For Critter Concierge’s inaugural blog post, I am re-posting a Frisbee training method written by my husband, Kevin Robair, in 1996 during his time as the vice president of the National Capitol Air Canines (NCAC), which was the DMV’s premiere Disc Dog Club at that time.
Neither Kevin Robair nor I are certified dog trainers, veterinarians, or veterinary technicians. Please discuss disc play with your veterinarian prior to starting any training regimen.
Consult your veterinarian before starting your dog in any form of athletic training program. You should have your veterinarian X-ray your pup to verify that your pup has good hips, especially before attempting canine Frisbee, or else a potential problem of canine Hip Dysplasia could be aggravated. You should also ask your veterinarian if they think your pup may be prone to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears and if they think that disc play could put your pup at risk.
ALWAYS have water available for your dog while you are training them. Since dogs do not sweat, but expel heat primarily through their mouth and tongues, drinking water helps them cool down. Failure to provide water to a working dog can result in hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition.
The most important step in starting out is choosing the right dog! If this step is done right, then everything else is easy. One way to go about it is to acquire a pure-bred puppy of a breed that is known to do well at canine disc. The drawbacks to this method are that it costs money, you cannot really know how the pup will turn out, and you will have to wait a year or more before the dog is able to train rigorously.
The second method of finding a good disc dog is to adopt a young, adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. This allows you to get to know the dog and test it for Frisbee aptitude. If the dog shows some interest in chasing the disc, even if the disc is just rolling on the ground on its side, then there is a good chance the dog could turn out to be an enthusiastic dog Frisbee partner. The other up side to this method is that it can be less expensive than going to a reputable breeder; often the bond of a rescued dog is stronger than that of a dog raised from puppyhood. At the very least, you will be giving a homeless dog a loving and active home.
Ideally, you want a dog with the following characteristics:
1. Adult weight between 30 – 50 pounds.
2. Lean build.
3. Strong retrieval and tracking/chasing instincts
4. Even temperament (They will be off-lead with other dogs)
5. Sound hips
Another important step toward good Frisbee dog training is basic obedience. The main point of this class should be to teach the owner, not the dog. Owners need to learn how to instruct their dog in a positive and consistent manner. Once an owner gets a feel for teaching basic obedience, then teaching Frisbee skills will come naturally.
Once you have a dog, here are a few things to do (and not do!) when you and your new best friend begin your Frisbee training:
1. Throw the disc on the ground, rolling it on its side like a wheel. This will allow your dog to get used to chasing it without possibly getting hit by a flying disc and creating a bad experience.
2. Allow your dog to have fun, and don’t worry too much if they lose interest and/or don’t bring the disc back.
3. Use your happy voice and try to convince your dog this is the best thing since Doggy Biscuits and belly rubs! Always make Frisbee training an extra special time.
4. Dogs who are not interested in the disc may be enticed to play with it by sliding the disc on the ground in circles in front of the dog. They will pounce on the disc, and when they do, throw a roller and the dog should follow it. Some trainers will actually rub the disc lightly along the dog’s torso to entice them to bite at it, but care should be taken not to cause the dog to associate fear with the disc, so make sure you talk to your dog with a happy, reassuring voice while doing this step.
5. Put the discs away when you are not there. You dog should realize the disc is a special toy that is only available when you are there.
1. DO NOT throw the disc directly at your dog. You want to avoid hitting your dog with the disc, especially in the face. Doing so could result in your dog developing a fear of the disc and of YOU.
2. DO NOT push your dog too hard, to the point it is no longer having fun. If your pooch loses interest, then quit for now and start when you are both fresh.
3. DO NOT encourage a dog less than 14 months to leap. The stress of landing can damage a dog that is not fully developed. If a young dog is a reckless leaper, then keep your throws low. Their safety is YOUR responsibility. Don’t let your dog’s desire to please you override its basic safety instincts. Take care of your four-legged partner! Concerned owners can request that their veterinarian take x-rays to determine if their dog’s growth plates have closed and they can begin jumping.
Remember, if you and your pup are not having fun, you are trying too hard! Please remember that this is a game and a way for you and your pup to bond.