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Help your Canine Athlete Discover “the Disc”

dogAerial Dogs.
Frisbee Dogs.
Flying Dogs.
Disc Dogs.

No matter what name they go by, one fact is undisputed: these canine athletes are remarkable to behold, and their sport is literally growing by leaps and bounds.

Disc Dogs are increasingly seen in competitions, exhibitions and fields, parks and beaches around the country. The number of Disc Dog clubs and organizations has grown significantly, and even the media has begun promoting this dynamic canine sport.

Step One: The Players
Currently, there are no required breed standards or sanctions for either the handler or the dog. While certain breeds such as the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd excel at the game, almost any dog who enjoys chase-and-retrieve can be taught to catch a flying disc. In fact, some of the best Frisbee dogs in the world are mixed breed dogs rescued from shelters.

Good hips are required for leaping and landing, and dogs under 14 months may not be fully developed for these skills. Most suitable for the game are even-tempered, older dogs with great retrieval/tracking instincts.

A good candidate for canine Frisbee has a strong desire to please, and eagerly awaits your call to play. Also, if Rover excels at catching and retrieving, he’ll learn Frisbee quickly.

Step Two: The Setting
As with any athletic program, see your veterinarian before embarking on a disc training session. Your dog should also have a great deal of strength and stamina to support his enthusiasm for the game.

Canine disc training sessions should take place on a flat grassy field with no hazards such as rocks, holes, debris, etc. Ideally, keep distractions to a minimum. Always have plenty of water and shade available to prevent overheating.

Step Three: The Pre-Game Show
Before taking him outside, show your dog his disc. Let him sniff it and play with it for a while, and get a feel for it in his mouth. Peter Bloeme, who raised and trained World Champion and Hall of Fame Frisbee Dog Whirlin’ Wizard, fed his dog right out of the disc itself. Bloeme, author of "Frisbee Dogs: How To Raise, Train and Compete" and director of Skyhoundz, stresses the importance of using the right size disc for each dog.

Keep the dog on a long lead (at least 30′) to help with the "retrieve" command and have some treats on hand to reward him for catching the disc. It’s also wise to have multiple discs at your disposal, to maintain momentum.

Getting Started
ROLL: Familiarize Fido with the Frisbee by treating it like a ball. Roll the disc on its side and let the dog play with it for a while. This is called a Roll Toss. Simply roll your arm around the Frisbee and release it close to the ground. After the dog retrieves the disc, reel him in with the lead, tell him to Drop It and praise him. Use a happy voice and let your canine partner know what a special time this is for the two of you.

TAKE-IT: After Fido retrieves a few rollers, move on to the Take-It command. Hold the disc above the dog’s head and encourage him to jump and ‘take it’ with his mouth. Repeat this exercise several times, and praise him when he performs the task. Next, start leading the dog with the disc and teach him to ‘take it’ while you’re both on the run. Once your pet dog can accomplish this, he’s ready for his first catch! Remember to use plenty of praise when he takes the Frisbee from you.

CATCH: Repeat the leading exercise, but this time, before the dog can take the disc from your hand, flip the Frisbee and use a simultaneous verbal command (such as "Catch!"). Hopefully, he’ll catch it right out of the air! Immediately try it again, and don’t forget the all-important "Drop It" command, to reinforce this behavior, so you can continue playing.

Once your pet has mastered the game, the two of you can enjoy more advanced games and exercises, including leaping and vaulting. Some dog and disc teams execute freestyle routines with multiple discs. Advanced freestyle canines perform such moves as back flips, chest vaults and back vaults. Some teams are choreographing their routines.

Canine Frisbee is a great outlet for energetic dogs who need to be exercised everyday. The sport can even help resolve behavior problems resulting from inactivity. For more information on Canine Frisbee, visit www.discdog.com, or www.skyhoundz.com.