A Big Splash
by Michelle J. Mills, Staff Writer
Atticus ran after the tennis ball bouncing down the dock and stopped in time to watch it splash into the swimming pool. The 18-pound Jack ! Russell terrier wagged his tail and barked, but wouldn't jump in after it.
"Go on, jump. Get the ball, Atticus," I said.
He looked up at me, then at the ball floating in the pool and promptly sat down at
the edge of the dock.
This was our first attempt at Splash Dog training. Splash Dogs was founded by Tony Reed of Pittsburg, Calif. as an organization on the West Coast akin to DockDogs, which runs the Big Air competitions for the Great Outdoor Games.
The sport stemmed from hunters who would pass the time by seeing how far their dogs could jump across the water from the dock. It's similar to track and field's long jump event, and it is now growing in popularity, with competitions throughout the country.
Atticus and I decided to sign up for a training session with Splash Dogs during the International Sportsmen's Expo at the Fairplex in Pomona. "The little guy," as I fondly call my pup, loves to chase balls, especially while running and jumping through the sprinklers in my back yard, so I thought he would be a natural.
It was chilly and the water in the pool was even colder, but Reed's black Labrador Sierra didn't mind. Atticus watched as Sierra ran down the dock and launched herself across the pool after the bumper. As she hit the water, Atticus wiggled and barked with excitement.
Sierra found the ramp out of the pool, shook the water from her fur and bounded back up the stairs for another run. Atticus was rapt; his eyes followed Sierra's every move and his ears perked up as she flew through the air. He knew he could do this and it was fun.
Reed worked with Atticus, bouncing and rolling the tennis ball toward the end of the dock. The little guy was eager to follow his commands, yet stopped short of jumping from the dock. Reed then invited me to work with Atticus, but he still wouldn't dive.
We set Atticus on the pool exit ramp so he could get his feet wet. Brrrr, my pup
seemed to say as he stood still despite the lure of tennis balls bobbing just a few
feet away. Back on the dock, we tried again to no avail.
There were other dogs waiting, so Atticus and I let them take their turns. The three Labs, Sierra, Chance and Sisco, took to the task with glee, but a Belgian Malinois, Charm, required extra coaxing before making the plunge. Everyone was wet --except us -- and after several more tries, it didn't look like Atticus was going to swim.
A couple paused at the end of the pool to watch the training session. The husband turned to his wife and said, That little dog is the smartest one, he won't get in the cold water."
A group of children with two teachers came by and sat on the bleachers, cheering Atticus on as we practiced and petting him when we rested. The pressure was on, as little guy now had fans, we had to show them that we could compete against the big dogs.
It was obvious he knew what to do, especially when Atticus gave me the you've got to be kidding" look as I tried to convince him to dive. He just wasn't going to cooperate.
Reed explained that most dogs refuse to dive during their first training session. Sierra comes from a hunting line and was already jumping off docks on her own when Reed saw the Great Outdoor Games competition on ESPN.
Sierra had her own natural run and leap off - a - Superman form, Reed said.
He helped Sierra gain height for her jumps by making a hurdle from PVC pipe and practicing with it on land. To encourage her to leap across the pool, he uses a bumper tossed in the air, which serves as both an incentive and a reward.
Reed's partner, Gary Davis, of Olive Hill Kennels in Knight's Landing, Calif. suggests that you begin training your dog by tossing a ball into a shallow pool or puddle. This will help your pup get used to the water and learn what you want him to do. You can also roll the ball down the dock and let your dog catch it a few times before rolling it into the water.
When your dog learns to dive you can encourage higher jumps by placing a small
fence at the end of the dock. In competition, you will want to get your dog to catch
the ball or bumper in the air over the water, Davis said. The higher the jump, the
greater distance your dog will travel.
Davis owns a training kennel for hunting dogs, as well as 35 canines of a variety of breeds. All of his dogs will dive except for Butch Cassidy, a Labrador. Butch enjoys jumping into muddy rivers, but refuses to set foot into the clear water used in dock diving competitions.
As we waited at the steps leading to the dock, Reed came over and tied an official blue Splash Dogs bandanna around Atticus' neck. You're a good Splash Dog," Reed said.
His words sounded encouraging as we took to the dock for our final attempt. Roll the ball and let him get it a few times, then roll it into the water," Reed said. I bowled the ball and Atticus pranced after it and brought it back to me. I did it again and then pulled back my arm for a strong roll. The ball turned and bumped its way down the dock inches from Atticus' nose as he took chase. Splash! It hit the water.
Atticus stopped at the edge of the dock and looked over the array of bumpers and balls floating teasingly in the pool. With an impish grin he sat down - who said Splash Dogs have to get wet?
Michelle J. Mills can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2128, or by e-mail at [email protected].
Tips to make your dog want to make the plunge
All breeds of dogs are welcome to compete in dock diving and most events have several classes, including a fun class, to accommodate the range of abilities.
- Begin by teaching your dog to fetch a ball or toy in shallow water.
- Roll the ball, allowing your dog to catch it a few times before rolling it into the water.
- Help your dog develop jump height by making a hurdle for dry land practice sessions.
- Encourage your dog to catch the ball in the air.
- Never push or force your dog into the water-- the event should be fun for both of you.
- Give your dog plenty of praise and reward him as he learns.