Seven Ways to Reinforce Your Disc Dog
At Pawsitive Vybe we look at dog Frisbee through a dog training lens. Disc dog sequences are just long behavior chains and they require dog training skills to assemble and maintain. Reward and repetition are just as important in this game as they are in regular old dog training. Below are seven ways you can reinforce your dog.
One of the most powerful reinforcers available to a disc dog handler is quite simply more play. This type of reinforcement is often overlooked or misapplied by excited handlers who really want to play Frisbee with their dogs.
Continuation of play can be used to reinforce desired behavior. It can also be used to reinforce undesirable behaviors. When you or your dog make mistakes, trying to fight through them, or ignoring them and continuing play, can actually reinforce poor performance and weave that poor performance into the dog’s understanding of the game. We call this the Consequent Game.
Do it well and we jam. Do it poorly and the game slows down.
This is one of the more obvious reinforcers, and it works well, perhaps too well. Over-reliance on a Throw as reinforcement leads to a dog that darts away from the handler when they sense opportunity. Dogs go where the reinforcement happens.
A few things to keep in mind when rewarding with a Throw:
Make sure you to offer the throwing position after you get the behavior you’re looking for. Don’t tip your hand.
Vary the placement unless you want to create a pattern.
Vary the timing of the throw from the moment the correct behavior happens to a second or two after. This will keep the dog engaged and ask them to check in before they take off running, and will help to slow down dogs that play disc like freight trains.
Dogs are reinforced by chase. It’s highly arousing for most dogs and is rather simple to use. All you have to do is let the dog see an opportunity to get the disc and then move it rapidly away from them as they try to engage with it.
The best chases end with almost catching it. Combine a bunch of almost catching it with a little bit of barely catching it, and you’re dog will come unglued when they get the opportunity to chase.
Reinforcing with a bite and/or tug is a great way to add value around the handler. Frisbee happens “out there”, usually 7-40 yards out there, and doing stuff around the handler can seem boring by comparison. Biting and Tugging will give your dog a reason to play disc close to you.
Rewarding with a Bite is not quite the same thing as rewarding with Tug. A little bit of resistance on a Bite is desirable, but once dog and handler start to share the toy for a longer period of time, you’ve moved from working Bite to Tug.
Tugging allows you to rev up your dog when they’re tired or struggling. It can pull them (and you) right back into the game if things are not going well.
You can also use the Bite and Tug as a leash at the end of your routine or training session with high drive or reactive dogs. It also works well for keeping dogs engaged who are likely to check out. Nothing like wrapping up every play session with a dog that is high as a kite and actively engaged with the handler.
The Roller is probably the signature piece of reinforcement of serious disc doggers. It’s incredibly stimulating for most dogs. A well timed and executed Roller can change the dog’s behavior on the first try.
While Rollers kick ass as disc dog reinforcement, overuse of the Roller can have some performance and safety issues. The Roller sends the dog bolting off after a target that rolls along the ground, so the target is down and the dog is encouraged to drop their head and sprint with a head down gallop.
This kind of speed is not good for leaping and can be dangerous when the target winds up drifting above the dog’s head.
If you turn a disc upside down and slide it away from you on the ground, you can deliver a disc to a spot, reliably, inside of 5 yards. This Slider is an elegant piece of reinforcement that can make drastic improvements to your training sessions and can set up and simulate full speed, in flow, team movement.
We use sliders to set a dog up at vaulting distance, to set up a proper flipping distance, and to work pieces of sequences during training.
This might seem out of place here, as the cued Drop tends to be looked at as a target behavior and not as a reinforcer, but if it’s always followed by More Play, a Throw, some Chase, a Bite or a Tug, Roller, or Slider, then the Drop becomes a secondary reinforcer. The dog looks at the Drop Cue as if it were a cookie.
Our dogs drop 30 times per routine. That’s a lot of cookies.