Since its first appearance in 1997, dock diving has attracted a lot of interest, especially from owners of ultra-fast and powerful dogs. At first glance it seems like the sport is geared toward Whippets, Belgian Mallinois, and Border Collies. But as you dive into learning more, the answer to “Is dock diving ok for small dogs” becomes quite clear.
Dock diving is absolutely OK for small dogs! In fact, they have their very own small dog class to compete in, which keeps things fair. The only requirements are that your small dog can swim and wants to participate. No breed restrictions exist — and mixed breeds can also join the fun.
In this article, you will learn all about dock diving for small dogs. We will look at which breeds participate most, where they excel, and tips for participating with your own lap dogs. By the end, you should feel prepared to start training your pups for this exciting sport.
Why You Should Trust Us
My obsession with dock diving began when I noticed how much my border collie, Bandit, loved the water. As he splashed around in the pool, thoughts of joining the sport swirled through my head.
Although we have not yet joined, I have researched the sport — and watched practice runs and competitions. I’ve also set out to talk to as many people as I can about dog dock diving, including experienced trainers.
I’ve gotten the answers to my most pressing questions,through research and discussions, such as:
- Is dock diving safe and fun for dogs?
- What breeds excel in dock diving?
- Can small dogs go dog dock diving?
- How can I help Bandit learn how to dock dive?
- Where are the dock diving competitions in my area?
With that knowledge, I am prepared to help you get the answers you seek, including, “Is dock diving ok for small dogs?” Here’s a look at how well small dogs do in this sport — and how to get started.
Small Breeds With a Knack for Dock Diving
Dogs do not have to be as driven as my beloved Border Collies and Cattle Dog to excel in this sport. They have to want to hop into the water after their toy, time, and time again. As long as they have that desire, they will likely do well in the dock diving world.
In the past few years, almost every small dog breed has appeared on the docks, ready to take the plunge. From tiny chihuahuas to Shih Tzus, they all happily race down the platform and leap into the water. Although they do not fly nearly as far as their longer-legged counterparts, they have impressive jumps for their size.
In a 2018 North American Diving Dogs (NADD) distance jump event, a Chihuahua named Homer, owned by Holly Faught, sailed an average of 6-feet 8-inches across 16 jumps. The year after, Sweetie Pie, a Shih Tzu owned by Chris Baumann, boasted a season average of 8-feet 6-inches for the same number of jumps. Pretty impressive for lap dogs, don’t you think?
Other small dog breeds putting their all into this sport include:
- Miniature poodle
- Cairn terrier
- Boston terrier
- Miniature schnauzer
- French bulldog
- Italian greyhound
- Border terrier
- Jack Russell terrier
- Rat terrier
- Miniature pinscher
- Toy fox terrier.
Depending on their size and athletic ability, small breed dogs can jump as far as 14-feet across water, as demonstrated by Debra Wigal’s beagle, Parker, in 2019.
Since this is quite far from the record-breaking 30+ foot jumps completed by bigger dogs, DockDogs, NADD, and others, put small dogs in their own class. For NADD, dogs must measure 16-inches or less at the withers to enter the lap dog class, while DockDogs allows up to 17-inch dogs. You can check the rules with your organization of choice to see which class your pup qualifies for.
If you want to read more about the best dog breeds for dock diving, read this article.
Best Dock Diving Discipline for Small Breed Dogs
Although the pups in the small dog class can compete in all three types of events, many just choose the distance event (called Big Air). It is rare to have any dogs smaller than medium breeds seeing how high they can jump or how fast they can swim. Since small breed dogs have only recently entered the sport, this may change in the coming years.
Dock diving organizations may need to alter the rules for the small dog class to make the height and speed events more approachable for these pups and their owners. Putting the finish line closer to the dock, for example, could make it easier for small dogs to compete in the Speed Retrieve event. They could include other games where these pups could excel, giving them more chances to have fun at the pool.
If you would like to read more about the different dock diving disciplines or events for distance, speed, and height, have a read of this article about.
So You Want to Enter the Small Dog Class?
