Q&A: Lisa Hudgens, President of the Smoky Mountain DockDogs

Lisa Hudgens is the president of the Smoky Mountain DockDogs, one of the participating organizations in the Way Out West Fur Fest hosted by Hardin Valley Animal Hospital (10017 Hardin Valley Rd.) June 20-June 22 to benefit Bloodhound Search & Rescue Group. The free event (donations appreciated) will also feature free food, rescue groups, entertainment, and vendors.

Friday is "Give Dock Dogs a Try"—who should consider this?

It's open to anyone who thinks their dog might like dock-diving but there is no pressure of competition. We welcome all sizes and breeds. Our club members will provide tips and suggestions as well as encouragement for reluctant dogs. If your dog jumps and you would like to try competing, then they are welcome to come back on Saturday or Sunday for Big Air, Extreme Vertical, or Speed Retrieve. The dogs will be jumping into an above-ground, 40-foot pool that has been filled from a nearby creek. Results from these competitions will be used to determine team rankings and titles.

How did you get involved with SMDD?

I lived close to the lake and my dog Susie absolutely loved swimming and jumping off my neighbors dock. I had seen dock diving on television and had started looking into getting her started. Then I saw Trent Steele, our club's co-founder, on television talking about how he was starting a local club; this was in 2010. We went to the first Smoky Mountain DockDogs boot camp and then drove up to Bristol for our first-ever competition. From then on, I was hooked and it has become a big part of my life.

Should people come by even if their own dog would never jump?

Dock-diving is extremely fun to watch even if they don't have a dog who is ready to jump in the pool. There is nothing better than watching these dogs doing what they love, and many of our dogs do better the louder the crowd.

Will any just okay jumpers be there, or only superstars?

We will have all skill levels from Novice all the way to Elite and hopefully Super Elite. I want everyone to know that even though we are all jumping together, the newbies are only competing against other dogs jumping in the same range. We will be providing ribbons for everyone who competes. At finals, people also have the opportunity to win cash prizes for the top three dogs in each division. At many of our events,people who have never participated in dock diving before have placed in Novice or Junior and won prize money. It is a great feeling.

Who are the most accomplished dogs at SMDD?

We have several. Four of our dogs have earned invitations to the DockDogs World Championships for the past two years. (Trent Steele and his dog Alex, Tommy Brewster and his dog Ripley, Sam Gentsch and his dog Rhapsody, and me with my dog Susie.) Last year, two more members earned invitation—Becky Smith with her dog Mercedes and Marie Moy with her dog Bubba. The Southeastern Regional Championships will be the weekend after our event (June 27-29) in Cherokee, N.C. and SMDD is sending 15-20 teams. I am very proud of our club.

Where do your two dogs rank with dock-diving?

Last year at the World Championships, Susie competed in the Veteran division—she's now 9 and half. This is a division for older dogs, ages 8-9. She placed in the top 10. Lacie has only been competing for about a year and is not yet ranked but I have high hopes for her performance in Speed Retrieve as the season progresses.

Is the travel involved more of a hardship or a treat?

My dogs love traveling for a dock diving weekend. They know as soon as I get out their DockDogs bag that there will fun times soon. Lacie will go out to the driveway and sit at the back of the car until I load her into the car. She is not going to take a chance on me leaving without her. We often room with other club members to cut costs and the dogs do really well sharing a hotel room.

Is it an expensive hobby?

On a day-to-day basis, no. We have so many ponds and lakes in the area that I don't think anything of taking my girls to the dock after work to get some practice in. Traveling to compete can get expensive, especially now that I am competing with two dogs.

Do your dogs have any funny quirks when they jump?

Susie has a complete change in personality when she gets on the dock. She is typically calm, quiet, and well-behaved. Other club members have nicknamed her "Susie Perfect." Her personality shift actually starts as we are in line waiting our turn. She gets what I have termed "quiver." She doesn't bark but her excitement starts a quiver going in her hind legs. Once she is up on the dock, she a barking, jumping fiend. And we have a strict rule that only one dog is allowed off lead at a time for safety purposes. Once at a competition, I was walking Lacie to the dock and I had left Susie secure in her crate—or so I thought. All of a sudden I see this black dog run past me full tilt toward the dock. As I started to yell, "Loose dog!" I realized that it was my dog. She was so jealous that Lacie was getting to go on the dock that she destroyed her soft sided crate in order to beat Lacie to the dock. Needless to say, we are unable to use soft sided crates anymore.

What kind of funny things happen at practice?

Some of the funniest things happen as we are trying to get newbies to jump off the dock for the first time. Our practice coaches will do just about anything to help a dog muck up the courage to take that first plunge. I love watching as the human is on all fours next to the dog yelling encouragement. Then there are the times when the human accidentally goes into the pool. That is always fun.

The $10 fun jump Friday June 20 4 p.m.-7 p.m. is open to all; preregistration required at smokymountaindockdogs.com; for more information, see the event Facebook page.