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Steven Donahue

You might expect the dog’s competing in the AKC Diving Dogs Challenge to be Labrador Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, or another water-loving breed. But among the greatest is “Sounders,” who holds eight of the nine diving dog records in the world — and he’s a Whippet!

This year’s AKC Diving Dogs Challenge, held in collaboration with North American Diving Dogs, takes place February 24-25, and will feature many breeds and mixed breeds ready and willing to leap into a pool of water. How did this unconventional breed for water sports become one of the top competitors?

Whippets May Not Be Water Dogs

Laurel Behnke, who breeds Whippets through Jammin’ Whippets, knew Sounders was the dog for her as soon as he was born. A litter from two of her beloved dogs, “English” and “Chili,” was so special to her that, for the first time ever, she kept two of the puppies. They were “Blitz” and his brother Sounders — the only two dogs to have ever jumped 36 feet in the sport of diving dogs.

And that’s quite an accomplishment for a breed not normally associated with water sports. “Whippets are not water dogs,” Behnke says. “I have stood poolside on multiple occasions with spectators watching who ask, ‘What breed is the best?’ Labs, they assume. I love telling them ‘Whippets!’ They are shocked.”

In fact, Behnke thinks one of the best contributions of Whippets like Sounders to the sport of diving dogs is showing the public what a non-water-loving dog can do. After watching their amazing performance, people think maybe their dog could participate too.

Get to Know the Multi-Talented Sounders

But Sounders isn’t just a diving dog. In fact, Behnke and her Whippets have tried just about every dog sport there is including the usual for Sighthounds like racing, AKC Lure Coursing, and conformation, as well as the more unexpected like barn hunt, agility, and Disc Dog. That’s because Behnke’s favorite dog sport, besides agility which she says she’s terrible at, is anything the dog likes to do. And each of her family’s dogs has different activities they like and are good at.

Laurel Behnke

Behnke lists Sounders’ favorite sports as racing, then disc dog, then diving. But while he was an amazing racing dog, Sounders can’t race anymore. Unfortunately, when he was almost 2 years old, he injured his foot racing at a national event. “We had two surgeries to repair it, but he was never able to return to racing. Which was tragic for us all as he loves it,” says Behnke. “We decided to try diving with him as it would be easy on his foot.”

Sounders Once Refused to Jump

Behnke had already successfully participated in diving dogs with Sounders’ sire Chili and some of her other dogs. So, to start Sounders’ training, she took him and his brother Blitz to a local pool for humans. Behnke went in the water first and started tossing toys around to encourage the dogs to fetch. And it worked. Sounders quickly swam off the ramp and, with encouragement, jumped off the side of the pool. “Whippets have very high FOMO (fear of missing out), and they are very competitive. So, they all wanted to be first to the toy. Plus, I was in the water,” she explains.

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It looked like Sounders was ready for his first diving dogs event. But when Behnke took him on the dock for his first “try it” attempt, he refused to jump! She says he wanted nothing to do with the big, bottomless pool. But she persevered and took him to a second event that summer, where he made his first official jump of eight feet. That was in 2016. Since then, he’s quickly gained enthusiasm for the sport and has jumped longer and longer distances at each event.

Behnke thinks the reason comes down to Sounders’ slow rate of maturity. Many Whippets aren’t fully mature until 2 or 3 years of age. “Some need that maturity to get confident enough to jump off the dock,” she says. “It was all about confidence and his drive for the toy. He wanted that toy so bad, he was willing to jump!”

Setting Record After Record

In the sport of diving dogs, dogs run down a dock and jump into a pool of water. Sometimes the goal is to retrieve a bumper from the end of the pool, sometimes it’s grabbing a bumper that’s hanging above the pool, and sometimes it’s jumping the farthest, measured from the end of the dock to the base of the dog’s tail when they break the water.

Behnke is proud to say Sounders is the only dog to ever hold all four Dock Dogs records, including Speed Retrieve, retrieving a bumper from the far end of the pool in 3.094 seconds; Extreme Vertical, a high jump of nine feet; and Big Air, a jump with a distance of 32 feet and 10 inches. Finally, he holds the Iron Dog Challenge record, which combines all three of the previous categories.

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But Sounders didn’t stop there. He also holds the North American Diving Dogs Air Retrieve record at 30 feet, and along with distance records with other organizations, the North American Diving Dogs Distance Jump record at 36 feet and 11 inches. He’s also the Guinness World Record Holder for the farthest jump by a dog (dock jumping) with a distance of 36 feet and five inches.

Sounders’ jumps are so long, Behnke says, that multiple organizations have had to get bigger pools to accommodate him and other Whippets and Whippet-mixes. “He is an absolute game change to the sport,” she says. “No dog in the world has ever jumped as far as he has. The only other dog to even reach 36 feet is his brother Blitz.”

Looking Forward to Another Competition

Laurel Behnke

Behnke’s favorite thing about Sounders is his easy-going, laid back temperament. She says he can sit on the couch with her all weekend or accompany her on a week-long marathon event. He’s super bonded to Behnke’s whole family but is equally sweet to everyone he meets. “People love taking selfies with him, and he loves meeting new people,” she says. “He’s never met a person or dog he doesn’t like. Unless the dog is near his dock, then the trash talking begins!”

Behnke believes the secret to Sounders’ success in diving dogs is his breeding. He gets drive and athleticism from his parents, English and Chili. And although Sounders turns 9 on April 24th, he’s still competing and setting records. Behnke and Sounders are excited about the AKC Diving Dogs Challenge, where they’ll be participating in Air Retrieve. And who knows, maybe there’s another record in their future.

The AKC Diving Dogs Challenge participants are making a splash! The event took place February 24-25 in Glendale, AZ. Catch all of the action on Thursday July 4 at 7:00pm ET on ESPN!