5 Incredible Canine Athletes

These sporty dogs are not just well-trained, they’re world-class athletes! Meet five examples of dogs who excel in their fields.

Oct 15, 2023By Chelsea Pinkham
incredible canine athletes

Of the countless people who keep dogs as companion animals, just a fraction participates in dog sports. But as responsible pet ownership continues to advance, dog sports are rising in popularity. Whether you’re in it to win it or here just for fun, dog sports can serve as a healthy outlet for a dog’s intelligence and energy. Certain breeds are predisposed to excelling at certain sports, but you can involve your dog in sports regardless of breed. Here are five examples of dogs who take sports to the next level!

Susan Garrett’s Border Collies

susan garrett border collies
Image credit: DogsThat

Susan Garrett is not just a trailblazer, she’s changed the lives of thousands of dogs through her work. Garrett is a pioneer of fear-free, rewards-based dog training. Like most animal trainers in the 80s, she started out using conventional methods. But Garrett had a coming-to-conscience moment when she realized the toll that using punishment and aversives could have on her relationship with her dogs.

Susan Garrett developed a revolutionary method of dog training that involves the simple act of playing with your dog. By pairing positive reinforcement with real-world “games”, she turns dogs into willing training partners.

One of Susan Garrett’s most impressive accomplishments is what she’s done with her own dogs competitively. Garrett has won multiple gold medals at National or World Championship agility with every dog she’s ever cared for in the last thirty years. She’s won over thirty medals at these levels and has won the World Championship in agility and obedience several times. She is one of the most successful individuals to ever compete in dog sports.

Garrett has cared for many dogs, including a rescued bulldog mix named Tater Tot, but Border Collies are her breed of choice when it comes to agility. Susan Garrett’s Border Collies have been all over the world competing, and serve as evidence of the power of reinforcement-based, force-free training. This expert trainer and her talented dogs are a powerful team!

Spitfire: Record-Breaking Dock Diver

spitfire flies
Image credit: Facebook

Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of dogs”, Spitfire the Whippet is both a beloved companion and a record-breaking dock-diving dog. Spitfire’s handler, Sydney, was just a child when the pup came into her life. Neither Sydney nor her family were involved in dog sports. Little did they know that their family dog would become a global canine icon.

In 2016, a family friend told Sydney she should try Spitfire’s luck at a sport called dock diving. The rules of dock diving are fairly simple. A dog is led up onto a long dock, and the dog’s handler throws a toy into the water. The dog gets a running start and has to leap as far or as high as it can. Confident dogs who are fully comfortable with the water will soar over the pool effortlessly.

Involving Spitfire in dock diving proved to be a fantastic idea. In 2018, Spitfire broke the world record for furthest leap by a dog: 31 feet. He broke 21 records during the peak of his career, jumping higher and longer than any dog before him. Handler Sydney Mackey was just a teenager when her childhood dog was breaking records left and right!

Spitfire’s distance record has since been surpassed by another Whippet named Sounders, but Spitfire’s history is unbreakable. Now ten years old, senior dog Spitfire is still at it; and still ranks as top dog in the dock diving sport.

Ivy the Chihuahua: Rescued Dog Ambassador

ivy chihuahua
Image credit: American Kennel Club

Often the smallest dog at sporting events, tiny Ivy turns heads everywhere she goes. But this itty-bitty speed racer isn’t just an ambassador for her breed. She’s also a representative for rescued dogs everywhere and serves as pint-sized proof that rescued animals can achieve greatness.

Little Ivy’s story began unceremoniously. Whoever tossed a litter of six-week-old Chihuahua puppies into a dumpster clearly had low regard for the puppies’ lives. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Ivy was adopted by a couple who always had dogs, but never participated in high-level dog training. The adorable puppy was about to change their lives.

When Ivy was enrolled in an obedience class, her trainer suggested that her caregivers pursue therapy dog certifications. Ivy earned her Canine Good Citizen title and began making a difference for human patients at her local medical center. After three years of therapy work, Ivy’s caregivers decided to take her training even further.

Ivy continued to excel in a diversity of areas. She currently is the highest-titled Chihuahua in the FastCAT sport, a field dominated by sighthounds. Ivy’s fastest speed on the 100-yard dash is 18.5 miles per hour!

Ivy is almost ten years old now but shows no sign of losing steam. Her enthusiasm for life has not only helped people but sent a powerful message to the dog community: rescued dogs are worthy and capable!

Wallace: The Ultimate Frisbee Underdog

Wallace frisbee pitbull
Image credit: Joshua Grenell

Another ambassador for rescued dogs, Wallace, reigned champion in a different sport: frisbee. The bully breed mix was once destined for euthanasia in a shelter. The low-kill shelter that housed Wallace had made the decision to end the dog’s suffering, as his behavior had deteriorated substantially in the shelter environment. Kennel stress is a common source of decline in shelter dogs.

Like many bully-breed dogs, Wallace also suffered from aggression towards other dogs. Despite this, he was energetic, athletic, intelligent, and deeply friendly towards humans. Roo and Clara, volunteers at the shelter, decided to give the dog a chance by fostering him.

It was quickly discovered that Wallace lived for the frisbee! The game became an outlet for Wallace’s prey drive and endless energy. When Roo entered Wallace into a local frisbee dog competition, history was made. Bully breeds like Wallace are strong and athletic, but are not physically built for frisbee work to the extent that herding breeds such as Border Collies are. Despite this, Wallace continued defying the odds and earning high titles.

Wallace has since passed away, and Roo and Clara founded the Wallace the Pitbull Foundation in his honor. The organization seeks to improve the human-dog bond by encouraging people to involve their dogs in healthy outlets like dog sports and provide second chances to behaviorally challenged shelter dogs.

Norman the “Scooter Dog”

norman trick briard
Image credit: Times Union

Norman the Briard is perhaps one of the most diversely-trained dogs around. The globally-beloved dog has dabbled in fame more than once, best known for his ability to ride bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and surfboards. Norman’s training videos have gone viral countless times, and he holds two Guinness World Records: the fastest 30 meters on a scooter by a dog, as well as the fastest 30 meters on a bicycle by a dog.

What makes Norman so intelligent? Norman is an uncommon breed of dog known as a Briard. This deeply intelligent herding breed is known for loyalty, affection, and problem-solving skills. It’s been said that just two to three Briards can herd 700 sheep!

Norman doesn’t just belong to a special breed, he’s also an exceptional individual. Norman’s family says that he has shown great interest in training since he was just a tiny puppy. Lucky for Norman, his family is highly capable of training him and understood how to maximize his potential.

This incredible dog knows dozens of tricks and has formal dog sport titles in herding, nosework, dock diving, agility, barn hunt, diving dogs, coursing, carting, obedience, and rally. That’s a lifetime of achievements! He’s also a certified therapy dog and has appeared on over 100 news shows.

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!