Can My Dog Do That?
It is true that certain sized dogs are better suited for this sport. Very large dogs and super small dogs are usually not found playing catch with discs. The dogs normally seen are medium sized mixes, herding breeds and retrievers. Of course that doesn’t mean other dogs or smaller and larger ones can’t play, plenty do.
Have your dog checked by your vet before starting rigorous athletic training. You want to ensure that your dog is sound and able to play. Young puppies and older dogs need to have training specifically tailored for their physical needs.
Dogs under 18 months of age should not be encouraged to leap. Excessive leaping prior to growth plate closure can create problems in later years. Growth plate closure usually occurs somewhere between 14 to 18 months of age. Before attempting airborne maneuvers with a young dog always consult with your vet to be sure growth plates have closed. During these early months, lay down your obedience, socialization and disc groundwork.
Good basic obedience training gives you the foundation for adding more commands and tricks to your dogs repertoire. Since disc dogging is an off leash sport a solid off leash recall is very important. Make training a life long activity with your dog and reap its rewards.
Okay, with all that said and done you’re ready to begin. Now here’s the big secret…. a great disc dog is made, not born! All the disc dogs you see have gotten there through practice and positive training. You too can train your dog to be a great disc dog.
A disc dog is required to fetch, catch, retrieve and relinquish the disc to its handler. If your dog already does one or more of these elements with a ball or toy you are well on your way and can switch the behavior to dog discs.
Before starting to work with your dog, learn the proper way to throw the disc with a human friend. This is a tremendous help when your dog is learning to catch and will become essential later on. Never allow your dog to play with a disc on his own as a toy. Your dog may chew it up and swallow harmful pieces. Since this is a team sport your dog should only play with the disc with you. At all other times, put them away.
– – – – –
For a dog learning to fetch, start basic training with something other than a disc. You can teach this behavior at any age by using an object your dog likes. You want to encourage your dog to chase the object. This is the first part of the retrieve/fetch. You can tie a toy to a string and entice your dog to chase it or wiggle it around on the floor in front of him. Make happy noises, act excited and give plenty of praise when your dog chases the toy. Let him get it and praise, praise, praise.
Chasing comes easier for some dogs so don’t get discouraged if your dog doesn’t pick it up right away, keep trying. Once your dog is interested in chasing add the “get it” command. Use lots of positive praise when he “gets it” and keep it fun. If your dog already has a good chase and get it, move on to the retrieve.
Toss the toy or other object away from the dog. Once your dog has the toy call him to you once. Don’t fall into the habit of chanting the “come” command over and over. Use a different word to get the dog moving along, move away in the opposite direction if you have to. Most dogs will follow so when they arrive praise the daylights out of them. Keep this up and add the “bring it” command as your dog is returning to you with the toy.
If your dog runs away from you after retrieving the toy do not engage in a game of “keep away”. Instead use a 20-30 Ft training lead. Toss the toy and let the lead drag on the ground. As soon as your dog gets the toy pick up the lead, call him back and at the same time give a small correction tug on the lead to move the dog towards you. Continue praising the return using an excited voice. If your dog won’t budge, give a firmer correction tug on the lead and continue encouraging the return. Use correction tugs and positive praise until the dog returns to you but don’t reel them in.
For your dogs well being, teach a reliable Drop! command. Do not chase your dog when he has something you want dropped. It will only turn into a game of keep away. Try turning your back and walking away in the other direction or sit down and wait him out. Playing is much more fun and the dog will soon realize that play time is over when he does not drop the toy back to you. When the dog drops the toy, praise away.
You could also try a toy or treat exchange. When your dog returns with the first toy, show the other toy. Once they drop the first toy, praise and give them the other toy. When your dog returns to you, have a treat ready, show him the treat. Most dogs will drop anything they have to eat a treat. Treat, praise and continue your game of fetch. Add the “Drop” command when he’s doing it consistently and eliminate the treats using praise and another toss of the toy as the reward.
– – – –
A Word About Discs
What type of discs are used? NOT the hard, brittle discs found at most pet stores or given away as promotional items. These are dangerous and can easily injure your dog, never use them.
The official type of disc used in this sport is made from a softer plastic. Examples are the Hero Disc, Wham-O Fastback and Hyperflite K10. You will find variations within these discs for cold weather play, puncture resistance, etc. The Aerobie Superdisc is used but it is not widely accepted at most major competitions.
Adding The Disc
If your dog has never seen a disc before some find it helpful to feed out of it. When first introducing the disc to your dog slide it back and forth on the floor and encourage him to chase and get it. If your dog is already a fetch monster you can start rollers.
Roll the disc on its side along the ground. Entice your dog to chase the roller and get a feel for grabbing it while in motion. You can also flip it upside down and slide it across the floor. Praise away when the dog chases it down. Don’t expect your dog to catch the disc in the air, just teach him to retrieve it from a roller or slider and load on the praise. Once your dog is reliably fetching and returning the disc the next step is catching.
Get the dog excited about playing with you and the disc. Start with a “take”. Hold the disc and let the dog take it from your hand, praise. Continue working with takes, praising all along. Once the dog is comfortable doing this you can start letting go of the disc right before the dog gets there, keep loading on the praise.
Now add low short throws away from your dog. Never throw directly at the dog since a hit at this stage could create mistrust of the disc. Do make sure you start catch training using short throws. You will build distance over time and only after the dog is successfully catching.
At dog level, toss the disc ahead of him a couple of feet and praise any attempt at a catch. If missed, don’t let him pick up the disc, you want the catch to be the reward. Continue practicing and praising at this level until your dog is consistently catching. Now you’re ready to extend the throw distance.
Go slowly, adding a few yards at a time and loads of praise to build a solid catch foundation. Don’t be discouraged if your dog doesn’t make an airborne catch. Some dogs take many months to establish the coordination needed to catch the disc in mid-flight while other dogs find its just not their style. Once your dog is catching or attempting to catch those distance throws you’re ready for Toss & Fetch.
Care should be taken when training your dog to jump. When a dog leaps, it should land properly. You can use a hula hoop to help force the dog to get their rear up in the air during a leap and land in a forward motion. Remember, never encourage young dogs to jump excessively.
While you and your dog are tearing up the Toss & Fetch field, its never too soon to put together a routine and start working on Freestyle. Just make sure your dog is physically ready and vet checked for aerial moves. Start by writing down the various throws & moves you know onto index cards. Put throws with your highest catch success at the beginning and your newer throws near the end. Next group a few moves together, leaving space for disc management (disc pick up) and go practice them together. This will help you dictate where the dog will be coming from, how each move flows into the next and how many discs are needed for each sequence.
From here you can rearrange as needed. Practice alone, practice with your dog, just practice! Get the flow of each sequence down, then start grouping them together into a 90 second routine. For music, pick a song you can jam to that is family friendly and up beat. Bring a labeled copy to competitions.
- Practice with your dog on a safe surface, never concrete
- Keep your training sessions short
- Always end play before your dog does
- Always end on a good catch or positive note
- Keep your dog wanting more
- Always have fun with your dog
- If you’re cranky, stop and play disc later
- Always provide water and shade
- Put the discs away when done
- Don’t encourage a dog under 18 months to leap
– – – – –