What is Throwing with Intent?
Throwing with Intent is throwing a disc to your dog with the intent to make them look good. Throwing the disc to promote a big leap, to hit the dog in stride on the run or throwing a disc that your dog is going to flip for 10 yards away, is the sign of a mature handler. But most disc dog handlers today are not doing this. Anything further than a flip is not thrown with intent. The farther the throw, the less thought that is put into it. That’s not fair to our dogs and to the team.
It’s the handler’s responsibility to develop the skills required to deliver a disc with precision and to make sure their routine features and highlights this important aspect of the game.
In order to get a dog in the air reliably, a handler must be able to deliver a disc at a particular distance, at a particular height and at a particular time. Throwing with the intent to get the dog to leap would seem to be elementary. That’s what Frisbee Dogs do, right, they leap for plastic. A good throw can make a mediocre dog look great and a bad throw can make the greatest dog look bad. Probably our biggest job as a disc dog handler is to make our dog look good. The easiest way to do this is to deliver discs with the intent to make the dog look good. Disc Dogs look good when they’re in the air and judges should be notice this and score it well.
Another reason for handlers should throw with the intent to make their dogs look good is that learning to leap for targets is no different than any other behavior, learning requires repetition and consistency. We wouldn’t get very far if we were as sloppy and inconsistent in our training of Sit as some of us are in our disc placement.
Teaching a dog to leap and leap well requires the same kind of consistency and thought that regular old dog training requires.
Why Doesn’t It Happen?
Whether you’re getting started or getting serious, getting caught up in performing the Routine can get in the way of making your dog look good. The focus on the routine, a history of toss and fetch and a lack of confidence in throwing ability are the biggest reasons that players wind up missing the boat on this important skill.
A lack of instruction and deep thinking about the game is also a major culprit in keeping this important handler skill from becoming conventional wisdom .
Nobody really talks about disc placement for leaping. Many judges don’t reward the intent of a throw. It’s a bit boring to practice compared to vaulting and flips. It’s also not that easy and requires practice. Given that it’s not easy and that not many people really know about it, it should not really surprise us that it’s not a major focus of the game.
Practice Makes Perfect, Right?
Perfect Practice makes perfect. You can practice all day long and if you’re practicing crap, you’re going to get crap. But, if you’re practicing perfect, you’ll get perfect.
How many players try to be perfect on their out throws? How many players can be perfect on their out throws? The number is small, but it is growing.
Not too long ago, perhaps a year or 2, I’m pretty sure I could count the number of handlers on the planet that were throwing with intent on the fingers of my 2 hands. Today, that has changed. At the AWI World Championships in Chicago this year, I’d say that about 20% of the players were throwing with intent. I guess a bunch of people have realized the value of disc placement and have done their homework in order to make that happen. But that still leaves 80% that need to be made aware of this skill and need practice, perfect practice at making it happen. Then they need to insert that perfect practice and that mindset, the intent to make their dog look good, into their routine. Again, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but just knowing about it and working at it really is half the battle.
Think Touchdowns not First Downs
The way I think about this is in terms of football. We don’t throw possession type first downs to our dogs – throws where the receiver has to stop or alter his path, or is immediately tackled upon the catch. Nope, we throw Flash Touchdowns – you know the tosses where everybody knows your team is scoring a 65 yard touchdown before the receiver has even caught the ball,”Quick Slant…He’s got it! He’s Gone!!!”
Hitting our dog in stride, just like the quarterback hits that receiver in stride on that flash touchdown; that’s our job. That quick slant, a short 5 yard pass is thrown with that intent. It’s thrown specifically to hit that receiver in stride for that touchdown. Once you have that intent, that expectation, you can see where and how you missed and adjust accordingly. But if you don’t have that intent, you don’t even notice that something wasn’t quite right.
How Do You Do It?
Well first of all, you need to understand how to float a disc out there and make it hang in one Spot 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..... (We’ll talk about how to throw a nice floating disc here on Pawsitive Vybe soon. It’s pretty simple but beyond the scope of this article.) The longer it hangs out there at 3-4 feet, the more likely it is that the dog is going to get up and go for it.
Once you know how to float a disc out there the next thing you have to know how to do is to place it, in terms of height and distance, in the spot that your dog needs. For most dogs, this is about 3-4 feet in the air about 3-4 strides away from the handler or somewhere between 7-10 yards, max. That’s not to say that you can’t throw farther than that and have your dog leap, but when you’re dialing this in you really need to have consistency and clarity from both from the handler and the dog.
