My First SEWE – Leaving it All in the Pool

Written from the viewpoint of Hope – my little rescued black Lab mix girl, the light of my life.

Last Friday, I had no idea what awaited me.  I knew there was something called Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) and I was going to participate in a DockDogs event – but I never dreamed that it would be a baptism by fire!  Just to give you a little background before I tell my SEWE story – I went to my first Palmetto DockDogs practice last summer.  I’d never jumped off a dock before but I loved retrieving my sharky in the ocean and water is my happy place.  After that practice I was hooked!  I went to one more practice and then competed in a small one day event last November.  Other than that, I’ve been practicing at my Auntie Sally’s house with her girl, Gracie, my diving bestie.

So when I got to Brittlebank Park early Friday morning, I was excited to be going dock diving – I knew what we were doing cuz mommy brought my fun bag filled with my bumpers, towels, etc.  What I didn’t know was just how big of an event it was going to be!  I was a little surprised when mommy and Auntie Sally put me and Gracie in crates under the tent and then zipped up the sides.  Why aren’t we going jumpies?  They left us there forever while they went to register – ok, it was probably less than half an hour, but it felt like much longer!  We were ready to go dock diving!


Photo by Valerie and Co. Photographers

And finally it was time … me and Gracie got out of our crates and headed towards the pool with our mommies – but when we got there, we saw TWO pools!  Oh wow, this is going to be so much FUN!  We discovered that there was one pool for practice and there were lots of people lining up.  As I stood there with mommy I was quivering with excitement.  I couldn’t wait to race up those stairs and get to the water.  When it was our time, I flew onto the dock with mommy in tow.  She put me in a sit-stay and walked to the edge of the dock so she could call me and throw my bumper in the water.  There were a LOT of people around and so many dogs barking, I was a little nervous and overwhelmed.  But I tried to focus on mommy and jumping into the pool!  I had a few practice jumps, they weren’t my best but I don’t remember the dock being that high!  I’ve only done one other competition so this is still new to me.  When we practice at Gracie’s pool we have a little platform, but nothing like the big dock at DockDog events.

After practice we went back to the tent and Gracie and I stayed in our crates.  Mommy said it was so we could rest up but I was raring to go!  And then daddy came to see me and mommy put my slip lead on and we headed to the other pool – the one for competition.  I was so excited as I sat there waiting for my turn.  When I heard my name, I went racing up the steps to get on the dock.

I got in my sit-stay position … it was hard to focus, there was so much going on!  “Where is mommy?  Oh, there she is way at the end of the dock … Listen to mommy … Watch mommy … Do I smell corndogs? … Why are all these people yelling my name?  Should I go over and say hello? Is that pluff mud down there, oh that would be fun to jump into … wow, that funnel cake looks yummy!” So many thoughts were racing through my mind as I sat on the dock.  And then mommy called my name I started running towards her – but just as I got ready to jump, I stopped!  I don’t know what happened, my paws were glued to the dock.  Mommy was cheering me on and so were all the people around the pool.  But I just froze.  And then I looked up and saw mommy next to me and I knew it was ok, so I jumped into the pool to retrieve my bumper!  Not a great start, but I knew I’d do better on my second jump!

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

I jumped in two waves on Friday – Big Air 2 and 4.  When we weren’t competing, Gracie and I hung out in our tent, curled up in our side-by-side crates.  We had some veggie and cheese snacks and took short naps.  I have to admit, it was nice having the tent – when all the sides were closed, it was our safe place. I ended up taking 3rd and 2nd place in the novice category on Friday – not bad for my first BIG event!

When mommy got me up early on Saturday I thought maybe we were going walkies, but instead we went back to the big park for more jumpies!  I was excited and a bit overwhelmed all over again.  There were even more people and pups lined up at the practice pool.  I still don’t understand why I can’t say hello to all the doggies – but mommy says I’m there to compete not socialize, kind of a bummer.  She explained that it’s for everyone’s safety cuz us dockdog pups are amped up and ready to go and not everyone would appreciate the fact that my preferred greeting is to bop others in the face with my paws!  So I tried to sit by mommy’s side while we waited to practice.

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

Mommy decided to try something different since I was having a hard time staying connected to her with all that was going on at the event.  She took me to the edge of the dock, threw my bumper in the water and then she pulled me back and held me, asking if I was ‘READY’ … then she let go and yelled, ‘GET IT’!  I didn’t hesitate as much at the end of the dock and so this seemed to be working.  After practice, me and Gracie went back to our safe place and we waited.

