Flatwork is the stuff that happens between the catches. How the team moves and transitions, often without the disc, is flatwork. Flatwork concepts in disc dog are taken from the More mechanics are simple and fairly standard in both dog training and dog sports. Despite the simplicity and familiarity disc dog flatwork can be quite a challenge.
Understanding the mechanics of flatwork makes it much easier.
When moving with a dog, the handler’s body is like a plane of pressure. The body is like the axle of a spinning wall. As the body turns, so does that wall, creating a plane of pressure. This plane of pressure is how you move the dog. It is the working flank.
Stand up and hold your arms out like a ‘T’. That’s the plane of the body. As you turn, the dog wants to turn with you, he wants to either get in front of that plane or he wants to get right behind it and chase it. Dogs want to be connected to that plane while moving. It’s pretty natural cooperative movement.
When setting up on a field, you are setting this plane. It’s a good idea to play facing the wind so the disc hovers up in the air enticing the dog to leap. The plane of the handler’s body can be used to keep the dog on the proper side of the field for throwing floaters into the wind and help create reliable leaping. This has huge routine building applications.
When a handler runs, the plane is running as well, pushing on the dog if he’s in front of it, pulling on him if he’s behind it.
If the handler turns and the dog is behind the plane, on either side, the dog will connect to and chase that plane. Unless the handler goes too far too fast and the other edge of the wall is easier to get to.
If you wait or turn slowly, the dog will orient to your plane.
Some dogs like to play behind the handler, usually to escape the pressure of the plane of the body and the handler’s movement. It might take some position work with food and some bitework to get a dog to default to working in front of the handler or crossing the plane of the handler’s body.
Pushing with Pressure
Put pressure on the dog by opposing his movement with the plane of your body. If the dog is running towards the handler, turn towards him and he will slow down due to the pressure being applied.
If the dog is working the flank and the handler moves to a 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 More behind him, he will run faster. Run to a spot in front of him and he’ll slow down. Applying pressure in front of or behind the dog on outruns and the working flank is large part of successful and fluent flatwork.
The front cross is a good illustration of pushing with pressure. The dog is on the flank, running with the handler, right on or slightly behind the plane of the body. When the handler turn towards the dog for the front cross, switching shoulders and the working side, the plane of the body flips and pressures the dog to switch flanks.
You’ve just slammed the dog into a wall of pressure. And that pressure continues to push the dog until the cross has finished and the dog has switched working sides. The dog winds up on the opposite flank and the wall of pressure passes him by. He starts to chase, or is pulled by the plane of the body.
Pulling with Pressure
Any time a handler turns away from a dog the plane of the body pulls on the dog. This pulling concept is a bit finicky. It takes commitment by the dog and some thoughtful movement by the handler to maintain the dog’s position on the flank.
Pinching the Flank
If you pull too hard or too fast the dog will drop off of the flank and take a short cut to the other flank; the dreaded unintentional blind cross.
Think of this as pinching or kinking the flank. Just like a hose. If the hose is bent round, everything is cool, things are flowing, but bend it too far too fast, and it collapses and folds, choking off the flow.
The same thing happens with the working flank. If you bend it too sharply and pinch the flank by pulling too aggressively with the plane of the body, the dog will be liable to switch flanks to catch back up with the flank or to head it off at the pass and get in front of it.
Look at it from the dog’s perspective. You are running like a rabid disc dog on the clockwise flank, out on your handler’s left. You’re on it, surfing the wave that your handler’s plane is making – totally in the sweet spot,”Where’s my disc?”
The handler is moving too fast so you run in a bit tighter to keep up, but before you know it, the handler is too far ahead and has pinched the flank. You can’t keep up. So you wait and hop on the other side of the plane when it comes by and cut in front of the handler.
This problem of pinching the flank by pulling too far or too fast is plainly evident when running to a dog’s weak side. Some dogs really want to get to that strong side and will find any excuse to get there.
If the dog switches flanks without being cued, just kill the game for a moment and stop. He is most likely driving on the movement and the connection with the handler. A screeching halt and a consequent pause in the game is a simple and effective punishment that goes a long way towards solving many disc dog problems.