The dog will go where the reward happens, plain and simple.
A common problem in developing a freestyle game of disc with a dog often is,”My Dog Doesn’t like close throws,” or “My dog only wants to go long.”
Think of reward placement and the game of disc like dog training and the problem becomes very clear: In the game of disc, the reward always happens out there. For the back yard player and long time toss and fetch competitor, the game is longer. It’s just open field catches at 40 yards. Think about what the dog sees when she plays Frisbee. What does the picture of Frisbee look like from the dog’s perspective when the catch is made?
It’s a disc and stuff in the background, 20-40 yards away from the handler. The handler isn’t even in the picture at all.
So when working on freestyle moves or foundational bitework and other behaviors that happen close to the handler, the dog looks at the handler like,”Huh?… When you gonna throw that?” Or you toss a short one and the dog is 20 yards down field and never even sees that a throw was made.
Frisbee happens out there, far away from the handler. The only thing that happens in close to the handler is dropping the disc and getting frustrated by muddy communication. “I never get a disc close to my handler. I just drop discs and jump around like crazy in here.”
Start adding value to the area around the handler by placing rewards on or near the handler. Tugging and bitework can add tremendous value to the area around the handler. Having a high value reward like chase/bite/tug happen on right on top of the handler, over and over, rapid-fire, will help to create a game close to the handler that is worth playing for any toy driven dog.
Be conscious and careful of where stress happens in the game. If the game around the handler is surrounded with confusion and unclear criteria it can be aversive and inhibit play. If the dog always fails at 15 yards, that area may be avoided on the field.
The likelihood of an area of the field being avoided is much greater if success never happens there. Good communication skills and a focus on successful behaviors ensures that this stress is kept to a minimum.