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Are 'Dock Dog' Competitions Bad For a Gun Dog's Training?

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July 17, 2012

Are 'Dock Dog' Competitions Bad For a Gun Dog's Training?

By Chad Love

"Dock Dog" type competitions have been around for some time now, and while they're not as popular as other dog games (yet), it's definitely a growing sport.

From this story in the New York Times
You can lead a dog to water, but can you make him jump? That was one of the questions at Summer Splash, a three-day event at Meyer’s Tails Up Farm, a dog training center an hour northwest of Chicago. More than 150 dogs competed — yes, competed — by leaping into a four-foot-deep pool from a dock two feet above the water. It was part of a growing sport called dock jumping, a laid-back pastime that does not have the high profile and histrionics of better-known events like Westminster. The premise behind dock jumping is simple: dogs jump into the water, and they are judged on how well they do. In this competition, a mutt is as welcome, if not more, than a purebred. 
But according to the story, it's not just all about the jump. While the "Big Air" jumps are for distance, there are other categories as well, including "extreme vertical", "speed retrieve" and the all-around "Iron Dog" title.

While there isn't any direct correlation between hunting and dock dog events, a surprising number of hunting breeds, mostly retrievers and spaniels, have done well in the various contests. Of course, there are some valid concerns about the bad habits that gundogs can pick up from dock dog competitions, mainly isues having to do with breaking and steadiness. It can be done, however. A few years ago I did a story for my state magazine on a pair of Chesapeake Bay retrievers from Oklahoma that, at the time, were doing very well on the dock dogs circuit. Both dogs were also gundogs who spent most of the fall in a duck blind with zero issues.

There's nothing like a dramatic water entry, and of the retrievers I've owned, all but one have had decent jump, but one in particular I think could have legitimately competed in the big air and speed retrieve contests. What about you? Have you had or currently have a dog that might make a respectable showing in competition? The reporter who wrote this New York Times piece is a friend of mine who owns an American water spaniel with some definite ups.

Comments (12)

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from Josh Giannino wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

our GSP has some hops, but he wont jump into water so i guess he is out of chances.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

A good way to wind up having a dog put down for torn ACL or herniated disc. Only worse thing I can think of is frisbee competitions. I know my dogs love that stuff but I love them too much to put them at risk of being hurt ... badly! There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Swimming is great safe exercise for them but that stuff, I don't think so.

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from MikeDwyer wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Most trainers recommend that hunting dogs be discouraged form making jumping entries into water. You never know what is just below the surface. I've heard horror stories of dogs being impaled on t-posts. I have never let my lab jump into open water, even in pools where I know it's safe. It's a bad habit to develop.

If it's a non-hunting breed, I say let them jump, but just for fun. Competition jumping can lead to the injuries that Ontario Honker describes above.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Chaos and i hunt a lot of places that we are unfamiliar with so jumping into the water is not an option. i have had him do some jumping in a pond in colorado that i was familiar with and 18 or more feet off the dock was not out of the question. his vertical jump is pretty good too.

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from RockySquirrel wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I once saw a mule dive from a platform into a pool of water. I thought it was cool that a mule would willingly do that. Until I found out that a mule can't back up. It had no choice.

What is this important? It isn't. And nether is a competition to watch a dog jump from a dock. We have to keep things in some perspective. OK Ding me.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Rocky, you are usurping my role as the blog's designated defecation disturber. For that I may just ding you. :)

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from RockySquirrel wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

OH: You sir have been my mentor.

OK. I am laughing now and the blonde wants to know whats so damn funny. :-)

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from gundogco wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

We had to train our GSP not to dive after she got ahead of us on a trail and lost a fight with a bed of oyster shells. She was all cut up.

Blake,
GundogCo.com

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from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I really don't think that the concerns about the dock dog competitions affecting steadiness or breaking (which in my opinion are one in the same) are valid, from what I've seen. The dogs are placed at set at the back of the platform and they don't go until the handler releases them from the front of the platform (remote release) and they are under the control of the handler.
These competitions to me are akin to useless parlor tricks that serve no purpose other than to teach big water entry, which I try to train out of dogs.
I would much rather have a dog who races to the edge and then cautiously enters the water than one with an unseen cypress knee impaling it.
Just my thoughts,,,

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from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

BTW, Brent Ohlson and Rainey, who started in this arena, are doing very well in SRS competition. Thanks to Clint Johnson tuning her up,,,

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from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I should have read all the posts first, +1 to Honker and Mike, my sentiments (obviously) exactly.

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from Longbeard wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

My Lab backed off a dock into a mile wide river when he was only a few months old. Fortunately, he swam to calls from the shore and it turned out OK, but it took me months to get him back on a dock. No way he's going to jump off one now even if I told him to. And no way I'm going to tell him to.

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from MikeDwyer wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Most trainers recommend that hunting dogs be discouraged form making jumping entries into water. You never know what is just below the surface. I've heard horror stories of dogs being impaled on t-posts. I have never let my lab jump into open water, even in pools where I know it's safe. It's a bad habit to develop.

If it's a non-hunting breed, I say let them jump, but just for fun. Competition jumping can lead to the injuries that Ontario Honker describes above.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

A good way to wind up having a dog put down for torn ACL or herniated disc. Only worse thing I can think of is frisbee competitions. I know my dogs love that stuff but I love them too much to put them at risk of being hurt ... badly! There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Swimming is great safe exercise for them but that stuff, I don't think so.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Josh Giannino wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

our GSP has some hops, but he wont jump into water so i guess he is out of chances.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Chaos and i hunt a lot of places that we are unfamiliar with so jumping into the water is not an option. i have had him do some jumping in a pond in colorado that i was familiar with and 18 or more feet off the dock was not out of the question. his vertical jump is pretty good too.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I once saw a mule dive from a platform into a pool of water. I thought it was cool that a mule would willingly do that. Until I found out that a mule can't back up. It had no choice.

What is this important? It isn't. And nether is a competition to watch a dog jump from a dock. We have to keep things in some perspective. OK Ding me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Rocky, you are usurping my role as the blog's designated defecation disturber. For that I may just ding you. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

OH: You sir have been my mentor.

OK. I am laughing now and the blonde wants to know whats so damn funny. :-)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gundogco wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

We had to train our GSP not to dive after she got ahead of us on a trail and lost a fight with a bed of oyster shells. She was all cut up.

Blake,
GundogCo.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I really don't think that the concerns about the dock dog competitions affecting steadiness or breaking (which in my opinion are one in the same) are valid, from what I've seen. The dogs are placed at set at the back of the platform and they don't go until the handler releases them from the front of the platform (remote release) and they are under the control of the handler.
These competitions to me are akin to useless parlor tricks that serve no purpose other than to teach big water entry, which I try to train out of dogs.
I would much rather have a dog who races to the edge and then cautiously enters the water than one with an unseen cypress knee impaling it.
Just my thoughts,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

BTW, Brent Ohlson and Rainey, who started in this arena, are doing very well in SRS competition. Thanks to Clint Johnson tuning her up,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I should have read all the posts first, +1 to Honker and Mike, my sentiments (obviously) exactly.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

My Lab backed off a dock into a mile wide river when he was only a few months old. Fortunately, he swam to calls from the shore and it turned out OK, but it took me months to get him back on a dock. No way he's going to jump off one now even if I told him to. And no way I'm going to tell him to.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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