Trent Steele is president and founder of Smoky Mountain DockDogs, which kicks off its fourth year with an annual members meeting January 19 and is currently accepting new members.
Remind us how this all got started?
In September 2009, Tiffany Flach and I met at a DockDogs event in Charlotte, N.C. When we found out we were both from Knoxville, we decided to form a club. Now we have about 25 members.
What are you looking for with new members?
We want people who, number one, want to have fun with their dog. That's the main reason we're here. We're all volunteer, so our members help out with everything—helping set up or break down at a docks competition or wrangling a coach for a practice, we're all contributing in some sort of fashion. Anyone can join as long as you have a dog. It'd be kind of weird if someone didn't have a dog.
What kind of dogs participate?
Any dog can do this as long as they love the water. We have a Yorkie that's half something else—a mixed breed named Trouble, and this little guy just loves to jump off the dock. We have different divisions according to distance for the dogs, and the shortest is 1'-9' 11". Mercedes, a boxer mix, she started jumping in that novice range and now she's in the 15-foot range. We both hold and go to competitions around the U.S. but I don't want people to think that's all we're about. It's more a camaraderie thing.
Your dog, Alex, how old is he now?
How many times has he competed?
About 20-30, probably more than that. The past couple of years it's been kind of hard because of work—I'm a restaurant manager—but we try to go to at least five a year.
What's the farthest you've been to compete?
Dubuque, Iowa, we've been there twice. It's a long drive through nothing, corn fields and soybeans. We went this past November ... it's the world championships. They take the best in each division of DockDogs, and Alex is number one in the East Coast Masters Division, which is 20'-22'11". He jumped 22' 11" at qualifying in Maryland; he just laid out, it was pretty cool. Actually, four members of SMDD went to the championships.
How'd he do?
Alex placed third overall; that is just amazing. To be with 40-50 of the best dogs in the nation and come in third, I was flabbergasted.
Did you ever imagine this would happen?
No. Coming from a rescue dog who was malnourished and nobody cared about, and now I'm doing TV interviews and people know my dog before they know me. But he doesn't know this, he just knows that's what he loves to do—besides chasing after little varmints. I call myself an attention whore, and he's that way himself. He loves to compete against the other dogs. I just never thought this puny old Weimaraner who chews up door moldings and would do anything would take me on this journey.
How long can he do this?
Until he doesn't want to compete anymore. We've got dogs jumping who are 14 years old, in the Legend division. Big Air and Speed Retrieve—that's the 90-yard dash—both of those are low-impact, so the older dogs don't have issues with joints and stuff. Alex also does the Extreme Vertical, competes in all three events, so he's an Iron Dog.
Does his rep intimidate other members?
No, it doesn't matter if your dog jumps two feet or just barks at the toy on the dock. That's what I love about the club. We try to keep the drama low, and everyone's the same whether your dog won third in the world championship or is just trying it out.
Anyone interested in joining before the Jan. 19 meeting can e-mail Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org; for more information, smokymountaindockdogs.com