When it was time for Big Air 7, we all gathered at the competition pool.  OMG, there were SO many pups and their peeps!  The DockDogs official said it was the biggest wave he’d ever officiated over – 50 competitors … wow!  Mommy didn’t seem too nervous, so that was good. I kept checking in and touching her leg with my nose and once in a while I’d get on my hind legs and wrap my paws around her arms just to feel close.  Some of the pups were really excited, they were howling and barking and jumping around!  I just got kind of quiet and watched it all.  Until it was my turn – then I went bounding up the steps ready to jump!  I did much better with mommy using our ‘new’ method – I was able to focus on her more and tune out some of the noise.  I got 1st place in the novice division – woohoo … my first 1st place medal!  We went home after Big Air 7 and I was kind of happy to have a short day.

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

Sunday morning was another early one.  And this time daddy came with us.  We got to the park and went for a little walkie with Gracie and Auntie Sally.  It was fun to walk around and take it all in before the crowds got really huge.  I even met a deer!  Gracie and I kept sniffing his butt and when he didn’t respond we thought he was kinda rude until we figured out he was stuffed!

After we relaxed in our safe place, it was time for our last Big Air of the weekend.  Gracie and I got leashed up and we headed towards the competition pool.  I’ve never seen so many people of all ages and dogs in my life!  They were everywhere!  The music was blaring and it was like a big party, I had to remind myself that I was there to compete and I needed to focus.  I was on sensory overload at this point.  I started my mantra – ‘stay with mommy, stay with mommy’.  That helped calm me down as I waited for my turn.  And then I was back up on the big dock and ready to jump!  I came in third in the novice category again.  Mommy kept telling me how proud she was and that next year we’d do even better!

I had one last event – Speed Retrieve – my favorite!  It seemed like I waited forever, but finally it was time.  I love Speed Retrieve and I practice all the time in Gracie’s pool.  Me and mommy even play Speed Retrieve at home in the house!  So you can imagine how excited I was to get in that pool and swim for the bumper!  What I lack in jumping distance I make up for in speed, mommy says I’m like a little speeding black bullet in the water!  We got up on the dock and mommy walked me to the edge and pointed to the far end of the pool where the bumper was hanging – but who were all those people?  Why were they standing at the edge of the pool crowded around the bumper?  And where was daddy?  That’s when I started to get a little nervous.  Focus on mommy, focus on mommy.  But this time I could sense that mommy was nervous too.  Uh oh, what’s wrong?  I got into my ‘settle’ position and mommy crouched over me like she does when we practice.  She asked if I was ready and then all of a sudden she yelled “GO” … I raced to the edge of the pool and came to a screeching halt.  I think I actually face planted!  I was frozen and I couldn’t move – I could hear mommy yelling ‘GET IT’ and so many people were all shouting my name at once.  But I just couldn’t move.

Photo by Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema

Mommy put my leash back on me and said it was ok, we got one more try.  When we got off the dock she gave me a hug and said she was proud of me no matter what and she loves me to pieces.  That made me feel a little better cuz I didn’t want to disappoint her.  Well, the same thing happened on my second try.  I just couldn’t get off the dock.  I wanted so badly to race for that bumper but I just got too scared.   We went back to our safe place and I couldn’t wait to get in my crate!  Mommy said it was ok, we’d keep practicing and I’d get over my nerves – and so would she!

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up to go home, our friend Tom (Duchess’ daddy) came running over yelling, Hope and Gracie made it to the finals – you need to get ready!  Wait …. What?  I was in the Big Air finals???  I was so tired, but I knew I had to get out there and try my very best!

