Luka | Wagger Athlete April 2013

Breed: Black Lab
Age: 2
Residence: Barton
Family: Humans, Cindy and Gordon Chafee; “big sister,” Isabelle
Primary Sport: Dock Jumping

Even though she’s only 2 years old, Luka is already a title holder.  The young black lab thinks nothing is better than playing in the water. She’s eager to improve her skills through the Green Mountain Dock Dogs.

VS: Where were you born?
L: They tell me I was born in Morrisville, but honestly, I don’t remember. I do know that my living situation wasn’t the best until my humans rescued me and brought me to Barton.

VS: Tell me about your human’s organization, Green Mountain Dock Dogs?
L: First of all, let me brag. My female human is the president. That makes me First Dog, but I’m not allowed to let it get to my head. Dock Dogs is an organization for canine aquatics. Last year there were 22,000 registered teams across the United States and in England, Australia, and Japan. Green Mountain Dock Dogs is the Vermont chapter. We have about 20 members and five or six active teams.

VS: What do Dock Dogs do?
L: There are three different events at the competitions. Big Air is a basic long jump. Speed Retrieve has us all using the same distance to run, jump, swim, and retrieve a toy that is suspended above the water. Extreme Vertical is a high jump. I don’t do Extreme Vertical yet, but I’m hoping to try it.

VS: What is your favorite event?
L: The first thing my female human and I tried was Big Air, but I really like Speed Retrieve because I get to play with my toys. It’s a little complicated because they have these lines on the dock, and you have to stay between them. The dock is 40 feet long and the lines are at 20 and 22 feet, and I have to make sure my front paws are between those lines. I really like making a big splash in the water and coming up with my toy. My human has special toys that she only brings out when we do Speed Retrieve. They are about a foot-and-a-half long. There’s a white one and a blue one. I like the blue one best because it has flaps at the end that I can grab and shake.

VS: Are there limits on what kind of toys can be used?
L: They tell me that at one competition, a man wanted to throw a live raccoon in the water, but they wouldn’t let him. Honestly, I think that would have been a lot of fun, but you can’t use anything that is or was alive.

VS: Where do you compete?
L: It’s a good thing I like riding in the car because we do a lot of driving. I’ve competed in upstate New York, Maine, and Massachusetts, as well as Vermont. There was a really fun event that we went to at Shelburne Farms with lots and lots of other dogs. My female human really liked that because she didn’t have to drive as far. The furthest we’ve gone was to the World Championship in Iowa.

VS: That must have been exciting.
L: It was. They invite the top three teams in each division, with the divisions based on how far we jump. My best-ever jump was 17 feet, 9 inches, but the world record is 31 feet so I have a long way to go. Luckily, I love practicing.

VS: Are most of the competitors black Labs?
L: We are the most common, but there are other breeds. There are Dobermans, pit bulls, lap dogs, and whippets. We don’t discriminate.

VS: Where do you train?
L: There are a number of local docks that we work from, but we also do a lot of ground work, particularly to help me with the sit and stay commands. The club has an official practice facility, but it’s in the southern part of the state, as most of the teams in the club are based in the Rutland area.

VS: Does your female human like the water?
L: She doesn’t like to swim. Isn’t that weird? What’s not to like about the water? I’ve tried to encourage her by jumping on her back when she swims, but that doesn’t seem to help. She does get in boats, and when she and my male human go fishing, they take me along. I’m allowed to jump off the boat to try and fetch things, but I always ask permission first.

VS: What do you do in the winter?
L: I love the snow. I have some snow toys that I can play with when we go out. Sometimes I have to be indoors, but my human lets me use her treadmill. She puts a bunch of vegetables in my doggie backpack, and I run with that so I can be a lean, mean, dock-jumping machine. We also play hide-and-seek with some of my toys in the house. I’m pretty good at finding them.

VS: Do you know how your human got started with dock jumping?
L: She told me she went to the Champlain Valley Expo two years ago and saw a demonstration and decided she wanted to try it; so she went home and read all kinds of books about dock-jumping, and lucky for me, she decided she wanted a dog. Soon after that, she was able to adopt me, and we started working on basic commands. When she thought I had those down, she drove me down to Killington where for $5 you could let your dog play on a dock. The first time, I just sailed off the dock, but apparently I didn’t do it right. A nice lady there explained how I could do it better, and by the third try, I had it nailed. I’m a fast learner. We started with Big Air, and then we went on to Speed Retrieve. This summer, I’m going to start working on Extreme Air. If I nail that, we can start going to Iron Dog competitions.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”