Flatwork – Are You Feeding or Leading?
In an earlier article, Flatwork is Flow, I wrote about the concept of Flatwork in the game of disc:
In agility, the stuff that goes on between the jumps, the team movement and cuing proper direction is called Flatwork. Running agility fast has far more to do with Flatwork than it does the obstacles.
We have a similar situation in the game of disc. All of the important stuff happens between the discs being caught. Putting the dog in position, turning them to the left or right on the run, creating large sweeping patterns that lead in to the vaulting and flipping and that are incorporated into your game of disc.
At Pawsitive Vybe we have put together a Flatwork Foundation of Set Up Moves and Position, Directional Feeding, Directional Leading and a drill we call the PVR. We add in some Front and Rear Crosses to help us better move our dog around the field and to give the handler control over the team movement.
I don’t really want to go too deep into the intricacies of Flatwork as it’s a pretty large topic, but there are two drills that we need to define and understand so we can begin to wrap our head around the concept of Flatwork:
Essentially, Directional Feeding is calling the drop and throwing a Frisbee on the line that the dog is on when he drops it. Throwing with the intent to hit your dog in stride, on the run, at a good leaping height.
It’s an excellent drill for novices and pros alike.
Directional Leading is the same basic concept as Directional Feeding, but the handler alters the dog’s line and pushes or pulls the dog around the field it helps to teach handlers how to move their dogs around. Handlers learn to create and execute a plan to deliver a disc their dog, in stride at a good leaping height, to a spot of the handler’s choosing. It is a powerful skill that is pretty much unknown, underused and under appreciated in the game of disc.
Most players that are playing Disc with their dogs competitively these days are relying nearly entirely on the Directional Feeding concept of Flatwork: Throw it to where the dog is going to be. The handler’s learn their dog’s patterns and feed them.
Feeding the dog in the direction that the dog has chosen to go (or is going) is a great skill, but it’s not the only skill and too much of it leaves us at the mercy of our dog’s high drive behavior. The handler becomes a disc dispenser and the dog goes on autopilot. Discs are served up on a silver platter (hopefully!) and delivered to the dog.
Feeding almost always leads to either a back and forth game or a circle, depending on whether the dog is an X or an O, and lots of setting up from the front of the handler.
This kind of game reduces the ability of the handler to ask things of their dog at key moments in the performance. Patterns and habits develop that may be very hard to break. The handler often does not have the power or ability to move their dog to where they need them to be for various wind conditions or sequence building. Once the dog breaks from the handler and strikes a line, that’s it. The handler can either feed the dog on that line or call the dog back and try again.
Extracting ‘honest work’ out of the dog can become difficult as well, as the whole game away from the handler tends to be free and the game close to the handler is work, leading the handler to cater to the dog’s desires in close with flips, vaults and repetitive set up moves or risk balking, refusals and stress.
This also increases the scale of the game. The handler must read the dog’s line and then throw. Allowing fast dogs to get 10 yards down field before the throw is made which leads to 30+yard throws that the dog simply runs down. So the handler winds stuck in a phone booth or chucking 30 yard throws.
If a handler is leading his or her dog, moving the dog around the field, cuing directional changes, then the dog and handler are working as a team. The dog is reading the handler, taking the handler’s cues and then getting the disc as reinforcement.
Patterns are not limited to what the dog offers; dog and handler can create any pattern they would like if they are well versed in Directional Leading.
This kind of game allows the handler to influence the dog’s movement at key moments of the game. The dog can not stop paying attention after they go around. The dog must pay attention to the handler to take the directional cue to make it to where the disc will end up. There is no autopilot, the dog and handler are connected
If there are shifting winds, a sloppy part of the field, a distraction that needs to be avoided it’s no sweat to pull the dog around and lead them to where they need to be to succeed. If there is a breakdown in communication, the handler can take it in stride and reset with little trouble.
When the handler can lead his or her dog, the scale of the game is totally dynamic as well. Short, medium and long throws can be made because the dog is paying attention to and reading the handler. Patterns are easy to create and to change.
Feeding or Leading
So the question is…
Are you feeding or leading?