Latest From the DockDogs Docks

Kristi Baird of Puget Sound DockDogs has put together a great video for training in DockDogs Big Air®! Whether you’re a long time competitor, or just getting started, this is a resource you should not miss!

What are your favorite tips, techniques, and lessons for competing in the original DockDogs® discipline?

Tom Dropik of SportMutt has been a long time competitor, contributor, and 2004 DockDogs® Hall of Fame inductee.

Tom Dropik and Remi - Big AirThe sport of Big Air® is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s getting more media attention and dogs are jumping farther and farther every day. The sport is also bringing out more and more new handlers and dogs. As SportMutt continues to travel the country observing and helping people get involved, we’ve noticed handlers using a technique that is commonly described as “what top handlers do.”  Very often we hear “I see the big jumpers use it, so I figured it must be the technique to use.” This technique is commonly known in the industry as “The Chase.”

First of all, let’s get a good understanding of what this technique is and why it is so common among the top handlers. There are three aspects to a successful Big Air® jump: speed, lift, and the ability to hit the end of the dock. “The Chase” is a technique that helps ensure the dog gets that ever elusive lift. The idea is to set the dog at the start point, the handler stands at the jump point, the handler releases the dog and times the throw so the dog will chase the object at the moment the dog jumps. The purpose is for the dog to jump up and out after the object, thus getting the lift. The motivation for the dog is to try and catch the object. It’s that simple.

Next, we need to look at why this technique is so commonly misunderstood and misused. Although “The Chase” is a great technique for obtaining the lift, it can be a detriment to the dog’s speed — the other important aspect to a successful Big Air® jump. There are many reasons for this loss of speed. The most common reason is the dog simply not knowing what its objective is and slowing down to watch the handler and the object in the handler’s hand.

“The Chase” is a technique that needs to be trained and trained properly. The idea is to motivate the dog to go after the object in the air attempting to catch it while running at maximum speed. The dog needs to understand the technique and then be trained to utilize it to its fullest potential. In the dog world, a typical retrieve is based on the object lying either on the ground or in the water. Now, there may be variations of this, like the dog running after the object while the object is still moving, but the object is on the ground or in the water when the dog gets to the object. “The Chase” introduces an entirely new concept of retrieving.

Next, we’ll discuss a training method for The Chase that has been very successful for us at SportMutt. Speed is always top priority with us–work toward maximum speed and obtain as much lift as possible while maintaining that speed. Speed will only happen if the dog is confident and focused. It is obvious to us that the simpler the routine on the dock, the more focused and confident the dog will be.  “The Chase” technique is far from simple, especially for new handlers. It’s an entirely different game for the dog. If the handler is standing at the end of the dock while the dog runs toward the handler, the dog not only has to focus on running, hitting the end of the dock, and jumping, it needs to focus on the handler and understand why the handler is holding the object in hand. Then the handler tosses the object and the dog wonders where the object went. To simplify “The Chase,” ensure its success, and make it routine for the dog — it has to be trained in progression.

SportMutt starts on dry land. This is where we build the routine and with the routine comes the confidence. Measure out a 40 foot run to simulate the dock. Start working retrieves where the dog is sitting at the 40 foot mark and the handler is standing at the other end. This is the initial phase of “The Chase.” The key is to toss the object and at the same time release the dog. Do not hold the object as the dog approaches. This is the beginning phase of progression and the dog must learn to drive hard in this routine. This will help to increase speed.

Once the handler is confident the dog is running hard using this routine, the handler can then bring it to the dock. Go through the same routine exactly as performed on dry land. Remember, the key is NOT to hold the object as they approach.  The idea is to get the dog comfortable and confident with the routine. Get the dog to understand that, YES, the object will be tossed.

From there, we cross train this routine on Dry Land and the dock. With this progression, the dog learns that the object is getting tossed out into the water and the dog learns to run hard after it and increases confidence on the dock.

Next, we move back to dry land and begin to hold the object a bit longer. Start working retrieves where the dog is sitting at the 40 foot mark and the handler is standing at the other end. Only this time hold the object for a stride. The idea here is to begin allowing the dog to get closer before making the toss. This is the middle phase of progression and the dog must learn to drive hard while keeping an eye on the object. From there, we cross train this routine with the dock.