And so when it was my turn, I raced up those stairs determined to have my biggest jump ever!  And you guessed it … I stopped at the end of the dock.  By that time, I think there were like a gazillion people crowded around the pool – it was so loud and the sounds and smells were overpowering.  I just stopped at the edge of the pool with a blank stare, I forgot what I was doing!  But I had one more jump.  One more chance to do it!  I heard daddy whisper to mommy, “I don’t think she’s going to jump” – mommy just gave him one of ‘those looks’ and said, “she’s going to do it!”  We got up on the dock and mommy told me we were just gonna go for it, back to our ‘usual’ routine.  She put me in a sit-stay and walked to the edge of the dock, we made eye contact and I focused really, really hard … repeating over and over, I can do it!  And then mommy threw the bumper in the water and called my name, I went running … and yup, I stopped at the edge of the pool – until I heard mommy say, “you can do it Hope” … and I did!  I gathered every bit of oomph I had left and I leapt off that dock and into the pool!  Looking up with the bumper in my mouth and seeing mommy’s big smile, I felt like I’d won the world championship!  As she was putting my leash on as I got out of the pool, I saw tears of pride and joy in mommy’s eyes.  I came in 6th in the Amateur Finals – I may not have won, but I didn’t give up and at the end of the competition I left it all in the pool!

Photo by Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema

Dive, Swim, Luv, Hope

Too Tired to Pose for Victory Pic

I want to give a big bark out to so many people and pups who were so nice and encouraging to me and mommy!  I may forget some, but please know we really appreciated all of your pawsitive vibes!  Thank you to Deb Feller at Palmetto DockDogs for giving me my start and for always being there with advice and support!  And thank you to my other Palmetto DockDog clubmates – Tom and Duchess, Kaitie and Jon Snow, Laurie and Ella and so many others, I’m so blessed to be part of such an amazing club!  And big high paws to Tim Lake and Melanie from Carolina DockDogs – y’all were so encouraging and helpful, can’t wait to see you again!  To everyone at DockDogs who was working the event – pawesome job, most of all a big thank you to Thomas Platts for all your hard work to make it a fun and safe event for all of us!

My Diving Bestie Gracie – 5th Place in Big Air Amateur Finals; 1st place novice in a Big Air wave; and 3 ribbons in Big Air amateur waves.

And of course, a big smooch to my bestie diving buddy, Gracie and my Auntie Sally – best teammates ever!  Finally, a big bark out and lots of smoochies to my daddy, Micheal, who encourages and supports me and mommy and makes it possible for us to continue indulging in our dock diving obsession!

Big High Paws to Valerie and Co. Photographers and Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema for the pawesome pix!!!

Diving into SEWE – Tips for Getting Ready

(Written from the viewpoint of Hope, my 1 1/2 year old rescued black Lab mix dock diving addict!)

The other day I heard mommy talking about SEWE (Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, February 16-18) – apparently it’s a big deal here in Charleston … at first all I heard was blah, blah, blah … but then my little ears perked up when I heard DOCK DIVING!  What???  They have a dock diving competition?!?  I started getting excited at the very thought of running down that long dock and jumping into the water!  Mommy told me that it’s one of the biggest DockDogs events in the Southeast and people come with their pups from all over to compete.  There are two pools set up, one just for practicing.  Oh yippie, I’m doing my happy wiggle dance, this is going to be so much fun!

Of course, as a pup, all I care about is the fun stuff.  But mommy has to take care of all the ‘details’ or as I call it, the boring stuff!  Mommy called Auntie Deb (Feller), the president of Palmetto DockDogs to get the scoop on what we’ll need to be ready for SEWE.  As you might know, although there’s a slight chance in might be warm here in Charleston for SEWE, it could also be really cold.  So it’s best to be prepared!  If you’ve never participated in SEWE, here are some good tips from Auntie Deb to help you and your pup get ready:

Condition Yourself and Your Pup to the Cold Weather

As with any other sport, ease into it.  It’s like training for a marathon and you don’t want to do it all at once.  BUT, the more time you can spend with your pup outside in the cold, the better acclimated you’ll both be for SEWE.  My mommy hates the cold, but like most Labbies, I love it, so she bundles up and we go walkies and I have play dates with my friends in the frigid temps!  Take your pup swimming – we love the polar bear plunge (just make sure to wear water proof clothes so you don’t get wet and freeze!).

Dry Your Pup Off After Leaving the Pool

This may sound like a no-brainer but many pups have a thick undercoat and it’s not so easy to get completely dry.  Auntie Deb tells her champion Dock Diver, Doni (my idol!), to shake after getting out of the water.  I haven’t quite mastered that one! I do just normally shake when I jump out of the pool – but usually I do it all over mommy, oops!  When there’s no visible water coming from your pup’s fur, here’s a great dock dog hack – use a car shammy (like the infomercial Shamwow).  Make sure and dry your pup very well with the shammy and then use a big fluffy absorbent terry cloth towel like a beach blanket.  Pay a lot of attention to get your pup’s hind legs, hips and base of tail making sure those areas are completely dry.  While you’re drying off your pup, massage the areas to increase blood flow and keep those muscles warm. Remember cold stiff muscles are an enemy of any sport, and your pup is an athlete!

