At 9 years old, Lexie, a Black Lab/Belgian Malinois cross, became the North American Diving Dogs (NADD) National Champion in the Veteran Master division for 2017. Not only was she crowned the longest jumping dog of all the veterans (dogs over the age of 8), but this remarkable dog did it while battling health issues.
She may be getting up there in years, but Lexie is still going strong as a fierce (and fun-loving) dock diving competitor.
What is Dock Diving?
On the surface, dock diving is incredibly simple: Your dog runs down a dock and jumps into the water (usually a pool) to retrieve a toy. But there’s actually a lot more to it than that, according to Haeleigh Hyatt, a positive dog trainer based in the Greater Boston area. Hyatt doesn’t work with Lexie but owns Aim High Canines, which puts on dog sporting shows across the United States.
“Like any dog sport, [dock diving] has a few different types of competitions you can enter in,” says Hyatt, whose own dog recently won the North Fork Dock Diving competition. “The most popular is a doggy long jump where dogs get a running start from the back of the dock and launch themselves as far as they can into the pool.”
The dogs who do best in this sport naturally love the water or would do anything for a toy, Hyatt adds.
Photo Courtesy of Janie Costa
Toys are how Lexie, the not-so-fond-of-water dog, got into the sport, says Janie Costa, Lexie’s parent.
Jumping in Head First
Costa wasn’t looking for a dog when she met Lexie.
“She was part of an ‘oops litter’ between a narcotics dog and a protection dog [and was] brought to me by my trainer who convinced me that I needed a second dog,” Costa says. “I had an 8-year-old Malinois/German Shepherd Dog mix at the time who was the love of my life, and I think he was worried that I’d be a basket case when I lost her, so he thought it was time to add a second dog to my family.”
Having founded Canine Camp Getaway of NY, a mountain resort for dogs and their humans in Lake George, New York, Costa had an ideal setup to get Lexie involved in water sports. But the idea of trying dock diving didn’t come to her right away.
“Lexie goes to dog camp twice a year where we have a pool for the dogs, and while she learned to swim when she was 3 months old, she never would jump in the pool,” Costa says. “Rather, she’d walk down the steps, very carefully, and then push off. She once had a reporter make fun of her because of the oh-so-careful way she’d enter the water—‘very un-Lab-like,’ he said!”
Then again, there’s nothing Lexie loves more than a good game of ball catching, so Costa eventually was able to convince Lexie to jump in the pool by throwing a tennis ball for her. It wasn’t until a few years later, however, that Costa learned that dock diving existed.
“We were at a dog event where we saw dock diving for the first time,” Costa says. “I kept stopping back to look at it, and Lexie kept looking at it with interest, but we were a bit intimidated because there were a lot of serious competitors there and we’d never even heard of the sport.”
Photo Courtesy of Janie Costa
During a break in the competition events, the organizers were offering “tryouts” for $10, where any dog could give jumping a go.
“I had no idea whether she’d go in, but when I tossed her ball in, she went right after it without a second thought,” Costa says. “She jumped 14 feet, and the people running it said we should consider competing. We did, and we have been hooked ever since.”
Becoming a Dog Dock Jumping Star
Lexie’s first competition was an Ultimate Air Dogs event in New Jersey in 2014, Costa says.
“We’d literally only tried the sport once the day before, but since Lexie was clearly having the time of her life, we decided to try competing,” Costa says, adding that she felt a bit out of place at first. “Here were all of these serious competitors with their competition bumpers, and I’m there with my tennis ball, having no clue what I’m doing, but Lexie didn’t care.”
Not only wasn’t Lexie intimidated, but Costa says she jumped her way into the Senior Elite division, where she took third place in the finals, going 15.5 feet.
Since then, Lexie has won several competitions, including the 2017 NADD National Championship in the Veteran Masters Division. At NADD Nationals, everyone gets two jumps, and then the top 10 dogs get one more chance to jump, with the best jump of the three being your final score, Costa explains.
“We were in fifth place after the first two jumps, and everyone was pretty much toast,” she says. “Nationals are a crazy good time, but they’re exhausting. And then [Lexie] went out and got it—with a big jump that put her in first place by 1 inch!”
Photo Courtesy of Janie Costa
The NADD National Championship is presented by Eukanuba, which endorses optimal-nutrition performance dog food like Eukanuba Premium Performance dog food. These types of performance dog food are formulated specifically for canines who need optimal nutrition to be in top competition form.
Lexie’s Wins Keep Coming
As soon as she returned from NADD Nationals, Lexie was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and protein losing enteropathy, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by severe inflammation in the stomach and intestines and an inability to absorb protein. It took diet changes, medication and hard work to stabilize Lexie’s condition, but she was back on the docks and ready to jump as soon as the vet gave the OK, Costa says.
Lexie is working toward getting her Dock Master Excellent title and preparing for the 2018 NADD Nationals in Orlando in December, Costa says.
“As dogs get older, they tend to lose something in the distance department, but so far, [Lexie’s] shown no signs of slowing down, jumping consistently over 20 feet and even hitting 24 feet and 3 inches this season—not too shabby for a 9-year-old dog,” Costa says. “Sharing the dock with her is a privilege and an honor. At the end of the day, there is nothing quite as rewarding as watching your dog do something she loves. And while I know she’s getting older, I also know that whether she’s jumping 6 feet or 26 feet, she will always be my champion girl!”
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Janie Costa