Next we begin to work the catch.  “The Chase” will be ineffective if the dog doesn’t think it can catch the object. We start again at dry land for this. We start out very close. Set up the dog about a foot away and simply toss the object out about a foot and at the dog’s eye level. The idea here is to get the dog to lunge out after the object catching it in its mouth. One very important thing to keep in mind while working on Dry Land–never throw an object higher than the dog’s eyes. Injury can occur if the dog jumps too high trying to catch the object.

From there it’s a progression game again. Start lining the dog up a few feet back and go from there. Then take it back to the dock to reinforce the dryland training and the routine for the dog.

If “The Chase” is trained in this fashion, the dog’s confidence will improve and its understanding of your expectations on the dock will improve and soon it will all come together for even bigger Big Air® jumps.

Good Luck and Keep it Fun. . .

What are your favorite Big Air® training tips? Share in the comments below! Stay tuned as we will continue to bring new training tips, handler highlights, and SOON “guest bloggers” to the Latest From The Dock blog!

Tom Dropik of SportMutt has been a long time competitor, contributor, and 2004 DockDogs® Hall of Fame inductee.

Get the Most Out of Your Dogs Speed Retrieve™ Run contributed by Tom Dropik.

Tom Dropik - SportMuttI think we can all agree that in order to excel in DockDogs®, a dog must have a strong, uninterruptible desire to get the toy, and an absolute love for the water. To be able to excel in Speed Retrieve, a dog must possess a few natural abilities such as a powerful and fast runner, a big jumper, and a very fast swimmer. Then, it’s important that the dog be able to utilize those abilities when it counts, during a Speed Retrieve run.

I love how in DockDogs® a foot can seem like a mile in Big Air®, inches can seem like stories in Extreme Vertical, and 10th’s of a second can seem like forever in Speed Retrieve.  So, when at a DockDogs® event, and every dog participating in Speed Retrieve is demonstrating all those natural abilities, and all the times are with in 10th’s of a second, a competitor has no choice but to ponder the thought “There’s got to be something I can do to get the most out of my dogs Speed Retrieve run?”

Well thank goodness there is.  There are really only 2 areas that we as Handlers / Trainers can help with, the rest is up to the dog.

First and foremost is the start.  I just love watching a Speed Retrieve competition and listening to the announcer call out reaction times and then the overall Speed Retrieve times, because it’s that reaction time that gets tacked on to the dogs overall Speed Retrieve time.  First let me help by explaining what reaction time is. Reaction time is the time between when the starting Light turns green and when your dog crosses the start line. DockDogs® electronic timing system is sophisticated enough to be able to record that time. So when you hear an announcer call out a reaction time of .3, it means that dog took .3 seconds to cross the starting line. So when the announcer then calls out an overall Speed Retrieve time of 6.2 seconds, it could have been a 5.9 second run had the dog scored a perfect reaction time. So, you can see that reducing that reaction time will definitely improve the dogs overall Speed Retrieve time.

Now we can ask the question “What can we do to reduce reaction time?”

It’s all in the starting block. The thing to remember is it takes effort and time for a dog to spring in to motion. It’s that time in this case, that is the reaction time. So our goal is to take advantage of the 2 foot starting block. Set your dog up with the front paws as far back as you can get them while still being in the starting block. That gives your dog an extra 2 feet to spring in to motion before the light turns green.

Speed Retrieve Starting Block

Now, it’s up to you, the Handler, to time the light and release your dog just prior to the light turning green because you have that extra 2 feet, so your dog will cross that starting line exactly when the light turns green and will already be in motion. Make sense?

The second is getting the dog to pull the bumper off the device with force because the time stops only when both strings have been detached from the device. I cannot tell you how many Speed Retrieve runs I’ve seen where the dog get there very rapidly only to lose up to a half a second before both strings come off the device.

