German Shepherds are natural herders. In fact, the reason why this breed was first discovered was…
Dock diving is a canine sport wherein dogs compete for either distance or height as they jump from a dock into a body of water.
In competition, each dog takes its turn to run for momentum and then leap into the water. The farther out your dog goes, the better they perform. Judges measure the distance and record the score.
If you have ever wondered…what is dock diving? This article will give you a complete guide to this fun canine sport.
History Of Dock Diving
Dock Diving, also known as Dog Diving, is a fairly young competitive canine sport. Its short history can be traced back to 1997, when it was first held at a Purina-hosted event called the Incredible Dog Challenge.
Needless to say, it quickly became a serious sport for dogs. Over the years, a variety of dock diving organizations have been established within and outside the United States.
DockDogs is recognized as the first official dock diving organization in the United States.
It was established in 2000 and held their first competition on the same year. Three years later, a similar organization called Splash Dogs was established. It was followed in 2005 by Ultimate Air Dogs (UAD), a group led by MLB pitcher Milt Wilcox.
Because of the efforts of UAD, dock diving became a sport recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 2008.
One year later, UKC also began to recognize Splash Dogs competitions. That meant that dogs competing within any of the two organizations qualified for UKC titles.
Outside North America, dock diving thrives in the United Kingdom where large competitions are held by groups like Dash ‘n’ Splash, JettyDogs, and K9 Aqua Sports.
In 2014, the North American Diving Dogs (NADD) was formed and has since been recognized as the most prestigious dock diving organization in the continent. Its distinction stems from being recognized by both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC).
How the Competitions Work
In dock diving, there are three different disciplines: (1) Distance Jumping, (2) Air Retrieve, and (3) Vertical.
Distance jumping is the most popular dock diving discipline. Here, dogs race off a dock and compete for the longest distance.
The jump’s distance is measured from the edge of the dock to the point where the water’s surface is broken by the dog’s tail base.
One dock diving event is called a “splash.” Each splash allows each dog 2 consecutive jumps. Whichever jump is farther away from the dock is considered as the dog’s qualifying score for that splash.
Air Retrieve dock diving is similar to distance jumping in that dogs need to run the length of a dock and jump off it. This, however, involves an object called the “bumper.”
The bumper is suspended from a rig and dogs need to either grab it or knock it off completely.
The bumper is held up at a height of 2 feet above the dock. Depending on the class, its distance from the edge of the dock would be either 4 or 6 feet.
After every successful jump, the bumper is moved away from the dock in 1-foot increments.
Competing dogs are allowed 2 consecutive attempts at each distance. They are out of the game when they miss 2 consecutive jumps or miss 3 jumps overall.
The distance of their last successful knock-off is what determines their qualifying score.
Vertical dock diving is similar to Air Retrieve, except that the bumper’s distance is adjusted vertically rather than horizontally after each successful jump. Also, the heights and distances are greater.
In vertical, the bumper is suspended 4 feet and 6 inches above the dock and 8 feet away from the edge of the dock.
After each successful attempt, the bumper is raised by 2 inches. Dogs continue with increasingly higher jumps until they miss 2 consecutive attempts for a single height.
The height of their last successful knock-off is what determines their qualifying score.
In 2018, NADD stopped recognizing Vertical as an official discipline. The dock diving organization now only facilitates, scores, and give titles for Distance Jumping and Air Retrieve.
Dock diving is a very inclusive competition. Any dog of any breed and any size may compete. Mixed breeds are also welcome.
Additionally, competitions allow special needs dogs – blind, deaf, deformed, amputee, etc. – for as long as a judge deems they can perform the jumps and exits safely.
Generally, for as long as a dog is at least 6 months old, is in good health, and is up-to-date with their vaccinations, they’re welcome to participate in dock diving competitions.
For NADD events, dogs need to have a NADD registration number to participate. AKC registration is optional but is required to earn AKC titles.
Facilities and Equipment
In dock diving, the pool and dock are the same for both Distance Jumping and Air Retrieve. Other than that, there are very few things needed to participate.
Dock Diving Pool
- Pool should measure at least 21 x 41 feet.
- Walls should be 4 feet high.
- Must have an exit ramp or steps so dogs can safely exit.
- Must have measuring banner on both sides.
- Dock should measure 40 x 7.5 feet.
