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.

More Play or Next

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, struggling through them, or ignoring them and continuing play actually reinforces poor performance and weaves 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.

Throw

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 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.

Chase

Dogs are reinforced by chase. It’s highly arousing for most and is rather simple to use. Just let her see an opportunity to get the disc and then move it rapidly away from her as she tries to engage 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 she gets the opportunity to chase.

Bite/Tug

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.

Roller

The RollerThe Roller is a great throw for reinforcing a dog with a disc. Instead of flying through the air like a wing, the Roller rolls on the ground like a wheel; a fast, bouncy, super exciting wheel. Dogs really like Rollers as reinforcement. Rollers  make great cookies. Rollers are also great teaching tools for the catch. They stand up and... 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.

Slider

If you turn a disc upside down and slide it away from you on the ground, you can deliver a disc to a spotSpot is a “go to a place”, or “go to a mat” behavior. This means that the dog seeks out and performs a duration behavior on a spot of the handler’s choosing. A Pedestal is a raised spot. Anything a dog can leap onto and perch upon. Spots and Pedestals are important dog training tools...., 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.

Cued Drop

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.