For small and large dogs alike, dock diving usually starts with training lessons at a nearby facility. Or if you are an experienced trainer, you can prepare on your own at a dock on a lake or at your private pool.
Training your dog
Either way, you will need to train your dog to sit and stay on the platform, for starters. Then, run down the platform at full speed and jump in the water without hesitation. With that done, you can practice improving their distance before signing up for your first event.
Many people sign up for professional training and fast track their way to their first event. Experienced dock diving enthusiasts can help you troubleshoot all sorts of problems that crop up during training, such as:
- Hesitating at the end of the platform
- Taking a short hop into the pool
- Failing to increase jump distance
- Slowly coming back to the ramp.
They can also help you perfect your throw of the toy to best encourage your dog to jump fast and far.
Need more information about how to get started in dock diving with your dog? We’ve written a detailed article on the topic here.
Join a local club
During training, you will undoubtedly link up with other dock diving enthusiasts and even have a chance to join a local club or team. You can then participate in events together and show the world just what your small breed dogs can do.
Enroll for your first event
Once you are ready for your first competition, you will need to enroll with the organization hosting the event. If you are part of a club or team, they may sign everyone up together or give you instructions on how to do so. You will likely need to pay a one time fee to register your dog, as is required by NADD, or simply cover the cost of participating in a single event.
What happens at an event
The judge will confirm your dog’s eligibility for the small dog class with a quick measurement when you show up to the event. Using a wicket, they will check your dog’s height at the withers and use that info to put them in the right class. The measurements will continue until your dog is two years old.
Most events have dogs of all sizes compete in the distance event one after another. However, their scores are ranked separately. Similarly-sized dogs compete against each other for a chance at a spot in the national competition. Your dog’s jumps are scored and ranked, and personal records recorded and announced over the loudspeaker. They will also use that data to determine if your pup qualifies for any titles.
After you get that first event under your belt, you will likely eagerly sign up for many more. Just make sure to space the events out a bit to give your pup time to rest and recuperate between activities.
Safety Considerations for Your Small Dock Diving Dog
Across all organizations, the number one rule is that dogs know how to swim and can do so safely. You are welcome and even encouraged to put your pup in a life jacket, however. They just need to be able to hop in and confidently paddle around to participate.
Here’s our recommendation for dog life jackets:
|Ruffwear K9 Float Coat Life Jacket||More suited to kayakers and active water dogs. Available in 6 sizes and 5 colors.|
|Outward Hound Granby Life Jacket||More of a quality budget option. Available in 6 sizes and 3 colors.|
Since Nyxie is not a huge fan of the water, teaching her how to swim has failed time and time again. Instead of naturally moving to a gentle doggie paddle, like Ruby and Bandit, she splashes around awkwardly before going back to shore. And with that, our not-so-mutual dreams of dock diving were dashed (until Bandit showed his love for the water).
Following the swimming requirement is the rule that dogs must enter the water on their own accord. Obviously, that means no pushing or tossing your pup into the water. If your pup is not willing to jump in, then they are afraid or simply not having fun, which goes against the whole spirit of the sport. If that occurs, don’t worry, it likely means your pup is overwhelmed by the crowd, needs more practice, or is just having an off day. It happens. You can always try again at a later date.
Beyond making sure your dog is a strong swimmer and letting them lead the way, other ways to stay safe include:
- Check the dock and water for hazards at each practice and event
- Inspect their toy for broken parts or frayed edges and replace as needed
- Keep a watchful eye on your dog while in and around the water
- Gauge your dog’s energy levels and cut it short when they are tired
- Respect their past distances and only encourage gradual increases
- Let your dog rest in a crate in between practice runs and official jumps.
It also doesn’t hurt to learn pet CPR and brush up on your knowledge annually. As you move from beginner to veteran, don’t be afraid of sharing your knowledge with newcomers to help everyone keep their pups safe.
Now that you know the answer to, “Can small dogs go dog dock diving,” it is time to see if your pup wants to participate. As you gauge their ability to swim and hop off the dock, also make sure they are having a great time. Is your dog excited to get back into the water the second they hit the shore? Then you likely have a top contender on your hands. At that point, all there’s left to do is sign up for lessons and see how it goes.