There’s nothing quite like leaping into the water in the middle of February. Just watch the participants in the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition’s DockDogs competition at Brittlebank Park.
Hundreds of canines tremble with excitement as they wait their turn to soar into the air and land with a splash in one of the two 30,000-gallon pools utilized over the three days of SEWE.
“Doni watches the other dogs participate and trembles while watching, he’s so excited,” Deb Feller of James Island said of her 3-year-old Labrador retriever that has helped Feller and her 16-year-old granddaughter Kaitie Uebelhoer earn world-wide recognition.
Feller is vice president of Palmetto Dock Dogs (palmettodockdogs.com) and said the club welcomes new members and holds monthly practice sessions at Trophy Lakes on Johns Island.
Kaitie, a sophomore at James Island Charter High School, is the No. 1 junior handler (ages 7-15).
At the DockDogs World Championship in Dubuque, Iowa, in November, Doni took first place in Big Air Junior with a jump of 24 feet, 7 inches. Deb and Doni took first place in the Big Air Elite Division with a jump of 25 feet, 4 inches. During qualifying, Doni set personal bests with leaps of 25 feet, 8 inches and 25 feet, 10 inches.
DockDogs has three disciplines: Big Air (compare it to long jumping), Extreme Vertical (high jumping) and Speed Retrieve.
In Big Air, the handler tosses a “bumper” across the pool and the dog will race down a 40-foot dock and leap in an effort to catch the bumper (there’s no penalty for not catching). The world record is 31 feet.
In Extreme Vertical, the dog must leap and grab a bumper suspended eight feet out over the water. The bumper is raised in two-inch increments until a winner is determined. The world record is 8 feet, 10 inches (Doni’s best is 6 feet, 8 inches).
The record for Speed Retrieve, in which dogs race from a zero start box out to 15 feet, is 4.751 seconds outdoors.
DockDogs does not discriminate, with all breeds allowed, although Labs are among the most popular. Kaitie said she once saw a Chihuahua participate in an event in Virginia Beach, Va.
“I’ve lived in Charleston for 15 years and been going to SEWE every year,” Feller said. “When they started DockDogs, I told my partner Laurie Uebelhoer that the next Lab pups we have I’m going to do that. When we got (Doni and littermate Sirius, who will compete in his first DockDogs at this year’s SEWE), we were at a friend’s house with a pool, they were launching after toys. We knew we had DockDogs. It’s just a fun hobby.”
Deb and her granddaughter regularly practice Doni at a pond at Eden Wind Farm on Johns Island, where Deb boards her horse. They plan to compete in about 20 events this year.
DockDog competitions will be held throughout the day from Friday through Sunday at SEWE, with registration opening at 9 a.m. each day.