The game of disc is Bite, Drop, Give – everything else is just Reward Placement
At Pawsitive Vybe, we address the game of freestyle disc with dogs through a dog training lens. The game is highly complex. Hundreds of behaviors are linked together in a freestyle routine. Your dog has to catch and drop a disc 20-35 times in two minutes while doing high speed gymnastic-type maneuvers.
The handler sends hundreds of signals to the dog each round (intended or not, they are happening) and then has to deliver perfectly placed discs for the leaping catch.
It’s not a simple game. It’s far more complex than “go get it, bring it here”, or “Go Catch It!” It can be overwhelming.
That’s why we address this game as dog training. Good dog training skills will enable the handler to communicate well enough to orchestrate this athletic ballet and stay in control of this high intensity, high speed dog sport activity.
As complex as this game is, the mechanics of play are far more simple and can be boiled down to three essential skills:
A bite is the catching of the disc. A strong desire by the dog to bite the disc means that when the dog gets close, the catch is going to happen.
Having a good bite also means that the dog will aggressively chase the disc, where ever it may be, in order to put a bite on it.
Throw long and the dog will chase it for the opportunity to bite. Throw over his shoulder and the dog will flip for the opportunity to bite. Dogs will even leap off of a human body for the opportunity to bite.
Disc dogs bite discs; it’s what they do. They need to bite them in the air and out of your hand. It is essential to control and understand the bite for safety’s sake and also for training, handling, and controlling any dog.
If you control when the dog bites, you own the start of the game and control where the game happens.
The drop is the opposite of the bite, and is also a critical skill in the
game of disc. The criteria for the drop is teeth off. Although talking about a drop in disc dog freestyle often means a cued drop, drops can happen without being cued or can be cued with opportunity or movement which may or may not be a problem.
A dog can’t catch a disc if he already has one in his mouth and there’s this little thing called disc management.
Successful handling and managment of a bunch of discs in a freestyle routine requires precision control over the drop behavior. The drop often needs to happen 7-15 yards from the handler for timing and spacing of many sequences. Nothing is more frustrating than having a dog that can only drop the disc directly in front of the handler.
The cued drop, if the handler works on it, can also become a secondary reinforcer which is important because the drop skill is performed 20-35 times per round of freestyle and is, as noted above, a critical skill. It’s far better to mark and reinforce the drop to create a secondary reinforcer that can be leveraged to reward behaviors than it is to simply have the drop happen (or not) without capitalizing on it.
You have to do the work anyway. Might as well get some leverage out of it, right?
The Give happens when the dog puts the disc in the handler’s hand
and releases. Many people have this skill, but use a drop cue, and that’s cool, but give is not really the same as a drop.
Give has a very specific location: at the handler, and drop happens anywhere on the field. This specific location is an important bit of contrast between drop and give.
The give can be leveraged to deliver greater clarity and more reliable performance on the cued drop.
If these 3 skills are under stimulus control and you are playing with discs, by definition, you are playing disc with your dog.
It sounds so simple to say “under stimulus control” as if it’s some kind of elementary thing. It’s not. It’s serious business.
Stimulus control over a behavior means the behavior only happens if asked for, and it doesn’t stop happening until the handler tells the dog to stop. It’s a serious investment in training to have true stimulus control.
As a rule, true stimulus control over disc dog freestyle behaviors is not necessary. Bite, drop and give are the exceptions. These skills need to be as close to true stimulus control as they can be.
If these skills happen every time you ask and the dog loves to do them then your life as a disc dogger and your performances on the field are going to be like some kind of magical dream.
If these skills are weak they will break down, and it will be at the most inopportune time. The more stressful the situation is the more likely it is that weak behaviors will break down. A serious breakdown on any one of these skills during a freestyle routine can mean the difference between 1st and 15th place.