SPLASH! Dock Diving

by Christy Doherty

As one of the fastest-growing canine sports in the world, dock diving is making a big splash with dogs and humans alike. Enthusiasts in the Northwest are fortunate that Hillsboro is home to an indoor dock diving facility.

The facility makes year-round practice and competition both possible and fun. “The dream of opening a combination rehab and indoor dock diving facility became real almost four years ago,” explains Diane Kunkle, certified Canine Rehab Practitioner, who co-owns Paws Aquatics Water Sports and Rehab with Julie Thomas.

In dock-diving events, dogs run the length of a dock and leap as far as possible into the water, competing for distance, height, or -- in timed events -- for speed. Human competitors throw a prized toy just out of reach, motivating dogs to keep their momentum and launch into the pool at the best-possible angle.

The sport offers variations on the diving theme. For example, an in-the-air retrieve event, the coveted dog toy is suspended four feet above the water to start, moving higher as dogs complete each level.

With its growing popularity, the sport is drawing a wider variety of breeds. “About 10 years ago, it was pretty much all Labs, but then the other breeds started to try it. Right now Whippets kind of rule the sport,” Kunkle explained.

When Spot Magazine attended a February dock diving event, a Whippet named Sounders jumped so far he touched the back of the pool -- a little over 33.5 feet. The impressive dive matched his world-record jump in December’s National competition.

It’s an equal-opportunity sport. Whether low-slung lap dog or tall Russian Wolfhound, in this game, size really doesn’t matter, and the mix of breeds is endless. The sport’s organizing body, North America Diving Dogs (NADD), divides dogs into two size divisions -- those 16 inches or taller at the withers, and those shorter. There are also divisions like novice, junior, senior, master and elite within each height category.

Splash BTR photo credit Amaya Frutkoff.png

Getting their Paws Wet

Dogs benefit from the equalizing effect of water, making the sport accessible to all sizes and ages. “All they need is a strong toy drive and a love for swimming,” Kunkle enthused. “We have two labs who still compete at age 14.”

Kunkle says new dogs get a slow introduction to the sport. “We start them off the side deck, only 8 inches off the water, before moving them to the dock,” she explained.

Jenn Zimmerly-Offinga of Hillsboro competes with Motive, a Boston Terrier whose food drive outpaces her interest in toys. The pair manage a compromise. “For Motive, it’s all about food,” Zimmerly-Offinga laughs. “She doesn’t work for free. Food IS her reward, and there’s no food allowed on the dock. We have to go flying right back to the crate, because she needs a paycheck. Some dogs are volunteers; some need a paycheck. Motive needs an edible paycheck.”

Her first diving dog, Hoodlum, was the 2015 NADD Senior Lapdog National Champion, inspiring many Boston Terriers and other “littles” to follow his example. Hoodlum’s success drew Zimmerly-Offinga’s friend from Canada, Mary Young, into dock diving. She has elite jumpers and announces at events.

Young’s dog, Swindle -- a female Belgian Malinois -- is an elite jumper who jumps far and high.  Swindle is “the best counter surfer around, and likes to sleep under the blankets at night curled in between her humans. She loves everything she does and gives 100% every time,” Young says.

Motive and Swindle went to Nationals last year, where almost 800 dogs competed. “I think there were about 20 dogs from the Pacific Northwest,” Zimmerly-Offinga enthused. The Pacific Northwest offers other diving event locales, including a mobile dock, but the indoor venue is a favorite of some dogs who -- like Motive – hate cold water.  “We call her Sensitive Sally because she doesn’t like to jump into cold water. She likes to jump at PAWS, because the water is warm.”

Zimmerly-Offinga is also training Frantic, a puppy Young gifted her. “Frantic is a Boston Terrier/Whippet/Staffy mix, all legs. He’s very cute, After I lost Hoodlum to GI lymphoma, I said I didn’t need another dog. At diving events, Mary kept saying I did, since Motive doesn’t like cold water. She ended up making a four-hour drive for a puppy I said I didn’t want, and she brought Frantic back.”

That’s what friends are for.

Diving All In

Competing with Quiver, the AKC National Champion Doberman, Teresa Ross of Vancouver, WA was amazed how quickly her dogs mastered diving. “We just started. Neither dog was swimming this summer; they were babies,” Ross explained. “and in August, Avatar was in her first competition.”

Dee Morasco of Amboy, WA was at the competition with her veteran Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Rex, who has been to Nationals in Florida three times. Morasco also brought along a puppy who was adjusting to the excitement. “I’ve been doing dock diving since 2003,” Morasco explained. “It’s a good family sport. Kids as young as 7 can be up there, because two people can be on the dock.”

It’s hard to just get a little bit into the sport. Mary Young confesses, “Oh yes I’m the addicted one. I have three dogs that compete: Swindle and Scandal, my two Belgian Malinois; and Quiz, an Australian Cattle Dog. They are all amazing!”

Immersed in dog sports for over 25 years, including flyball, agility, barn hunt, lure coursing, nose work, urban mushing, obedience, Superdogs and dock diving, Young finds “dock diving seems to be a much more family-friendly event and while people are competitive and want their dogs to do the best they can, the joy of watching all the different dogs and people on the dock is what it’s really all about.”  

Young still competes in agility and flyball, and teaches flyball classes at home in British Columbia, “But the dock diving community is powerful and much more welcoming for all newcomers of all the different size dogs/breeds/mixes – it just doesn’t matter.” 

A tiny jumper’s personal best may be nine feet where the big jumpers sail out 32 feet or farther, but “the human-dog team is what keeps people coming back,” Young asserts. “I live in BC Canada and drive to Oregon for all their events. What I love most about diving is the camaraderie amongst competitors encouraging and helping with each other. We are competitors, but most are friends first,” she said with a smile.

Maybe the sport is wildly popular because, at its heart, it’s all about fun – for people and dogs. “The dogs smile,” Zimmerly-Offinga laughed, “They really do. It’s such fun to see them with smiles on their faces when they’re jumping off the dock!”


Interested in seeing if your pup has a future in the sport? Kunkle offers introductions and assessments at PAWS. A first-time assessment is $65. “After that, dock diving lessons are $45. And on Saturdays from 2-5 there is open dock diving practice, at $25 per dog, no appointment required.” 503-640-4007 www.pawsrehab.net

Diving events require registering with NADD – North American Diving Dogs - $35 for the life of the dog. Each competition has entry fees.

For information on registering your dog with NADD and finding an event, go to NorthAmericaDivingDogs.com.

Photo credit:  Amaya Frutkoff

Photo credit: Amaya Frutkoff

Photo credit: Landon Treanor

Photo credit: Landon Treanor