Dog frisbee, officially known as "disc dog," is one of the oldest and most widely accepted of the canine sports. It started off as nothing more than a fun activity for dog and handler, taking the traditional notion of playing fetch with a ball to the next level. Soon it had blossomed to a full on sport, with associations like SkyHoundz and United Frisbee Dog Operations sponsoring competitions across the globe.
In 1974, a 19 year old college student named Alex Stein helped give the sport of disc dog its first national exposure when he and his dog, Ashley Whippet, managed to crash a nationally televised baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. As Stein and Ashley Whippet performed one dazzling catch after another, everyone in the stadium was mesmerized, as was TV broadcaster Joe Garagiola, who began to describe the disc action.
Though Stein was eventually escorted off the field by security officers and arrested, dog frisbee had successfully made its mark. With Stein leading the way, the drive for formal competition took off. The result was the Frisbee Dog World Championship (also known as the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championship and the Canine Frisbee Disc World Championship), where dogs and handlers could strut their stuff and work to outdo the competition. Soon there would be competitions worldwide and various local, national and international organizations being created to sponsor the competitions.
The idea of the sport, often called disc dog because of the need to stay away from the trademarked "Frisbee" brand, is a simple one. Teams of one dog and one handler compete in a variety of formats, including "toss and fetch", freestyle and long distance. Toss and fetch is the standard format, with dogs completing as many catches as possible within a 60 second period. Points are awarded based on the distance of the throw, with extra points awarded for mid-air catches.
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Organized events usually take one of several formats, including toss and fetch, freestyle and long distance. In the most common type of competition, toss and fetch, contestants usually have 60 seconds to make as many catches as possible at a variety of distances. Dogs are awarded points for each catch based on the distance of the throw and the difficulty of the catch, with mid-air catches counting for more.
For spectators the most exciting form of dog frisbee is freestyle, which involves intricately choreographed routines, often set to music. This is considered the highest level of competition as it involves a dog displaying so many different skills. The long distance events can vary in format, but in most cases it boils down to the longest successful catch winning the competition.
While any breed can participate in the event, it tends to appeal most to high-energy breeds like the Australian Shepherd. These tend to be the most flexible and sturdy competitors as well, which allows them to stand up to the rigors of regular competition better than most. No matter what the breed, though, the ultimate goal of the sport is to have fun while showing off both the physical and mental prowess of the dog.
Training for dog frisbee is relatively easy and inexpensive, as all it requires is a dog and a disc and the space to run. You'll want to start with short distances and straight forward throws to the dog first. Once he gets used to the idea of catching and returning the disc to you, then you can begin to incorporate longer throws and throw over his head to encourage jumping.
There's nothing quite like spending a couple of hours tossing a frisbee for your dog to catch. It allows both of you to get much needed exercise while sharpening the bond between the two of you as you learn to communicate. Soon your dog will be pestering you to go play frisbee and you'll both be better off for it!
Watch this video from the SkyHoundz 2016 Disc Dog World Championships...
Unlike the toss and fetch category, freestyle is a more complex and often more exciting form of dog frisbee. Here, dog and handler perform elaborate choreographed routines that can last anywhere from one minute, thirty seconds to two minutes. Often these routines will involve the use of more than one disc. Here, teams are judged in a variety of categories including canine athleticism, degree of difficulty, and showmanship. Because it can include spectacular vaults, flips and other feats of gymnastics it is the biggest crowd-pleaser of all the events.
Long distance competition involves several teams and, as the name suggests, points are awarded according to the distance of each catch. These events aren't as common as the others but there are still several well-established disc dog distance competitions, the most well known being the Quadruped.
If you're looking for an easy and enjoyable way to get your dog more exercise, dog frisbee is the perfect choice. It's simple for most dogs to pick up the idea if you start slowly, throwing the disc over short distances directly to the dog. As he begins to get the hang of catching, you can increase the distance and the height until the disc is sailing over his head and he understands the concept of following after it to catch it. This is truly taking fetch to the next level and making it more for fun for you and your dog.