I was worried my dog would embarrass me at the Pet Expo's Splash Dogs exhibit this weekend, and he didn't disappoint. That's the beauty of owning a Labrador Retriever -- there are endless moments of profuse apology -- most of the time you are red-faced half from humiliation, but mainly from trying to hold back the laughter. I was worried Tommy would embarrass me by not jumping off the dock, or by pooping on it. Well, he went the other way entirely ... he loved to jump so much, I struggled most of the day to keep him off the ramp, out of the pool, and out of the way of the real competitors.
The poop incident came later.
In case you're just joining us, you can read my post from Friday as I worried about my dog's absolute refusal to take a flying leap into water. You can skip ahead to the bottom of the page to see the video of our day's dock jumping outing on YouTube, but there are a few moment that weren't caught on tape. (Understand, I kind of had my hands full.)
Splash Dogs sets up a pool with a big long measuring tape along the side, and a dock for the dogs to jump off of. Most dogs get the picture that they're supposed to take a running jump and go as far as they can, encouraged by a toy thrown at just the right moment.
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My dog's goal was to get from the dock, to the water, as efficiently as possible. I was worried he'd slide on his belly, but instead, as we headed up the stairs, I really wondered if he'd jump at all or just bark his head off. Well, his first practice jump was pretty good! Barely any hesitation, and he just sort of ... rolled into the water, right off the dock.
His competitive wave was coming right up and all of a sudden, I was the one who was nervous. My dog couldn't care less about any competition, he just wanted back up on that dock to jump into the water again. But I had to take a bathroom break so I hollered vaguely to my friends to keep an eye on Tommy, who was sitting in a little pen, and I ran off.
JUST for a minute I ran off! And when I came back, I heard people laughing and my dog's favorite trainer, Stephanie, was galloping along with a soaking wet Tommy on the end of a leash and a look on her face that I recognize so well.
That embarrassed red face, and suppressed laughter. "Tommy made a break for it!" she said. "He was watching you as you left, and we were worried he'd take off after you. Well he took off all right!! Left the pen in a crumpled heap behind him."
I told her oh yes, he was watching me, not because he wanted to chase me, but to make sure I was really gone before he made his move. That dog is FAST. He made it all the way up the steps, and onto the ramp where another dog was getting ready for a competitive jump.
"Can someone get that dog off the dock?" Poor Stephanie ran up there, and blocked the steps so she could get him before he ran down them again, and of course, THEN he runs and takes a flying leap. Off the dock, into the pool. Then, a leisure lap or two. The crowd was screaming, after all, and it was hot out.
"It was a beautiful jump," she says. Probably his best of the day.
When it came time for his competitive jump, the announcer says, "...this is Tommy ... we saw him a little earlier when he was... trying to do his thing without waiting his turn.." then she laughs as he jumps. I say, "five feet? do we give him five feet?" Oh not quite, his first jump .. pretty much a belly flop .. was about four feet, three inches.
Basically, even with his 2nd jump at 4'9", he was out-jumped by a Corgi. (if you don't know what a Corgi is, I put one in the gallery at the top left of this page. Not really known for their, um, long legs and jumping ability.)
But none of this mattered to Tommy. He is like the William Hung of dock jumping ... he did it badly, enthusiastically, made a huge splash and came back for more. You're never really sure if he knows that he's ... well, not good at what he's doing.
My dog is like a karaoke singer who is terribly off key but sings with confidence, conviction and joie de vivre that's contagious. He got laughs every time he jumped, and that was fine with him. It was attention! AND, most importantly, he was in the water.
I don't know if we'll be back to Splash Dogs, seeing as my dog is not really a contender. But mostly because I'm not sure we'll be welcomed back. That dog of mine busted loose one more time before it was over. One minute we were having a lovely podium-type photo ceremony for the dogs wearing their ribbons, under the banner on the dock ... the next minute, oh look, there he is UP ON THE DOCK again, ears flying, tail up, tongue out, running with that hobby-horse gait he gets when he's in an especially playful mood.
You can get a glimpse of that in a picture my friend Mike took, during the melee -- it's in the gallery at the top left of the page too. Tommy, frolicking across the dock with that "hey guys, I'm back" body language, right before I caught up with him. Once I did, i realized I didn't even have his leash ... or anything to bribe him with. It was a battle of wills up there.
I had learned the lesson from Stephanie about blocking the stairs so, instead, I tried to block him from jumping off the dock again. He saw that move, and raised me one ... turning around, immediately dashing down the stairs, and into the pool by way of the exit ramp. VICTORY! The crowd is roaring. I have that face again. Tommy takes a few more leisurely laps before we get an attractive enough toy to get him to swim back over to the ramp. Oh he knows he's in trouble, so he takes his time. "Besides," his face says, "the crowd loves me."
Finally, as we wound down at the end of the day, Tommy's wet, dirty ribbon in my hand now, I posed with Tommy as Stephanie took our picture. So proud, with my 3rd place ribbon for dogs that jumped less than ten feet. As we got ready to snap the picture, a photographer from the Orange County Register asked if she could take one too.
"Sure!" I said, immediately arranging my dog into the most attractive pose possible. That's when his nervous colon kicked in.
It was bound to happen. I'm just glad it didn't happen on the dock. Oh, and our picture is in the OC Register gallery online! Check it out here.
I guess this is why we love our dogs. Most people like to do things they're good at, and shy away from things that they do poorly. Tommy was so scared to jump -- EVERY TIME! It didn't get any better, but there wasn't a dog more enthusiastic to be up there on that ramp to do it again. We could all be so lucky.