Today’s blog was written by a guest author, the legendary Ron Watson! Ron is very well known in the Disc Dog world. He puts on camps and seminars throughout the world, and runs online courses to teach others how to play. Ron emphasizes the importance of foundation in all of his training. For more, see the links at the end of the article. Thanks Ron!
One of the common mantras of the disc dog freestyler is to play to your dogʼs
Well… What are those strengths?
It sounds like an easy question with a simple answer, but like most simple
questions, it has a pretty deep and profound answer.
The strengths of a disc dog like speed, leaping, and accuracy are not necessarily
natural skills. These skills are shaped through play and training. How you play and
how you train actually matter.
It is not the physical attributes that are strengths and weaknesses, but things a bit
deeper and more open ended. The physical attributes people call the strengths of
a disc dog are more end product than raw materials.
Patience is probably the most important strength of a disc dog. If your dog canʼt
bide their time and wait for the opportunity to present itself, your dog is likely to
be out of position.
Overpursuit, premature ejumpulation, flinging, cutting corners, and over-arousal
are all problems with patience.
Conversely, tracking, drive, leaping, set up and position, pace, and a solid wait are
all patience based skills. Patience is required for nearly all the strengths of a disc
How much patience have you reinforced in your game lately? How are you
Similar to patience, thoughtfulness is a terrific attribute for a disc dog.
Thoughtfulness is playing with intent and understanding the task at hand. Knowing
that it is about more than flying around chasing shit is key. An understanding that
the cued Drop is a key element, for instance, or the understanding that the actual
catch is the actual goal of the game creates better performance.
Itʼs amazing how easy it is for thoughtfulness and intent to never enter into the
picture with disc dog handlers. There are so many things to work on and so many
directions we can go that we often do not cultivate a sense of purpose and
understanding in our games.
Dogs who believe that flying around striking shit is whatʼs happening are missing a
huge part of the game.
Operant behavior requires patience and thoughtfulness; patience to solve the
problem, thoughtfulness to know there is a problem to solve.
The idea that behavior affects consequence is not always installed in disc dogs.
Itʼs not a factory setting. It has to be installed either through thoughtful and
purposeful play and training, or as happenstance through repetition and engaging
A dog that is operant knows that there is a problem to be solved, and knows that
some kind of reinforcement will be awaiting them once they solve the problem.
The operant dog believes in that process, constantly looking for the behaviors that
work and doing their best to replicate those behaviors.
Self Control is not a necessity, but it is pretty close to one.
In disc dog freestyle, if you have to step in and control your dog all the time, you
are going to be a busy handler. Micromanaging a disc dog is not necessary and
often counter productive. The dog gets caught between prey driven responses
and the throttling of natural prey driven behaviors by the handler. The dog often
winds up flat footed or frustrated.
A dog that displays self control frees up the handler to focus on other things. The
dog is happy to wait, happy to release the disc, and happy to give the handler
A dog that knows that disc is a cooperative game is a great partner. A dog who
takes off, ”Throw it where Iʼm gonna be, pops,” not so much.
While that behavior is desirable some times — it is a variation of play — it is not
how we play. A dog and handler should be a connected team. They should move
and work together.
A dog that knows there is a handler and works with that handler to make disc dog
freestyle happen is capable of far more than a spectacular athlete who doesnʼt
know how to cooperate with a handler.
Speed is often cited as a great strength of a disc dog, and it is a great strength,
just not in the manner it is often cited,”My dog is really fast!”
While raw response time and maximum velocity are valuable attributes,
appropriate and well regulated speed is far more important when assessing the
strength of a disc dog.
Raw speed gets in the way of performance. Too fast and you canʼt leap. Too fast
and you canʼt turn. Too fast and youʼve gone too far for me to throw.
Ludicrous speed is a handler created trait. If you throw fast, low, and/or throw
discs that challenge the dogʼs speed to get there, your dog will run fast.
Running as fast as you can, point to point, is not often the most efficient path. A
dragster is not going to do very well on a formula one track.
Pace, the proper regulation of speed, is the velocity based key to disc dogs.
Drive for Target
Drive for targets might be a natural attribute, but the drive for the disc over, say a
butterfly (Hi George.) or a squirrel is probably more important.
This drive for the target must also be well regulated.
In addition to well regulated drive for the disc, the attention to the disc must be
well regulated. Too much focus on the disc and the handler, the cues, and the
situation fade into the background and teamwork suffers.
Too little attention to the disc and the dog might not see or read the disc early
enough to be successful in sealing the deal with a catch.
Attention to the handler is also a key strength of a disc dog, and like most of these
strengths, the key is in regulation of attention to the handler.
The handler has to be more than a disc dispenser, but canʼt be the sole focus of
the disc dog game. The dog needs to smoothly and seamlessly transfer attention
from handler to disc many times in a simple game of toss and fetch.
Responsiveness and Flexibility
Responsiveness to cues and the situation are also key strengths of a disc dog.
Discs are funky targets. Freestyle is a funky game. Strange things happen.
Your dogʼs ability to respond to the situation at hand — a disc that takes off in a
strange direction or gets hung up in the wind — is important. Your dogʼs ability to
flexibly respond to your cues and signals is also key.
Pattern training and the running of patterns is key in the game of disc, but if thatʼs
all your dog can do, youʼre going to find yourself in trouble on the field.
Any able bodied dog who displays all of these attributes is going to be a fine disc
dog. Are they going to be able to do all the tricks and win a world championship?
Perhaps not, but they will play safely. They will catch discs. And they will work with
their handler. They will learn new tricks and perform them with purpose and zeal.
These key strengths of disc dogs are what create and shape the physical
performance on the field. You canʼt have big leaping without the patience to sit
back and wait for the target to be in place. You canʼt have big leaping if the dog
cannot pace herself.
You canʼt have safe Overs if the dog is so overwhelmed by the target that he
forgets to land.
Learning to vault is super hard if your dog is incapable of waiting.
How you play and how you train creates and shapes your dogʼs strengths and
weaknesses. The physical attributes of play that we see on the field are, more
often than not, byproducts of the game we play and how we train.
To learn more about Ron, check out these links.
Website: http://pvybe.com/ The website has information on upcoming camps & seminars, a link to Ron’s blog, information on classes, and a host of other things.
Disc Dog Flash Jams Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/jaminaflash/
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/k9disc
Pvybe Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pawsitivevybe/
Featured photo is (c) Ron Fitz