Greyhounds might be the world’s fastest dog breed on land, but they aren’t usually the most willowy in water. Many owners of the breed will tell you they’re not even fans of getting their paws wet, but that’s not the case with 4-year-old Greyhound, Shuggs. With his proud owners Stacy Roberts and Sheila Downing, he’s making a splash in the sport of dock diving, and you can see him in action when the AKC Diving Dogs Challenge airs on ESPN2 on April 9th, 2023.
A Natural Diving Dog
Partners Downing and Roberts have always been passionate about Greyhounds. Before Shuggs, they had Greyhounds Sega and Sammie (who both passed at the grand age of 14), and Simon. But the couple hadn’t bargained with how much energy this young pup would have. After all, Greyhounds have a reputation for being 40 mph couch potatoes. Downing recalls that, from the early days, “he started putting his head in a water bucket on the back patio and blowing bubbles.” Seeing this, they invested in a wading pool, and he loved playing in it from the start.
Considering his unexpected love of water and rambunctious nature, Downing and Roberts wanted to find a suitable outlet for his energy. As fate would have it, there’s an official North American Diving Dogs (NADD) 40-foot-long pool just 15 minutes from their home. They started taking him once a week to Three Hounds Training Ground in 2019, intending to teach him to swim, not realizing he would go on to become the first Greyhound to title in North American Diving Dogs distance.
Becoming a Water-Pushing Winner
When Shuggs first went to the pool, he was immediately comfortable jumping off the ramp and swimming, nicknamed the “water pusher” for the way he plows through it. “One day, he jumped six or seven feet from standing still. Odd, but okay, if you like doing it,” Downing said. With Downing as his holder, the person controlling the take-off from the dock, and Roberts as his handler, the person precisely throwing the toy, “he eventually progressed to 10 feet, 12 feet, 17 feet, 22 feet.” He is currently competing in the Masters division, where the dog has two opportunities to gain a qualifying score, with some 150 splashes under his belt.
Downing explains that their success is a team effort, where everything has to be in sync and perfectly timed to get the best jumps. “If he gets away from me and slips his first couple of strides on the dock turf, that throws off his entire jump,” she says. “If Stacy, at the end of the dock, releases the Wubba [toy] too soon, throws it too far, or just off center, that again takes away from the distance.”
While he might not get the air or reach the distances that some breeds who are more physiologically suited to dock diving achieve, his personal best is a soaring 24 and a half feet. Downing isn’t sure if he’ll ever hit that again, but he’s still averaging an impressive 22 feet and 6 inches, and she says he loves doing it. “He puts a [Kong] Wubba in his mouth, the toy that we throw into the pool for him, and just absolutely adores swimming.”
Upping the Ante With Hydro Dash Titles
Even if Shuggs doesn’t push further with the distance he’s jumping, there’s still plenty for the team to accomplish. He’s also the first Greyhound to title in Hydro Dash, an achievement Downing is incredibly proud of, as it’s a discipline that comes even less naturally to his breed.
Instead of throwing a toy for the dog to retrieve from the water, Hydro Dash is a timed event where they have to retrieve a bumper hanging 35 feet down the length of the pool just above the water’s surface. “To get a Greyhound to focus on something that is hanging there, not moving, not squeaking, it took a long time for us to teach him,” Downing says.
The couple’s dedication to providing Shuggs with opportunities to progress is clear. To help generate the initial motivation for this discipline, they traveled over two and a half hours to use the Country Paws pool, which has an electric rig that creates noise and movement. Channeling the breed’s natural prey drive meant “he was really interested and jumped off the dock and went at it right away with no hesitation,” Downing says.
Once they got back home, using the manual bumper proved more of a challenge. Downing explains he would initially time out and not get a qualifying Hydro Dash time. But with perseverance, he’s gotten his Hydro Dash Novice. While he’ll never be the fastest, she says they’re now aiming to reach the next level: Hydro Dash Junior.
Being an Ambassador For the Breed
And Downing is delighted Shuggs is an inspiring breed ambassador in the world of Diving Dogs. “I think there [are] six or seven Greyhounds that registered in the last couple years,” she says. “And three or four are coming up this year that are jumping a little bit longer.”
But even if these dogs overtake Shuggs with their accomplishments in the sport, his owners will always be able to say he was the first Greyhound to title, which they are exceptionally proud of.
And, considering veterinarians often comment on what excellent, muscular shape he is in, we’ll likely be able to enjoy watching Shuggs competing in the sport he loves for many years to come. “He’s four and a half years old now, so when he turns seven, in NADD he becomes a veteran. That’s a totally different group and, if he’s still swimming and still enjoying it, I’m looking forward to that,” Downing says.
Enjoying Down Time with the “S Pack”
When Shuggs isn’t competing, he spends time with the Greyhounds Simon, Sydnay, and young Sedrik, who Downing and Roberts have dubbed the “S Pack”. While they enjoy home comforts including luxurious beds and endless affection from their doting owners, the couple has also invested in a 10-foot-long pool for their yard. “It’s not quite dock diving length, but he can at least swim and keep in shape,” says Downing.
Inspired to Give Diving Dogs a Try?
If you can’t keep your high-energy dog out of the water, but you’re not sure how they will perform as a Diving Dog, Downing recommends just giving it a try. “You can say, well, he jumps in the pond all the time, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to jump off the dock that’s two feet above the water level,” she says.
Mobile docks are a great way to try it, and they usually have tryout sessions. They include everything to get you started, including dog life jackets, which Shuggs also wore as a beginner. “Ease into it, get into the water with them if it helps, and, above all, make sure they’re having fun on the dock,” Downing advises.
The AKC Diving Dogs Challenge participants making a splash! The AKC Diving Dogs Challenge is taking place February 24-25 in Glendale, AZ. Stay tuned for ESPN broadcast information!