A frequently asked question for Disc Dog handlers is how do you work with and train a young Disc Dog. I think this has to do with the 18 month rule being the root of Dog Sport Safety.
18 Month Rule
The 18 month rule says that dogs should not jump or play hard until their growth plates have closed, which happens around 18 months for most dogs. The larger breeds, and with some individuals, it takes a little longer, 24 months is usually the latest, and smaller breeds tend to have their growth plates fuse at a younger age.
The fear here is that if the dog damages a growth plate due to a landing from a giant leap (or a very sharp cornering maneuver) the bone will not grow properly and the dog will be crippled.
Unfortunately that 18 month rule often gets taken to the extreme and one version of that extreme is that the dog should not run or jump at all. Which means that this soon to be world class athlete has not gotten the chance to develop athletic skills during puppy development – when body and mind are most susceptible to learning,
There is another extreme which believes that when the dogs look and act athletic, they are ready to go big.
It’s not hard to go out online and see both extremes in video.
Building an Athletic Foundation
At Pawsitive Vybe, we believe in exercising the dog athletically at a young age. Our dogs jump before 18 months. They do little tiny vaults, ballwork, stalls and overs. They learn how to collect to leap at a target. They learn how to plan to catch a disc with a leap at the end. What we avoid are artificially increasing the jumping height, aka – working on leaping higher than they leap naturally – and repetition.
Here’s Andrea Rigler and Huck (9 month ACDx) in a great little training jam:
The game that Andrea is playing with Huck is not about making him leap higher or making him turn sharper. He’s not flying around blinded by drive. This game is about working trained skills into leaping catches within his natural puppy leaping height and doing just enough repetition to deliver the understanding of the skills to Huck. Dre is definitely putting discs out there to help Huck leap, punctuating the game with some leaping work, but the leaps are comfortable and easy.
All of these skills are important because once Huck is a full blown adult, he will be running 35 mph and leaping 5 feet in the air. Do we really want him learning how to manage these athletic abilities as a full blown adult? Mistakes at 5 feet at 30 mph can be devastating.
Scaling Up to an Elite Athlete
Should we learn to drive in a Ferrari or a Go Kart? The Ferrari has more safety features, you’re not going to roll it and get your head torn off, like you might if you rolled your Go Kart. But which one is really more safe to start with if you are learning how to drive?
If we learn to drive with a Go Kart, it scales up to a Ferrari. The scale of the speed and power of the Go Kart are orders of magnitude less, but the foundational aspects of driving are the same. Gas pedal… Brake… Clutch… Brake into Turns, Accelerate out… Hammering the Brakes Skids… all kinds of similarities at a smaller scale, with less speed and power.
Bringing It Home
We want to teach the foundational aspects of the game of disc to a dog before he is 18 months old. That means tracking a target above his heads and learning how to collect and leap for targets both in space and over obstacles.
Dogs this age don’t need to be working back vaults and reverse vaults or anything approximating a finished vault. They don’t need to be working big overs, they need to learn the concept of an over. They don’t need to be trained to leap higher, they need to be trained to leap. Young dogs need to learn how to perform the skills that will be required of them when they are adults. We, as handlers, are responsible for doing that safely.