Roxie, a black Labrador retriever, races down the dock and vaults over 20 feet into crystal clear water, stretching every rippling muscle as she hurtles herself toward a bumper, earning her the nickname “The Rocket.” With an incredible splash, she scoops up her prize and returns, begging to do it again.
Canine aquatics — specifically, dog long-jumping (aka dock jumping or dock diving) — is a relatively new arena for dogs to show their athletic ability in an exciting format that is pure fun to watch. Given all the commands dogs must learn for tasks such as hunting, field trials, service roles, etc., dock jumping is something that requires only a love of water and a crazy drive to jump off a dock.
Competitively speaking, there are two ways to persuade a dog to launch itself off a dock to the water two feet below so that distance can be measured. One is by tossing a favorite toy or training bumper as a mark and sending him from the starting line, typically 40 feet back. The other method is to stand at the end of the dock with the toy and have someone else release the dog. At the right moment, the handler throws the toy at the best angle so the dog accelerates, leaves the dock at the very end, stretches and tries to catch it.
Distances are measured from the end of the dock to where the base of the dog’s tail hits the water (not the tip). It’s pretty simple really: Whichever dog can jump the farthest wins, and some of the strongest jumpers in the world clear 30 feet!
Dock jumping first appeared at a Purina-sponsored event in 1997, but DockDogs really got the sport going when it organized in 2000. Grant Reeves, CEO, says DockDogs Worldwide puts on more than 230 sanctioned events annually, but while the events are extremely competitive, awards are not, for the most part, monetary. It is a love of dogs and the sport that keeps the attraction growing.
“Being healthy and active with your canine companion is what is most important,” says Reeves.
Any dog can be a long jumper, but some breeds are better equipped than others — especially those that love the water. In fact, according to Reeves, DockDogs has a “zero discrimination policy” — meaning they encourage all breeds to compete.
When asked which breeds typically enter, Reeves said it is “easier to tell you the few they haven’t seen.” Everything from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane has taken the plunge; however, Reeves says rescue dogs often do the best, perhaps because of their eagerness to please. Mixed breeds also fare extremely well.
Dock jumping doesn’t stop at how far, either. The DockDogs program has three areas of competition: Big Air (long jump, described above), Extreme Vertical (high jump) and the Speed Retrieve.
Extreme Vertical sets each dog’s sights on a height. An aluminum extender is elevated 8 feet above the dock and several feet out over the water. From the extender, a bumper is hung and the dog must knock it off or grab it in order for it to count. While typical heights can be in the 4- to 5-foot range, the current world record is 8 feet 11 inches.
Speed Retrieve measures running, jumping and swimming. Very similar to Big Air, jumping distance is measured, but now the elapsed time it takes a dog to run down the dock and swim back with the toy are timed for a three-part aggregate score.
This has led to a breakthrough sport called DuelingDogs, which began in 2014 and has a high crossover from the dock jumping group. Here, dog is pitted against dog in a “duel” under identical circumstances of running, jumping and swimming. But what makes this unique is that two dogs are competing at the same time with a clear sheet of plastic glass separating them.
Check out the website dockdogs.com for a list of events near you. It is intense, incredibly fun to watch and — who knows — the hound that loyally keeps your sofa from being stolen at night could be the next dock-jumping champion of tomorrow.
DockDogs is not the only organization devoted to putting dogs into the air over water. Among others, well-known ones include Ultimate Air Dogs and jumping events hosted by the United Kennel Club.
Christopher Smith is a nationally recognized, award-winning artist and photographer, most famous for his stunning wildlife art featuring loons, deer, swans and songbirds. See chrissmithart.com