Don’t Kennel Your Pup Yet

Go for walkies first to keep moving around.  It’s a good idea to have a coat to put on your pup once they’re mostly dry.  Walk around the event grounds, this will help you both stay warm!  The main reason for drying your pup off really well and then walking around is to avoid the dreaded (and painful, ouch!) “cold tail” which is simply a cramp in the muscles at the base of the tail. Pups who use their tail vigorously while swimming sometimes over use these muscles.  If they don’t get dried off really well and then warmed up properly they’ll get a painful cramp.  It usually doesn’t last long, a few days at most, but it’s treated with rest.  Which unfortunately would mean you’d have to stop dock diving and drop out of the competition for the rest of the weekend – no fun!

Setting Up in Dog Town (where the competitors stay in between events)

Bring a canopy/easy-up/pop-up tent.  It’s nearly essential to have ‘walls’ to keep the wind out – the dock dogs competition is on the water and it can get chilly!   If you don’t have walls for your tent, bring a tarp and heavy duty clips to fasten.  It’s a good idea to have a propane heater or a generator with an electric space heater, too.  You’ll also want to have chairs, a crate for your pup so they can relax – I wasn’t too thrilled with this initially, but after a few jumps at my first competition, it was really nice to have a place that I could take a nap.  Bring a blankie for the crate and also one to cover it so your pup can snooze in peace.

Things to Bring to Keep Your Pup in Tip Top Condition and Ready to Compete

In cold weather both pups and their peeps often forget to drink enough water.  Auntie Deb brings a thermos of sodium free chicken broth and then adds in some warm water for Doni to drink when it’s cold, that sounds delish!  High fat snacks.  Yes pleeeeze!  Fat is the most calorie dense food and us pups need extra calories to stay warm.  Auntie Deb learned about this cool hack from the ‘mushers’ – sled dogs are fed chunks of lard at bedtime to stay warm.  Now this doesn’t mean that we pups get to gorge on fat – but freezing some bacon grease in ice cube trays is a great idea for a bite sized snack.  You can also make coconut oil cubes and add in some blueberries, yummy!

Human Comforts to Stay Warm and Dry

Most important thing is to keep the feet warm and dry – mommy would agree with this, her tootsies get cold easily!  So waterproof boots are a necessity.  You’ll also need water proof/resistant pants – even though you won’t be going swimming, your pup will most likely be shaking water all over your legs and feet.  Ski pants are a good option or check out water resistant golf pants, too.  Jeans are not a good option as they’ll get wet and then you’ll get cold!  Layering on top is best.  Long sleeve t-shirts, a sweater and then a fleece or down vest or pullover works well.  It’s a good idea to bring a couple of extra pieces with you so you can switch out if your tops get wet.  And finally, several pairs of warm gloves.  You won’t want to wear these on the dock, but you do want to keep your hands warm up until then!  And as with the pups, don’t forget to bring lots of water for yourself – and some snacks!

A Few Things to Keep in Your Dock Diving Competition Bag

Mommy always has a ‘go bag’ for events – she brings some extra trash bags, zip ties (you never know when you might need one!), a pair of scissors, small first aid kit (sometimes I get overly excited and accidentally scratch mommy), small packs of tissues (just in case the portalettes run out of toilet paper or paper towels), hand sanitizer, hand lotion, and of course, you don’t want to forget poop bags!

If you’ve never competed in a dock diving event, the first thing to remember is to have FUN!  But there are also some basic rules that you’ll want to get acquainted with, so check out the official DockDogs Rules and Policies . Dock Diving is like any other sport and there are rules to ensure that it’s a good experience for everyone!

If you’re traveling from out-of-state, make sure and book your hotel rooms early.  SEWE draws tens of thousands of visitors to Charleston and accommodations book up quickly.  Palmetto DockDogs has posted pup-friendly hotels on their FB page

I’m so excited to be participating in my first SEWE – I can’t wait to see you there!

Play, Swim, Dive, Hope