One of the highlights of our Sydney Road Trip adventure was getting to visit the Australian Canine Sports & Training Centre, Australia’s first purpose built centre for Dog Sports. Set on 15 acres, the centre includes agility equipment, herding yards, large doggie day care yards and why we were there, the Southern Hemisphere’s only 90,000 Litre Saltwater DockDogs Pool!
DockDogs is a water sport for dogs that essentially involves leaping off a purpose built platform into a pool after a floatable toy.
There are three different types of DockDog games:
- Big Air – The long distance jump for dogs
- Extreme Vertical – The high jump for dogs
- Speed Retrieve – Fastest dog to the end of the pool
The game we were excited to try was the Big Air. We drove out to the centre, bright and early Saturday morning and were met by Farmer Dave who not only built the centre, but was also going to be our instructor for the session.
Farmer Dave otherwise known as David Graham has lived and worked with working dogs his entire life. Dave has worked on stations in the outback his whole life, as a Search and Rescue Dog Trainer and as a Canine Behaviourist. Dave also has an extensive background in herding, agility, carting and scent work. Not to mention the only DockDogs certified sight judge in Australia!
After a quick tour of the property, in which we saw in action the Greyhound run, Doggie Daycare yard, dam, herding yards and DockDogs pool, we got straight into our intensive course!
First up Dave had us in the DockDogs pool yard and walking Kate up and down the platform. This was to increase desensitisation and spacial awareness of the dock. Dave explained that we will visit the dock after each training stage so Kate will get used to the space and height she has to work with later. If she is comfortable in this new area she will be more inclined to jump! There was a bowl of water on the end of the dock, once Kate would drink from this bowl it showed she was comfortable and we could move on to the next stage. Dave was brilliant and throughout every stage of the training course he explained the reasoning behind every activity in depth, so we really gained a great understanding of the ‘why’ behind everything.
We then moved to a grassed enclosed yard in which to practice throwing the toy for Kate. Now this might sound silly and a bit obvious, but it was one of the best eye openers of the day! We had to each throw a toy for Kate at 3, 6, 9 and 12 feet. Our first throw was 3 feet or 1 metre, without fail 95% of people will throw the toy about 3 metres! It was a fantastic activity to really display how to recognise distance and how to harness it on your throws.
From there we continued our throws but adding in something extra each turn, like increasing engagement with the dog. We had to act like the toy we had in our hands was the most exciting and important thing in the world. If we thought the toy was so precious and brilliant, then Kate would think it was too and be more inclined to run after it and retrieve it! As Dave described it, we had to act like 13 year old girls at a One Direction concert! Simon had a great time pretending to be that – really!
After our practice throws we revisited the dock, this time it took Kate a much shorter amount of time to drink from the bowl indicating she was becoming a lot more comfortable with the dock and her surrounds!
We moved back to the yard and practiced ‘Sit, Stay and Throw’ this really focused on getting the dog to sit behind you and mimic the action you would perform on the dock. They would sit at the end of the pretend grass dock furthest away from the edge, and you would stand in between the edge with the toy ready to throw. We again practiced the 3,6,9,12 feet throws each time initiating with the sit and stay. From here we actually moved to a shallow creek at the end of the yard to practice this action in the water. A small creek so a great way to ease the behavior into a safe body of water. After a few throws here Kate was really picking it up so we moved back to the Dock for a visit and then onto the dam!
The dam was set up just like the Dock with a bit of a platform minus the height. We got straight into it with ‘Sit, Stay and Throw’ and Kate was brilliant! After a few short throws we moved onto a longer distance sit and stay so Kate could get a longer run up – again mimicking what the actual Dock set up would be like. It was very interesting to see how the excitement you put into the toy and the fetch action, directly affected how Kate responded to the toy. The more excitement and shouting we did, the more inclined she would be to go after it with all she had!
There were two behaviours we were trying to achieve with Kate, the first being the ‘Jump and Snap’ which she had down perfectly. Once we released the toy, she would run after it, jump and then swim a little way to ‘snap’ it out of the water. We want all the focus on the toy, especially when jumping into an ‘unknown’ body of water. We want it to become all about the toy and ignore any distractions. The next stage we were trying to get to was the ‘Leap and Grab’, this was a much longer spring jump to ‘grab’ the toy from the water in a much more fluid motion. We hadn’t mastered this yet, but as the course normally takes place over 6 weeks, we were pretty happy with Kate’s progress so far!
Once we had mastered the dam jumps, we got to move to the DockDogs pool! Here we got to see Sammy the current DockDogs national champion give us a demonstration of what it is to fly! After a couple of demos it was our turn.
Full of excitement for our first throw Kate sat and waited perfectly! I threw the toy for her and she took off after it! She got to the end of the platform and refused to jump in the water! Too clever for her own good, she decided instead of leaping into the water she would go around me, jump onto the retrieval ramp and from the ramp then jump into the water! Went to show that no matter how confident your dog is at jumping into the water, add a little bit of height and it can be an entire new ball game!
After many throws Kate continued to run the ramp instead of jumping straight in from the dock. Dave assured us this was normal and told us to keep practicing and she’ll get it eventually! As we had an appointment that afternoon in Sydney, we had to leave but left with some fantastic knowledge and tools to keep training Kate in DockDogs jumping.
After our stay in Sydney, we made our way down the coast and ended up camping on the banks of the Snowy River in Marlo two days later. True to our word we kept up the DockDogs training on our stay, and to our delight we found a few jetties right near our campsite leading into the Snowy!
We decided to try Kate out again, and started with the basics. Sit, stay and we got super excited about the toy in our hands! After a couple of goes, Simon threw the stick in the water and Kate took her leap of faith and jumped right on after it! It was like cracking the ice, and each subsequent throw after she just got better and better and leaped further and higher! She got it! The repetition, training and knowledge gained from Dave’s DockDog course paid off and absolutely shone through as her confidence grew with every leap.
The training and knowledge Dave gave us was second to none. It was so evident how much he cared for dogs, their wellbeing and happiness and also creating a strong bond between owner and dog. We absolutely loved the course and getting to meet Dave and his team. Watch out Sammy, just might have a new DockDogs champion in the works!
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