Making a Splash


Dog dock diving is a fun and exciting outing you can share with your canine and also a sporting competition that can put them in front of cheering crowds.

Does your dog love the water? Always the first one into the pool? Can’t wait for a watery game of fetch? If so, they might just make a big splash as a champion dock diving dog. For those with less lofty ambitions, this fun activity provides a great bonding opportunity for you and your pooch.

The American Kennel Club (AKC), reports that dock diving is currently one of the most popular canine sports, crediting the fun it provides for both the dogs and their owners alike as the reason and explaining that the “rules” are simple. “You throw your dog’s favorite toy into a pool while he waits on a dock,” AKC’s website explains.

“On your command, he runs along the dock, flings himself off the end of it, lands in the water and grabs his toy. The goal? To have the longest jump possible, which could be as short as two feet for beginners, but could be as much as 30 feet for those more experienced.”


As you might imagine, dock diving training and competition only takes place in pools in North Central Florida. Alligators present too great a risk in most Florida freshwater. If you drive north, out of state, other regions provide dock diving in rivers and lakes in natural settings.

Typically, the “docks” that are constructed around the pool are 35 to 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and about 2 feet above the water. They are usually covered in artificial turf, outdoor carpet or a rubber matting.

Just For Fun

If this sounds like a fun activity you want to try, the opportunity may be closer than you think. There are several facilities in our area offering training and access to a regulation pool. We visited the Ocala Dog Ranch on Southwest 110th Avenue in Ocala for a recent gathering of dock diving dogs.


Mel Lucas explains that even before she turns onto the road leading to the ranch, the eyes of her 4-year-old golden retriever Godric brighten and widen. His tail whips back and forth. “It’s almost like he memorizes the drive,” she offers.

That day the above-ground pool at the ranch overflowed with splashes, barks and laughter. Owners Neil Hennessey and his wife Sally Saxton had put out the call for dogs to come demonstrate the fun for us and a group of pups and “their people” turned out and anxiously awaited their turn in the pool.

Dog parent Valerie Torres could barely contain the enthusiasm of her 6-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. A fan favorite at competitions because of his unbridled enthusiasm, Finn did not disappoint, squealing with delight until he was able to launch himself into the pool with reckless abandon.

The dog owners, along with Hennessy and Saxton, laugh and enthusiastically cheer each pup while catching up and sharing stories.

Sally Saxton and Neil Hennessey

Many owners have no interest in the competitions, but simply bring their dogs to play in the pool, Saxton shares.

Allana Marl, who was at the gathering with her 21-month-old Doberman Lynch, first got involved with the ranch out of a desire to ensure her dogs could swim because she has a pool at home and didn’t want them to fall in and drown. Lynch was the only dog interested in diving that day. Marl rented the pool for a private outing with him before the others arrived, lovingly encouraging each of his leaps into the pool—seemingly enjoying every moment as much as Lynch himself.

“He loves it!” she declares, explaining that it also reminds her of her childhood in the north. “This is just how we used to play with our dogs when I was growing up. It wasn’t a sport. It was just good fun.”

Typically, Marl will fasten life jackets on her pups for her own assurance, so she can grab on to her dogs if she needs to separate them during horseplay. And, yes, doggy parents can get right in the pool with their fur children.

“It’s like, they’re my kids,” shares Williston resident Todd Miller, who was in attendance with his adorable 2-year-old mixed breed Vader, of his relationship with his 12 dogs. “And just like people would take their sons or daughters to soft ball or baseball or anything like that, it’s basically what we do for fun and enjoyment.”

Let the Games Begin

Dock diving, as a competitive dog sport, started in 1997 at the Incredible Dog Challenge, an event that was sponsored and produced by Purina. Perhaps you have seen videos of the many current iterations of the sport.


Dogs start the process by fetching a toy at the end of the dock so they can recognize where the platform ends and the water begins. A giant ruler is painted along the side of the pool. During competitions, the jump distance is measured from the lateral midpoint of the end of the dock to the point at which the base of the dog’s tail (where the tail meets the body) breaks the water’s surface.

North America Diving Dogs (NADD) is an association that works with dock diving facilities to hold competitions across North America. NAAD competitions are open to all breeds and mixes.

Events are split into several categories: “Distance Jumping” for the farthest jump (based on the dog’s size), “Air Retrieve,” a high jump using a suspended toy and “HydroDash” speed swimming. Dogs are eligible to compete once they reach 6-months old and a special Veterans Class is offered for dogs over the age of 8. The Open Class allows all dogs to compete regardless of breed, sex or age.

Ocala Dog Ranch is registered with the American Kennel Club and hosts NADD competitions on the premises starting in April. The next one will take place from April 1st through the 3rd.


In addition to diving and swimming instruction, the ranch also offers doggy day care, boarding, obedience and therapy dog training, flyball classes and lure coursing events against the scenic backdrop of southwest Ocala’s rolling hills and sprawling horse farms. If you attend one of the events or visit for one of their various offerings, don’t expect the sort of atmosphere seen at competitions broadcast on TV or lampooned in the satirical film Best in Show. Ocala Dog Ranch, on the contrary, is a no-diva zone.

“We try to keep this place as happy as we can,” Saxton said. “We don’t want drama here.”

Through their down-to-earth attitude, they have fostered a welcoming culture and a sense of community.

“Sally and Neil are very nice, welcoming and honest, and they always have really good ideas,” asserts Lucas, who drives two hours from Valrico to exercise and train Godric at the ranch and has been doing so since the dog was just 6-months old. “They offer suggestions that other facility owners don’t generally think of and share their overall experience.”

Saxton and Hennessey have been in the dog business for around 20 years and own Australian Shepherds, Miniature American Shepherds, a Border Collie/Whippet mix and a mixed-breed. They opened the ranch four and a half years ago.

Saxton, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to South Florida in her youth. She is amiably direct with a quick wit.

Hennessey, originally from Plymouth, England, reveals his heritage with a beanie bearing the colors of the Union Jack and an accent tempered by 40 years of Yankee immersion.

“During our dock events, we’ll have a food truck onsite and vendors selling dog specialty items, doggy massages,” he reports. “I love it when people come out and watch. If we don’t invite people to watch, we can’t get people involved in the sport. We love seeing people come and hearing people say, ‘I really want to try that.’ You can get as competitive or as laid back as you want with dock diving. When we have competitions, people set up their tents. Everybody kind of knows everybody; everybody’s willing to help everybody.”

Read to dive in? For more information about the sport, visit dock-diving and for further information about the Ocala Dog Ranch and upcoming tournaments at the ranch, call (352) 575-1069 or visit

Posted in Ocala Style FeaturesTagged

Share this post


What's New at Ocala Style

Read These Writers

Our area has an abundance of authors. Check out some...

‘Water Shapes Florida’

The new exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History...

Mastering Your Garden

The dog days of summer can be a good time...

Alligator Allegory

My grandparents were the first to build a home along...

Making Moves

Meet the Ocala-based casting director who has steadily been building...

From France to Ocala

Dr. Jose Gaudier will lecture about the Olympic Games Paris...