Posted by: Shauna Farnell
Thanks to his mom and her lifelong animal bonds, Jax’s skills go well beyond the dock
Andrea Incitti has a way with all animals, not only her champion diving dog, Jax.
Following a traumatic experience when she was 5 years old, Incitti was isolated from other humans as she grew up on a farm in Pueblo, Colorado.
Discouraged from making friends or interacting with people outside of school, she says, “animals became my family.”
“I was the kid coming to school with kittens in my backpack,” she says. “I used to bike around with a chicken in the front basket.”
Reaching adulthood feeling a strong sense of kinship with young children the same age as she was when her life was jarred, Incitti went on to become a kindergarten teacher of 30 years. Here, her love for animals extended into the classroom. For example, a couple of years ago, she discovered dozens of tadpoles about to die in a drying puddle. She rescued them, researched how to raise tadpoles and brought them to her students so they could observe their development together.
“I love every creature,” Incitti says. “I guess I just have a nurturing nature.”
Having recently retired from teaching, she is now focused on a new full-time job – training and competing with Jax, a 5-year-old border collie mix, who you will find diving with the best of the DockDogs this weekend.
“I could see early on that he was a water puppy,” Incitti says. “He would jump in the river and has always loved fetching toys.”
“He clearly had the heart for it,” adds Rob Lacalle, a friend of Incitti’s, who competed with Jax and won in the 2019 DockDogs event in Vail. “That’s the key thing for a dog to succeed at this … he has to have the heart for it. Jax liked water and he liked to retrieve, but he also has incredible patience and the heart.”
As Jax grew out of puppyhood, Incitti watched a video of DockDogs and wanted to give it a try. She and Jax began training by practicing throwing, jumping and retrieving on land and then visiting a nearby canine pool a few days a week.
Jax came a long way in a short time, thanks to Incitti’s animal whispering ways. He has won numerous diving awards, including a recent second place at DockDogs National Championships. He’s also a Jax of many trades – a champion trick dog and certified therapy animal.
Before Jax came into her life, Incitti had already become something of a local celebrity in Pueblo for Liberty training horses (teaching tricks and movements without the use of a rope or halter). She has taught horses how to jump, bow, smile and even hug people with a few simple commands. One of Incitti’s most impressive tricks is guiding her horse to lie down while Jax runs and jumps for a Frisbee, using the horse as a springboard.
“Jax has two things he loves in the world – dock diving and herding,” Incitti says. “With all the other stuff, he’s like, ‘Come on, mom.”
How to train your dog
For anyone hoping to train their dog to be a diving champion – or trying to train any animal to do anything, Incitti has a few go-to strategies. One is clicker training, in which she uses a clicker to notify the animal of a successful behavior. Another is targeting, in which she holds her hand as a target and symbolic reward for learning a trick. Then, of course, there is food training, in which she “always has a treat on me.”
Her standout steps to successful training, however, are patience and positivity.
“I never scold,” she says. “We make it a positive experience. Patience is important because you have to spend time waiting for them to figure it out before you guide them in a different direction. Also, you always have to keep it new for the dog so they don’t get bored.”
Jax is a joyful guy, wagging his tail constantly and wanting any nearby human to throw him the bumper, even when he’s not on the dock. Outside of his Super Dog costume, you’d almost mistake him for a normal dog. But it turns out, he doesn’t really lead a normal dog life.
“He’s super spoiled,” Incitti says, detailing his expensive raw diet of seeds, blueberries and organic human food. “He has an acupuncturist and a masseuse. When I’m home, he’s with me 24/7. He loves all of this, but he does work really hard. We’ve worked hard to get here.”
Keep an eye out for Jax this weekend. He’s the happy, far-diving, blue-eyed black and white pooch in the Super Dog costume.
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