One of the most common questions I get asked is "How can I get my dog to make bigger jumps?" As it turns, out there are quite a lot of things that you can do to help with this. The devil is in the details!
Some of the skills are things you can work on away from the dock- no pool necessary! To improve your dog's score by training between pool rentals, check out these first 5 tips:
2. Train a Weight Shift! If your dog is hovering forward before you even release them from the stay, you're already losing acceleration. The power comes from the rear with the strides as well as the jump and you can train that! Whether your dog is sitting or standing, you want the weight balanced towards your dog's rear when they take that first stride so that it can be as large and powerful as possible. This gives your dog maximum use of each stride they take. To help your dog learn to weight shift, be patient and don't release if they are hovering forward. Asking for a back up can help them re-shift their weight to the rear. Some of the exercises mentioned below will also help build this awareness and strength.
3.Perfect your throw! No matter what method you use, it is important to be able to throw the toy where you want it to go! When your toy throws are accurate, your dog learns to aim for it without having to worry about their landing. The throw becomes most valuable when it is predictable in height, distance, and timing- dogs who know from the moment they start running down the dock that their throw is going to be a good one will run harder and jump harder, thanks to their confidence in your ability! When throws are unpredictable- too high, too low, too late, sometimes sideways, etc- your dog has to wait and see if THIS throw is a good one, or "Where is it going this time?" before they commit to the jump- and that means uncertainty and decisions that are being made late in the run- a dog can't make their best jumps when they aren't able to commit to it early on. So- get out there and practice. Use a hoola hoop on the ground and practice launching your dock toy into it. Also practice the height of your throw, by using something like a tree branch or ladder to throw over! Then, combine these things to train your throwing muscles to be able to do both a throw with a nice arc AND one that lands where you want it to.
4. Improve Rear End Awareness! Exercises such as a perch pivot, backing up onto a slightly raised surface, ladder work or caveletti will help your dog understand where his rear feet fall in relation to his front feet- and that means improved coordination and confidence where it counts- at the edge of the dock! Often times, we see dogs taking off well-back from the edge and it can be an indication that the dog just isn't sure how close they can get to the edge safely. Any exercises that improve rear end awareness are valuable to your distance by giving you those inches back on the dock!
5. Build Rear End Strength! Exercises that target your dog's hind end- where their power comes from on a jump- will help improve their distance. Down to Stand, Perch Pivots, and Power Ups are all great exercises to help improve rear strength. Running UP hill is another way to build the power your dog needs for big jumps!
Once you're on the dock, there's more you can do!
3. Play with your dog! Can your dog look away from the water? Can you give them the toy, and get it back again? Can you tug and get a quick release? If your dog can play on the dock, your dock diving world opens right up! First, it helps to ensure that your dog is not so over-excited that their brain is turned off. That's right- we actually do want their brain to work during dock diving! Playing with your dog a little bit before their first jump helps get them in a cooperative spirit, helps continue their warm up, and allows you to avoid acting all weird and nervous. Playing with your dog after a jump is a good reward tactic and helps them catch their breath before their next jump! A loose, happy, thinking, breathing dog always jumps bigger than a nervous, tense, or wild-eyed dog who refuses to turn their back away from the water. Of course- having actual play skills before you try this at an event is necessary. Teach those away from the pool first for best results!
4. Be consistent in your own position on the dock. Whether you are standing at the edge of the dock, or back a bit, your position becomes a peripheral clue to your dog about where to take off. So, making it consistent helps your dog be able to judge where to take off without having to look for or visually focus on the edge. And just like with your dog's start position, inches matter! Pay attention to where your feet are and make a habit of using the same positioning. For me-I like to stand right at the edge of the dock (I use my non-throwing hand against the rail to brace myself as I throw!)
5. Make sure your dog can see the toy! This tip has a few different points to ponder. First- the actual shape and color of the toy itself- does it show up against the sky or whatever background is present at your pool? If your dog is retrieving it from the water vs chasing it in the air- can they see it in the water? For the best chance of being visible in all locations, a black and white toy is often the best choice. Then consider the 'where' of the toy. If your dog is chasing it in the air, throwing it sooner than later helps make sure the toy is out ahead of the dog so they can see it and reach for it in the air. Waiting too long to throw usually results in a dog who slows down to wait for the throw, which costs you distance- or a dog who just guesses where the toy will be thrown and loses the benefit of truly chasing the toy for added motivation. For a place and send method, you'll want to make sure your toy lands in the water where your dog can see it from their starting position. Crouch down to their level to confirm this! If you'r dog can't see the toy, you may need to throw further next time, or move up their starting position to ensure it's in full view. Just as with the chase method, the toy loses some of it's motivational power (and the resulting acceleration we are hoping for) if the dog doesn't know exactly where it is or is unable to focus on it.
These tips should give you a good start on improving your dog's jumping distance! For more training and fitness exercises to improve distance (and results in speed and air retrieve type games), check out my upcoming online class at FDSA!
Erin Lynes is the owner and trainer at Eromit AIRcademy - a NADD sanctioned dock diving competition facility in Quesnel, BC, Canada. Erin is a KPA Certified Training Partner and has been competing in dock diving since 2013. She has trained dogs who have become Canadian Champions in Xtreme Air Dogs and North America Diving Dog events, and has set records in Distance, Vertical and combined events. Her student dogs have set pool records, earned national championships, and been awarded top honors for best in breed in various dock diving events. Find out more about her dogs and training at www.eromit.com