- Must sit 2 feet above the water’s surface.
- Must have perimeter walls to keep dogs from jumping to the ground.
- Dock must have a non-slip surface.
Toy (for Distance Jumping)
- Essentially any toy the dog is motivated to run after.
- Ideally light, easy to toss, and floats on water.
Bumper (for Air Retrieve)
- A toy that’s held up by magnets on both ends and is suspended by the Air Retrieve rig.
Competing dogs are not required to have any gear or apparel. They are allowed to wear life vests, at the discretion of their handlers.
NADD Dock Diving Divisions
In both Distance Jumping and Air Retrieve, there are two different classes:
- Open Class – All dogs of all breeds and sizes are welcome.
- Lap Class – All dogs must measure less than 16 inches from the withers.
Qualifying jumps aren’t transferable so puppies expected to grow more than 16 inches should compete in the Open Class.
Here are the distances for each Distance Jumping division:
|Distance Jumping Divisions||Open Class||Lap Class|
|Novice||1” – 9’11”||1” – 4’11”|
|Junior||10’ – 14’11”||5’ – 8’11”|
|Senior||15’ – 19’11”||9’ – 12’11”|
|Master||20’ – 23’11”||13’ – 17’11”|
|Elite||24’ and above||18’ and above|
Here are the distances for each Air Retrieve division:
|Air Retrieve Divisions||Open Class (feet)||Lap Class (feet)|
|Novice||6 – 9||4 – 6|
|Junior||10 – 13||7 – 9|
|Senior||14 – 17||10 – 12|
|Master||18 – 21||13 – 15|
|Elite||22 and up||16 and up|
NADD Dock Diving Titles
For Distance Jumping, the titles are as follows:
|Basic||Advanced (A)||Excellent (X)|
|DN||Dock Novice||DNA||Dock Novice Advanced||DNX||Dock Novice Excellent|
|DJ||Dock Junior||DJA||Dock Junior Advanced||DJX||Dock Junior Excellent|
|DS||Dock Senior||DSA||Dock Senior Advanced||DSX||Dock Senior Excellent|
|DM||Dock Master||DMA||Dock Master Advanced||DMX||Dock Master Excellent|
|DE||Dock Elite||DEA||Dock Elite Advanced||DEX||Dock Elite Excellent|
A dog-and-handler team must accumulate 5 qualifying jumps within one division in order to earn a division title.
When they get to 30 qualifying jumps within a division, they earn an Advanced (A) title. Excellent (X) titles can be earned by accumulating 55 jumps in a single division.
Once a team has achieved the Excellent title, every additional 25 qualifying jumps within their division will earn them a numerical number after the title.
For example, a team that has accumulated 80 Dock Elite qualifying jumps will earn the title “DNX2.” They will earn the “DNX3” title on their 105th qualifying jump.
Air Retrieve titles follow a similar system. They are as follows:
|Basic||Advanced (A)||Excellent (X)|
|AN||Air Retrieve Novice||ANA||Air Retrieve Novice Advanced||ANX||Air Retrieve Novice Excellent|
|AJ||Air Retrieve Junior||AJA||Air Retrieve Junior Advanced||AJX||Air Retrieve Junior Excellent|
|AS||Air Retrieve Senior||ASA||Air Retrieve Senior Advanced||ASX||Air Retrieve Senior Excellent|
|AM||Air Retrieve Master||AMA||Air Retrieve Master Advanced||AMX||Air Retrieve Master Excellent|
|AE||Air Retrieve Elite||AEA||Air Retrieve Elite Advanced||AEX||Air Retrieve|
To earn an Air Retrieve title, a dog-and-handler team must accumulate 5 qualifying grabs in a single division.
Advanced (A) titles can be achieved by accumulating 15 grabs in one division. To earn an Excellent (X) title, 25 grabs must be accumulated within one division.
Once an Excellent title has been achieved, a number is appended to the title for every 10 additional qualifying grabs.
That means a team that has accumulated 35 Air Retrieve Elite grabs will earn the title “AEX2.” When they reach 45 qualifying grabs, they earn the “AEX3” title.
NADD Distance Jumping Dock Diving Records by Breed
In the past few years, Whippets have begun to dominate NADD’s dock diving events.
