Pups take dive at DockDogs despite chilly temps

Sirius Black takes his second jump Friday during the Dock Dog competition in Brittlebank Park as part of the Southeaster Wildlife Exposition.

You can lead a dog to water but you can’t always make him jump.

Banks’ handler, Ciara Burns, had just that problem Friday.

The 2-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer shivered as he hovered on the dock above the 30,000-gallon temporary pool overlooking the Ashley River, refusing to jump in after his tennis ball, despite coaxing from Burns and the crowd gathered for the DockDog competition.

Even his brother, Hank Jr., jumped more than 12 feet in the competition at Brittlebank Park on Friday, but Banks preferred to stay dry on the cold, overcast day.

Burns and Bryan Taylor of Summerville said their dogs usually love to play in the water at the dog park, so they won’t give up on Banks even though he decided to sit out this year’s competition.

“It was a good experience,” said Burns. “On the practice round, they let him start on the ramp, and he would jump from there, but not the runway. I think the height got him.”

“We’ll probably try again when it’s warmer,” Taylor added. “This is our first time ever and it’s 40 degrees.”

Other rounds of competition planned for Saturday and Sunday could see more cold-sensitive pooches balk at taking a dive. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s on Saturday but only in the low-40s on Sunday.

Standing behind the dock and tank Friday waiting for her pup’s turn, Deb Feller encouraged Burns and Taylor. Watching the local event was what first got Feller, of James Island, interested in DockDogs several years ago.

“We watched with a new puppy and I said, ‘Next Lab we have, we’re going to DockDog-it,” said Feller, who competes with littermates Doni and Sirius Black. “These puppies, when they were about 15 weeks or so, they showed a lot of talent going off the edge of a pool, and we just knew.”

Since the DockDogs competition was added to the Southeaster Wildlife Exposition’s lineup eight years ago, it has become one of the most popular draws, both for spectators and participants.

The SEWE competition is the only two-tank event east of the Mississippi, according to organizers.

Hundreds of dogs are expected to compete this weekend in three disciplines — Big Air (long jumping), Extreme Vertical (high jumping) and Speed Retrieve — while large crowds gather to watch their performances.

Although the majority are retrieving breeds or working dog breeds, DockDogs allows participation from any breed, as long as they are at least 6 months old, according to founder and CEO Grant Reeves.

The canine aquatics competition started 16 years ago as part of ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games. Now there are about 200 events annually.

Linda Axnick and Todd Whitney traveled from Caledonia, Wis., with their Flat-Coated Retrievers Pink and Dublin to compete. The couple plan their vacations around DockDog competitions and have competed at the World Championships.

Friday wasn’t the Axnicks’ day, though, as their pooches were bested in a Big Air flight by Doni, Feller’s 3-year-old Golden Retriever-yellow Lab mutt.

In a round of competition, each dog attempts two jumps, with the longer counting.

Doni went 24 feet, 11 inches in his first try and 23 feet, 2 inches the second time on his way to winning the round.

“It’s cold out so I’m really pleased that he’s doing 24-footers,” said Feller. Doni’s personal best was at last year’s World Championships in Dubuque, Iowa, where he flew 25 feet, 10 inches in a qualifying round on his way to a second place finish. The World Record is 31 feet.

Doni first competed in all three competition categories at last year’s SEWE, finishing in the middle of the pack, but won his next event a couple of weeks later in Georgetown.

“That was when we started chasing titles and chasing invitations to the World Championships,” Feller said. “If you get the bug, you really get bit hard.”

Feller’s 16-year-old granddaughter, Kaitie Uebelhoer, who also handles Doni, is the No. 1-ranked junior handler (ages 7-15).

They’ve traveled throughout the Southeast and Midwest to participate in events. An “iron dog” who competes in all three disciplines, Doni is currently ranked second in the world in the elite division, Feller said.

They practice in a lake at Eden Wind Farm on Johns Island, where Feller stables her horse, and at Trophy Lakes, where the state-affiliate Palmetto DockDogs meets monthly.

DuckDog competitors use two methods: place and send, where they toss the toy in and the dog gets a running start on the 40-foot dock and jumps in to get it; or sit-stay and throw, where the dog jumps as the toy is thrown.

“I throw it out in front of him and that’s how he’s able to get those extreme distances,” Feller said. “These dogs are totally toy-driven. All they want is to get that toy.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.