Dog Blog

Get Your Pup Involved In A New Sport This Summer

2 To Try: Dock Diving and Flyball


Full Life For Pets wishes to thank Steven Appelbaum, president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational college that specializes in pet related careers, for contributing to this blog post. Appelbaum is also a professional dog trainer himself with over 30 years’ experience. www.animalbehaviorcollege.com

One of the joys of summer for pet parents is getting to spend more time outdoors playing with our furry best friends. This year, why not go beyond the usual game of Frisbee in the park and get your pup (and yourself) involved in a more structured canine sport.

Competitive dog sports are becoming increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why. They’re fun and challenging from both a training and athletic standpoint, they provide healthy exercise for you and your pet, and they’re a great bonding experience. Here’s a look at two of today’s fastest growing canine sports: Dock Diving and Flyball.

DOCK DIVING

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Dock Diving is a water retrieving sport that typically takes place at a lake or ocean, but a swimming pool can be used as an alternative. Dogs run down a 40’ dock (or designated path) then jump into the water to retrieve a toy or object that has been thrown in. Dock Diving competitions may be judged in several ways – the height or distance of the jump, or the time it takes for the dog to swim to the object and bring it back.

“At a more advanced level, seeing how high and far dogs can jump is amazing,” said Steven Appelbaum, president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational school for dog trainers. He reports that the current Dock Diving world record jump is 31 feet 5 inches!

Getting In The Swim

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Even if your dog could never come close to matching this athletic feat, the two of you can still have fun with the sport. The first step to getting started in Dock Diving is making sure your pup can swim. Contrary to popular belief, not all canines are good swimmers, but with some time and patience most dogs can be taught this skill. If a dog is uncomfortable in the water, Appelbaum suggests using a canine life jacket.

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Start out in shallow water where your dog can touch bottom. Encourage your pet to get in the water by going in yourself and having her follow you. If she puts a paw in the water or walks toward you, praise and reward her. “If she starts swimming to you, praise. Praise all positive responses,” says Appelbaum. While food can be a powerful motivator, “keep the treats small if you use them,” he advises. Full Life Trainer’s Choice Treats, which come in an ultra-small Mini Size and are available in delicious Chicken and Bacon flavors, are ideal for this purpose.

Adding A Toy

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Once your dog is comfortable in the water, throw in one of his favorite (floating) toys. “When you first start, don’t throw the toy more than a few feet from the dog, Appelbaum says. “If the dog starts swimming toward the object, praise.”

If the dog doesn’t seem interested in the object, it’s up to the pet parent to build a stronger “toy drive,” Appelbaum says. “Make the toy desirable to the dog. Play with the dog and toy prior to a water session. -- try Tug-o-War or Keep Away. Some trainers put a tiny dab of meat fat on the toy. The scent can really stimulate interest.”

Making The Jump

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So now you’ve gotten your dog to enjoy 1) swimming and 2) pursuing a toy in the water. It’s time to take the plunge and start working on the dive itself. Appelbaum advises getting the dog acclimated to jumping into a swimming pool as opposed to a dock. “Docks are higher from the water than pools, and many dogs won’t leap off something 2-3 feet above the water until they are comfortable diving under more optimum conditions,” he explains.

The preferred way to teach jumping is to throw the toy into the pool from the side near the shallow end. “Many toy-driven dogs will make the leap without much thought or with a little encouragement,” Appelbaum says. But if your dog simply won’t jump, try throwing in the toy at the edge of the pool near the steps. The downside of this method is that some dogs learn only to be comfortable entering the pool via the steps, when, of course, the sport itself requires “diving.” So this approach should only be used if all else fails, and should be regarded as an intermediary step. Regardless of which jumping method you use, be sure to teach your dog how to find the steps while he’s in the water and to always exit the pool this way, Appelbaum stresses.

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Once your dog is comfortable jumping into the pool, slowly increase the length of the jumps by tossing the toy further distances. Do this very gradually, says Appelbaum. “If the dog is leaping toward a toy 3’ away, try a 4’ toss. Once the dog masters this, go to 5’, then 6’.”

Rocking The Dock

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When your dog will reliably leap 4’ to 8’ into the water to retrieve a toy, and has no problem exiting the pool, you’re ready to move up to a dock. Make sure the water is at least 3’ deep with no rocks, pipes or anything else that could injure the dog. Also be clear how the dog can exit the water, advises Appelbaum.

Better yet, choose a dock that belongs to a Dock Diving club or has been used for Dock Diving events in the past. The Dock Diving group will most likely have done its homework and already addressed any safety or statutory concerns such as leash laws. “When your dog is ready for Dock Diving, it’s best to look for a local club, scout the location and try it out,” Appelbaum says. “A simple search online will give you all the information on local clubs you need.” Most of all, he adds, “Have fun and don’t be afraid to get wet!”

FLYBALL

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A true pack sport, Flyball is a relay race between two teams of four dogs each over an obstacle course. Each dog runs 51’ over four jumps, grabs a tennis ball from a box, and sprints back over the hurdles to the starting point. The second dog then races down the course to get the next ball, and so on. The first team to have all four dogs complete the course with no mistakes wins.

“This is a sport in which ball crazy energetic dogs can shine,” says Appelbaum. “However calmer dogs who aren’t necessarily built for speed can have fun as well!”

Obedience First

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Before getting started in Flyball, it’s essential that your dog have a good understanding of basic obedience cues, says Appelbaum. A strong recall – coming to you when she’s called – is particularly important. If your dog doesn’t have these vital skills, work on them at home or take her to an obedience class.

Positive reinforcement is the proven most effective method of obedience training. The more desirable the reward, the faster and easier it is to train the dog. Full Life Trainer’s Choice Treats, which have meat at their #1 ingredient, have been recommended by thousands of trainers nationwide for their ability to capture dogs’ attention, focus them on the task and motivate them to perform.

Learning To Fetch

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Teaching your dog to retrieve a ball is another prerequisite for Flyball. Appelbaum advises starting with short throws of anywhere from 5’ for beginners to 25’ for more advanced dogs.

“Start by having the dog fetch a ball and only reward when they bring it all the way back to you. Treats usually work well for this type of training,” says Appelbaum. “Keep sessions short, no more than 6-12 minutes to start. End on a positive note and have them yearning for more!”

Once your dog is consistently able to fetch a ball from over 50’ (the length of a Flyball course), you should add distractions such as having other people and dogs around. “Many people whose dogs retrieve 10 out of 10 times with little or nothing going on see a dramatic decrease in response when distractions are added,” notes Appelbaum. “When you have a dog that will bring back a ball from 50’ or more 9 out of 10 times regardless of distractions, you are ready for hurdles.”

Adding Hurdles

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Appelbaum recommends using adjustable hurdles, since they allow you to start low and increase height as the dog advances. Begin with a hurdle of no more than 4”-6”, stand 5’ or 6’ away and throw the ball over it. While some dogs will jump over the hurdle, others will run around the side to get the ball. If this happens with your pet, put him on a leash, have another person throw the ball, and run and jump alongside your dog over the hurdle. Once your dog gets the hang of this, you can drop the leash as you run toward the hurdle and, eventually, take it off completely.

When your dog masters jumping over the hurdle, put a second one 10’ from the first, and train her to jump over both to get the ball. Once she does this, says Appelbaum, you’re ready to join a Flyball club or class.

More information about Flyball and a regional list of clubs are available from the North American Flyball Association: https://www.flyball.org/aboutflyball.html. You can also do an online search of Flyball clubs and classes in your area.