In fact, a Whippet named Slingshot holds the record for longest Distance Jump after reaching 35-foot jumps multiple times in the summer of 2018. Unofficially, he has beaten the Guinness World Record for the farthest dock diving dog jump of 31 feet.
A Labrador named Taz and another Whippet named Cochiti set that original record in 2012.
NADD ranks competitors based on season averages. For Distance Jump, that average is based on each dog’s top 10 scores for that year.
The season averages of the top-performing Whippets since 2016 clearly show how well they dominate the sport.
|Whippets – Top Distance Jumping Performers (2016-2018)|
Even the current 4th placer is part Whippet. Saber, a Border Collie-Whippet mix, achieved a season average of 30’ 1” in 2018.
That’s not surprising, being a mix of two top-performing breeds. The Border Collie also has very impressive dock diving records.
|Border Collie – Top Distance Jumping Performers (2016-2018)|
Here are other dock diving records by breed based on Distance Jumping top performers from 2016-2018:
German Shorthaired Pointer
Even All American Dogs – a noble name given to mixed breeds of unconfirmed origin – have been known to excel in this sport. In 2016, a hybrid named Augie achieved a highly respectable season average of 26’ 2”.
Likely because of their larger conformation, German Shepherds have not outperformed more agile Whippets and similar breeds in dock diving.
Their drive and athleticism, however, is still enough to perform very respectably and qualify for the Elite division.
German Shepherd Dog
|2018||Rotten Spaten||26’ 4”|
NADD Air Retrieve Dock Diving Records by Breed
For Air Retrieve, each dog’s season average is based on their top 5 scores for that year.
Dock diving records from 2016 to 2018 show that the same breeds that perform best in Distance Jumping have been dominating Air Retrieve as well.
Here are the top three Whippet dock divers based on season averages. Notice that Spitfire – the Whippet that also excels in Distance Jumping – dominates this discipline as well.
Whippets – Top Air Retrieve Performers (2016-2018)
Also worth mentioning is a Border Collie-Whippet mix named Heathen who achieved a season average of 23’ 2” in 2018.
Here are other dock diving records by breed based on Air Retrieve top performers from 2016-2018:
All American Dog
|2018||Miss Molly||20’ 2”|
Notice that Augie, the high-ranking Distance Jumper, has also performed impressively in Air Retrieve.
German Shorthaired Pointer
While the GSD has not topped Air Retrieve dock diving records, it has still performed well enough to qualify for Master and Elite divisions.
German Shepherd Dog
How to Get Started in Dock Diving
Like in most canine sports, the best way to get started in dock diving is to find a local club.
As you can imagine, it would be difficult for you to go about this on your own, given the requirement for a pool and a 40-foot long dock.
Possibly the easiest way to find your local club is to visit an NADD-sanctioned facility near you. Apart from hosting local competitions, it is in these facilities that lessons, trials, and practice times are usually held.
If it’ll make you feel more comfortable, you can observe how a lesson is held first. Then, you can make the necessary preparations with your dog before you attend your first lesson.
The AKC has a few videos for how to get started:
Step 1: Ramp Work
Steps 2 & 3: Jumping Off the Dock
Step 4: Preventing Hesitation
Step 5: Chase Method
Step 6: Throwing a Toy
Step 7: Keep Practicing
Is my dog a good fit for dock diving?
While there are breeds that consistently excel in dock diving, there really isn’t any type of dog that can’t participate in this sport.
If you’re interested in dock diving, whether or not your dog would be a good fit would depend more on their temperament than their breed.
Here are some of the most ideal traits your dog needs to have in order to excel in this canine sport:
- Loves being in the water
- Strong drive to retrieve
- Great stamina and endurance
- At ease with other dogs and people
For German Shepherds specifically, it would really depend on the individual dog. Generally, their athleticism and enthusiasm for work allow them to perform well in dock diving.
With proper training and exposure, as well as plenty of practice, any dog can excel in this very inclusive canine sport. More than their performance and division titles, however, there are plenty of other benefits to gain from engaging in dock diving.
By being active in dock diving lessons and competitions, you and your dog will be surrounded by like-minded handler-and-dog teams. That in itself is a large portion of the fun.
Additionally, the bonding experience you get with your own dog is unlike anything you’d get from engaging in any other activity.
If you are interested in other ways you can have fun with your dog check out our article on 21 ways to exercise with your dog.