On a hot summer day, throngs of sunscreen-lathered adults shuffled into bleachers amidst a racket. Over 20 dogs barked excitedly as they prepared to dive into the water to retrieve a toy.
Among them was a local Sammamish dog, Sweep — a mix of terrier, border collie, and whippet. She flew out to Ocala, Florida, with her handler Michelle Dundas, 46, to compete in the American Kennel Club (AKC) Diving Dogs Premier Cup on May 16.
Dundas has been playing dog sports for about 25 years. She started Sweep off with flyball, which is essentially a relay race of four dogs. After seeing Sweep really enjoy diving at the Puyallup Fair, Dundas decided to formally train Sweep in the sport of dock diving. Sweep, 8, took her first lessons at Gig Harbor’s Brown Dog University around six years ago.
“She loves water, and she loves to swim,” Dundas said.
Sweep trains in two diving events. One is distance and the other is air retrieve, where dogs grab a bumper suspended over water. She is a three-time national champion and also holds the world record of 19 feet in the air retrieve division. Sweep’s titles are recognized through the North American Diving Dogs (NADD), an organization in which AKC partnered with to hold the Premier Cup.
For the distance event, dogs run off a 40-foot-long dock and jump into a pool to retrieve a toy thrown by their handler. The event is similar to a long jump competition, where the furthest distance jump wins.
For the semifinals, each dog had two chances to jump, and the longest distance was used to determine ranking. The top 10 dogs qualified for the finals, which took place just an hour later.
As Sweep prepared to jump, sportscaster Carolyn Manno noted her “unusual stance.” Her front legs were crouched down while her hind legs were straight up. AKC reporter Bill Ellis added that Sweep’s stance reminded him of a sprinter.
This comparison was not surprising considering the stance’s origin.
“The stance that we were holding her in was a natural flyball pose,” Dundas said.
As flyball is a relay race, handlers hold their dogs by the hips and release them when it is their turn.
Sweep’s first dive was 22 feet and the second was 22 feet 3 inches. Those three inches allowed her to break away from the pack, where two other dogs tied for 10th place at 22 feet. Ranking 9th in the semifinals qualified Sweep for the final round.
In the final round, contestants were allowed only one attempt. Sweep was the second of 10 dogs to jump. Her final dive measured 21 feet 5 inches, which secured her a 9th place finish.
Since Sweep is a 16-inch dog, she normally competes with dogs no bigger than her. At this cup, she had to go up against all sorts of bigger dogs.
“I was really amazed,” said Dundas. “She did amazing making the top 10, being a little short stack.”