I mean, think about it, the dog is swimming toward an object that is only 2” above the water, to most dogs [the bumper] is at eye level.  Then, the bumper is only a foot or so from the edge of the pool.  So we are challenged with 2 things here.  When a bumper is eye level, the dog doesn’t have to reach up to pull it down. Then, with the edge of the pool being right there, the dog won’t want to swim hard through the tug so the dog will simply grab the bumper and begin to turn while one string is still attached.

At SportMutt we train for these circumstances. First and foremost we tie knots on the end of each rope on the bumper, then we suspend the bumper off a bar that has string hanging from it with spring loaded office clips on the end. We load the bumper with the knots completely secured in the spring loaded clips. This forces the dogs to pull harder on the bumpers.

Next we suspend the bumper at eye level and about 2 feet from a wall. We sit our dogs a short distance back from the bumper with the wall behind the bumper.  We release the dog so he’s moving toward the wall to tug off the bumper. With the knots and the wall, we’re teaching him to pull hard without motioning through the tug.

There you have it. Remember, in all dog training, progression is key with lots of positive reinforcement.

What are your tips when practicing for Speed Retrieve? Please share in the comments below. 

Tom Dropik of SportMutt has been a long time competitor, contributor, and 2004 DockDogs® Hall of Fame inductee. We felt that with all of his experience he would be a great handler to start with for our DockDogs® Training Tips series as a regular feature of the Latest From the Dock. 

A Toy Motivated Sport – Learning Extreme Vertical™ and Speed Retrieve™

Tom Dropik - SportMuttIt’s been a very exciting time for DockDogs® and the Sport of dock jumping. There have been so many new and exciting changes. Ever since I started my dock jumping ventures in 2001, DockDogs® has always been dedicated to building an environment that is safe, fun for everyone, and promotes growth and sportsmanship. The changes that DockDogs® have put in place over the last year are doing just that.

One of the more exciting changes is the Iron Dog™ divisions. Implementing the Titan and Warrior divisions really opens up an entirely new opportunity for teams that just can’t compete with the Big Dogs. The number of Iron Dog™ competitors has already increased this year and we have not even hit the bulk of the season. What the increase in Iron Dog™ competitors did was, not only increase the number of Big Air competitors, it really increased the number of competitors in Extreme Vertical™ (EV) and Speed Retrieve™ (SR).Tom Dropik of SportMutt Motivate Distance in Extreme Vertical

I thought this would be the Perfect opportunity to help all those teams out there that are interested in competing in Extreme Vertical™ and Speed Retrieve™ and ultimately Iron Dog™. So I’m going to talk about the basics on how to teach your dog these disciplines.

If you haven’t already, take a moment and read the SportMutt article “A Toy Motivated Sport” I talk about toy motivation in general and how to condition our dogs to perceive the toy as the reward; thus teaching them to perform in anticipation of receiving that reward. In the SportMutt article “Motivate the Distance” I talk about using that toy motivation to teach our dogs to run faster and jump harder and hopefully increase their distance in Big Air®. In this article I’d like to discuss how you utilize that toy motivation through proper marking techniques and dock work to help you and your dog achieve maximum results in EV and SR.

It starts with understanding the simple differences between Big Air®, Extreme Vertical™, and Speed Retrieve™. I say the “simple differences” because they really are simple. In Big Air® SPEED comes first and HEIGHT is secondary. In EV HEIGHT comes first and SPEED is secondary. In SR it’s ALL About SPEED. Also, in Big Air®, the toy has been, or is being tossed by you and the dog sees that. In EV or SR, the toy is NOT tossed by you. In EV and SR the toy is suspended a certain distance out from the dock and a certain distance off the surface of the water.

Now that we’ve identified the differences the training for each discipline becomes much more simple.
At SportMutt, we always start with the ‘toy being suspended challenge’ and work the SPEED and HEIGHT after that. The question really becomes “How do I get my dog to see the toy if he didn’t see me throw it and he didn’t see someone else throw it?”.