Throwing Low to Stay Safe
Frequently handlers with crazy big leaping dogs set their throws low in order to keep their crazy big leaping dog safe. While this does keep the dog lower, it doesn’t necessarily make them more safe, in fact it often creates a dangerous situation. Throwing low and long teaches the dog to run hard, often as hard as they can so they can get the kill. They learn to put their head down and turn on the jets. Then when the handler does happen to hang one in the air, the dog is moving too fast and has too much drive to think of self preservation, and flings them-self at the target with too much speed. If you have a big, crazy leaper, throw it really high and force them to track it. This will get their butt down and their head up. It will slow them down and ask them to think about how to approach and get the target.
3-4 strides for a floating disc allows the dog to get moving, to get on the run, but doesn’t allow them to get moving too fast. One stride, two strides, three, collect for the leap, jump and make the catch. Anything more than that and your dog is likely to drop his head and pursue too hard and too fast to collect, or gather, for a big leap. It’s like basketball. If you’re sprinting, you can’t dunk. You need to slow down, gather or collect your feet under you and then leap. If your sprinting as hard as you can you can’t get your feet under you.
The height of the disc is dependent upon how big a leaper your dog is, but it should be an achievable challenge. Dogs like to be challenged. Just remember that the disc needs to hang there, in that spot at that distance for a moment or two, so it probably needs to be delivered slightly higher than the height where the catch will take place.
Height and distance? Check! Now on to timing…
Timing is the real key to Throwing with intent means delivering discs with the intent to make the dog leap or look good. This skill is extremely important for teaching a dog to leap reliably and for enhancing a dog’s leaping ability. When getting ready to release a disc, intend to put it in a spot, that perfect spot that will make the dog look good..... You’ve got to get the disc out there early so the dog can make a plan and then execute that plan. Early, early, early! By the time your dog is finishing up the around, your throw should be off and be getting out there to the spot where it will hover and entice your dog to leap for it. Too late and your dog will overrun it. Too early and your dog can’t get to it.
Dialing It In
Once you’ve got the skills to make the throw and you’ve figured out your height, distance and timing, then you’re ready to start dialing it in. This is where it gets fun.
At Pawsitive Vybe we practice Throwing with Intent during our warmup with our more experienced dogs, and nearly exclusively with our newer or less developed dogs.
With our more experienced dogs we move them around a little bit then send them around and set a nice little leaping catch, not max height, but a good leap – it’s a warmup after all. We then bump that up closer to max height as the dog gets warm. 3-5 of these tosses is a great warmup and keeps the big leap tuned up for both dog and handler.
With our less experienced dogs, we move them around a bit to loosen them up, and then we toss perfect toss after perfect toss out there. Remember that the same consistency required for our dog training is required in our disc placement in order to clearly communicate the idea that we want a leap and to give them the perfect practice required for them to do it well.
Once you and your dog dial in throwing with intent, you’ll both be able to do it at different distances and angles.
Slapping it in the Routine
Once you can throw with intent as a warmup, it’s not that hard to drop it in your routine, as I said above, knowing is half the battle. But the tendency to get all wrapped up in your routine, stuck in your setup moves or crazy over disc management will always be there, and you can’t let that ruin your intent to make your dog look good. Just watch your dog and put it where he’s going to be at a height that requires a good leap and with the timing of a Flash Touchdown,“He’s got it! He’s Gone!!!”
I find my out throws to be very relaxing, I exhale and stay loose on my release, knowing that it’s going to pop out there and my awesome dog is just going to kill it!
Get Function Then Get Fancy
An Over is any leaping catch that happens over top of the handler’s body. Overs are usually named by the part of the body over which the dog flies, i.e - Leg Over, or the position you are in while doing the Over - Seated Over, Spinning Over, etc. Overs should be taught before Vaults.... the last few years release diversity has become the rage. Everyone wants to throw airbounces, overhand wrist flip and other trick throws on every out throw thinking that it’s going to give them creds in the eyes of the judges. Well, I do a bit of judging, and I’ll tell you, a crappy throw is a crappy throw. I’d rather see a perfect backhand that sets your dog on a big leap than see an overhand wrist flip that your dog grabs just above the grass or an airbounce that goes 20 feet in the air prompting your dog to stop and make the catch while standing still on the field.
Resist throwing everything and the kitchen sink at your dog until you can put those throws where they need to be. I have 20 or 30 releases in my quiver of trick throws and in any given routine I only bust out a few of them. The rest are just pretty backhands that are thrown to make my dog look awesome.
This is especially true when it comes to practice. Practice with backhands. Dial in that big leap. Make it easy for your dog to succeed. Remember that perfect practice makes perfect and do your best to provide that perfect practice to teach your dog (and to learn for yourself) how to connect with big leaping catches.