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December 18, 2014

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At 11 inches tall, this athlete dives right into competition

Jack Russell Terrier among canines competing in regional Incredible Dog Challenge

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Chase Me relaxes before trying to qualify in the diving dog competition during qualifying and practice for the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge Western Regional Friday, March 1, 2013.

Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge

Jethro looks up from Cassie Wassenaar's lap backstage at the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge Western Regional Friday, March 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The 9-pound Jack Russell terrier squeaked and yapped with excitement. She shook too, even though her veterinarian had prescribed the 1-year-old with human doses of Xanax and Percocet to calm her for the weekend competition.

A dog of the same breed was next to her. Chase Me stood still.

Ever since he was 4 months old, Chase Me has raced against other canines and competed in dog-diving events. Now 9 years old with white creeping around the edge of his face like thick shaving cream, Chase Me has the calm demeanor of a grizzled veteran.

“He’s always been pretty calm,” said one of his owners, Troy Naylor.

The pint-sized canine came from Salt Lake City with his owners, Laurie and Troy Naylor, to the Rio to compete in a Friday qualifier for the dog dive and the chance to compete in Saturday’s Purina ProPlan Incredible Dog Challenge.

Leaping from a platform into a 19,000-gallon pool of water isn’t Chase Me’s strength, his owners admit. After all, Chase Me weighs just 13 pounds and stands just 11 inches tall. It’s the Jack Russell Hurdle Race they expect to have a chance at winning.

He’s ready for the competition. For about four months and five days a week, Chase Me has been running on treadmills and alongside bicycles, burning away flabby flesh and leaving behind only lean, well-conditioned muscle.

“We prepare him like any athlete. We warm him up in the parking lot with a ball, and stretch him out,” Troy Naylor said.

That includes Chase Me’s diet. For the past few months the terrier has eaten more anchovies for their protein. And like a marathoner the night before a race, Chase Me loaded up on carbohydrates with a bowl of white pasta. Whole-wheat pasta gives him a bellyache.

Just under 30 dogs competed in the free qualifiers. They came from Oregon, Utah, Colorado, California and a slew of other places to try their luck at dog diving and Frisbee. To qualify would mean a place in Saturday’s festivities, which begin at 11:30 a.m. Placing high in the Saturday events would mean a spot at the national championship in St. Louis.

Jim Allen, a brand manager for the event’s sponsor, said the challenge came to Las Vegas for the first time in its 16-year history because of the weather and the partnership offered by the Rio.

“People give up their weekends and their vacations to come out to the incredible dog challenges,” Allen said. “Would we love to make this a destination site? You’re darn right.”

The Naylors had taken time from work, and found a sitter for the five other dogs they have at home. This is their passion, they say. The 25-by-25-foot room filled from floor to ceiling with trophies and ribbons back in Utah would tell you.

So when Laurie Naylor approached the platform ready for the jump, the Jack Russell was no longer calm but riddled with energy, jumping five feet in the air.

“Watch this,” Troy Naylor said.

On the platform, his wife hovered the orange toy over her eager dog’s head. Chase Me barked his shrill bark and snapped at the toy, but he couldn’t seize it.

Too slow.

Laurie Naylor moved the toy clockwise first, then counterclockwise as Chase Me spun around in circles.

“See? He’s a wind-up toy,” Troy Naylor said. “The more you wind him up, the farther he jumps.”

Then Laurie pulled the toy up near her head, and the dog leaped and grabbed the orange fabric, Frisbee-like toy. He hung by his mouth for a moment while his owner did shoulder presses.

Finally, Laurie Naylor wrestled the toy loose, threw it into the 40-foot-long pool, carried her little athlete 20 feet back, and let him go. He sprinted, then flew nearly 12 feet in pursuit of the toy that had briefly escaped him.

His jump was good enough for a 10th-place finish out of 18, but not good enough to qualify. That’s fine, his owners said. He'd already qualified for the race.

They’ll prepare their athlete again for the next day.

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