As in all dog training we always start short and close and progress from there. We start by setting the toy on the ground and not letting the dog see us do that. So we’ll put the toy on the ground while the dog is in the kennel or in a place where he can’t see us do that. Once the toy is on the ground we’ll go get the dog. We’ll keep him on a leash and walk him toward the toy. We’ll walk him slow until he is able to see the toy. At the same time we’ll use some verbal’s like “Where’s the bird?” or “Where’s the toy?”. This helps him associate those verbal’s to him looking for the toy. That way when we get on the dock we use those same verbal’s and he knows to start looking for the toy. Once your dog sees the toy you stop. Now, using some sort of motivated verbal like “Gonna Get It? Gonna Get It?”, and holding him back, let him get it. This entire routine has just taught your dog to get a visual on the toy when it wasn’t thrown by you or someone else. At the same time it’s using Toy Motivation to get him to go after it hard. From there it is a simple progression of putting distance between the dog and the toy.

Once you feel comfortable with this routine it’s time to suspend the toy off the ground. At SportMutt we’ll use an agility hurdle to accomplish this, but really it can be any creative method. We’ll hang 2 strings from the cross bar of the hurdle and clip the bumper to the strings, very similar to DockDogs® method of suspending the toy. We start with suspending the toy at eye level and keep it at eye level. For safety reasons, we don’t like to restrain from doing any jumping on dry land higher than that. Once the toy is suspended the routine becomes the same as before and progress from there.

Congratulations, you’ve just taught your dog to see a suspended toy. It’s now time to take it to the water. If you have access to a dock, that’s great. If you don’t have access to a dock, you’re going to have to work this at practice time during a DockDogs® event. Your dog has been trained to mark the toy at eye level, you’re going to want start on the dock with the toy as close to eye level as you can.

With EV, we start thinking about the speed and increasing the height. The important thing to remember with EV is simple; produce, as much HEIGHT as you can and use the necessary SPEED required getting your dog to the suspended toy. Since the toy is only 8’ feet out from the end of the dock, it doesn’t require near the speed that Big Air does. The dog needs to be slowed down. And we want to accomplish this without teaching him to run slow. The last thing we want to do in this game is to teach our dog to run slow, right? The right way to do this is to simply shorten his run on the dock. After years of studying other dogs, working with other dogs, and working with our own dogs, we at SportMutt have determined that a good rule of thumb is 3 strides. Start your dog back far enough for them to produce 3 strides to get them to the end. However, we’ve also learned that every dog is different and there are always exceptions to the rules.
When you get to the dock, see if you can get the toy to be suspended at eye level or as close to it as possible. When you get up on the dock go through the same routine you taught your dog on dry land. Keep him on leash, use the same verbal’s, and walk him to the end of the dock. If your training was successful on dry land, your dog will see the suspended toy. Now take him back 3 strides and use the same verbal’s “Gonna get it? Gonna get it?” Let him GO!

Congratulations, you now have an EXTREME VERTICAL jumper!

With SR, we start thinking about the Speed and not so much the Height. The important thing to remember with SR is simple, produce as much SPEED as you can. If you’ve read the “A Toy Motivated Sport” article on SportMutt you should have a good understanding about how the toy motivates the drive and it’s the drive that produces the SPEED. SR is a very simple game, in your dog’s mind anyway. Once he’s got an understanding of where that toy is and he’s been motivated to drive towards it, it’s up to us to clear his path and let him go at it. It’s important to use the same routine in practice that you’re going to use in competition. This teaches the dog it’s time to let loose. The start in SR is extremely important, Not only for timing the start clock, but also for getting a strong sprint up to speed. I suggest a sit at the starting line. The dogs rear legs are spring loaded and that gives them a much better push at the start than a stand would. Learn to get the dog excited while in that sit to get the toy using verbal commands. When you’re at the starting line and you’ve got your hands around the front of his chest, and he begins to push forward in to your hands, you KNOW he’s ready to go . . .

Congratulations, you now have a SPEED RETRIEVE racer!

From the DockDogs® Woldwide Headquarters we would like to thank Tom Dropik for his contributions to the sport, this article, and just for being part of the DockDogs® community.

What tips do you use when training for Speed Retrieve™ and Extreme Vertical™? Share your thoughts in the comments below.