for floating dog toys. Your local TJ Maxx and pet stores also carry a wide variety.  Play, play, play, with the toys. Teach a retrieve. Teach some basic obedience – come, sit, stay, those will all be helpful on the dock. Come to practice with your toys, towels, nylon leash, and flat collar. Be dressed to get wet!  If your dog has diet restrictions bring diet friendly treats. Life jackets should be provided by the class. 

My final word would be, please do not get hung up on how far your dog jumps, or how much farther your friend’s dog jumps. Put the sport into perspective. Your dog is running down a dock and jumping into water and a having a blast doing so. He/she does not care how far they are jumping. Neither should you.  My goals have always been to improve my own dog’s performance to increase her own PB – not to beat other dogs. Classes are the best way to learn how to make the small adjustments that make the biggest improvements and also increase the safety for your dog. This sport is about muddy paws, wet towels, and happy dogs. 

Lori Leonhardt has owned and trained Catahoula and Catahoula mixes for almost 20 years. She competes in dock diving, obedience/rally, barn hunt, and agility.  She became interested in dock diving in 2006, with her water loving Catahoula/beagle Katie. Lori started teaching dock diving a few years later with the first Georgia facility to install a competition dock and pool. For the last 7 years, Lori has been teaching dock classes at Harvard’s K-9 Center in Crawford, AL. Lori has competed with her Catahoula’s all over the East coast and her current Catahoula, Pearl, has participated in Ultimate Air Games in 2018 &2019, at Purina Farms, qualifying and placing in finals both years.  Lori’s main motto when training any dog sport is “It’s all about having fun with your dog.” Lori’s dock diving classes are filled with laughter and any pouters are sent to scoop dog poop.

To learn more about the sport of dock diving, you can check out Ultimate Air Dogs, North American Diving Dogs, and Dock Dogs! Or you can even take classes with Lori at Harvard’s K9 Center in Crawford, Alabama!

About the Author

Lori Leonhardt

Dock Diving Instructor

Harvard's K9 Center

The Pack:

Pearl, Z, Shelby, Tucker

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