Dog diving is the perfect television.
“There’s no rule that says a dog can’t play basketball.” Such a classic line from a classic movie. That’s from Disney’s 1997 hit Air Bud if you somehow couldn’t draw the conclusion.
To me, that’s all that goes with dogs in organized athletics. I know they do dog shows every year. My wife and I watch them and then repeatedly try to get our dogs to notice the dogs on TV in the hope that, I don’t know, there’s some kind of canine wormhole that opens up and all the dogs on TV come. in our house play with us forever. We’ll keep trying and let you know if anything happens.
A few weeks ago we were having one of those classic lazy Sundays where we load up on snacks and order all day. As we flipped through the channel looking for something that would inevitably be the soundtrack to our food coma, we stumbled upon an exciting sport we’d never seen before. Dog diving.
Tell me you can’t watch dogs do this for hours. They look so happy and so determined at the same time. It makes you want to immediately take your dog to the lake and see if they can do it too. I love my dogs but one is 12 and would rather sleep on the dock and the other is eight months old and would probably take the toy back and never come back. We are still working on things with her.
Naturally, he had to go and find out everything he could about these competitions. He wanted to know everything he could. What are the rules? How are these dogs being trained? Is this a one year thing or is it just one event? He had to know everything. So I searched the world wide web and got in touch with some great people.
I first spoke to Steve Powell about North American Diving Dogs. NADD is an organization that is associated with both the american kennel club and the continental kennel club. If he’s familiar with the scene in The Big Lebowski where John Goodman’s character tells Dude that his ex-wife’s dog has papers, these are the places where that dog probably got his papers.
Powell explained to me that there are three types of competitions and then gave me an explanation of each of them.
“It’s basically just throwing a toy or placing a toy in the water and letting your dog jump up and run and grab it. Then we measure how far they actually jump. We use visual judgment and measure to tail play, or where the tail meets the butt. It doesn’t matter what the toy is, it just has to float and not have been alive before.” Yes, Powell said handlers have dumped dead animals in the pool during previous meets.
“That’s what we have. That is a toy suspended above the water, two feet above the dock, and the dogs come out and jump and grab it and we measure in 1 foot increments.”
“It’s testing how fast they swim in the water. With us, the dog starts in front of the 10 foot mark, swims as fast as he can to the 37 foot mark where we have a toy suspended an inch and a half above the water and turns around and swims back to his owner. We timed it to the 10-foot mark from the pool.”
Dogs can qualify by going to a standard event to jump on their dog. The goal is for your dog to obtain a title with NADD so that it is recognized by the AKC. Then there are the qualifiers across the country. The winner of those goes to the regionals and the winners of the regionals go to the nationals.
Now that we know all the ins and outs of competition, I had to know the ins and outs of how these dogs train and prepare for competition. Luckily the AKC was able to put me in touch with Sheila Downing and Stacy Roberts, they are the managers of Shuggs the Greyt.
“Which gets him going when we take him to the dock, you always want to make it fun for him.” Downing said. “I think they always emphasize that Steve and Kristen Powell are big advocates that you have to make it fun for the dog. If you’re not having fun, then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
The good news is that Shuggs seems to be having a good time. I met him via Zoom and he looked like your average super happy dog. Downing says that he always wags his tail when he is training and competing.
Just like the average human athlete preparing for a competition, there is training for dogs. Downing takes Shuggs to a training facility near his Wisconsin home every two weeks. Shuggs will do about 12 hops per visit. Downing says jump number 12 is about when Shuggs gets tired.
Like that same human preparing to compete, Shuggs takes supplements for his joints and muscles. His muscles are quite different from your average greyhound. Shuggs is a Greyhound strengthened by everything and nothing he does. Your average greyhound has very different musculature because these dogs are often racing dogs. When I saw Shuggs on Zoom, he looked like Stallone in Rambo 2.
All the training and repetition leads to that moment when Shuggs takes the stage with Stacy and Sheila. He will back up to the starting point where Stacy is waiting to hold him from behind. Sheila will hold her toy out and say the magic words “get your wubba, get your wubba!” Shuggs, with the pricked ears and the clacking jaw, is like a stock car on the starting line. So it’s time to go, and he flies.