Algorithm of the Take – How a Slick Foundation Hides Intangible Skills

What is a Take?

In disc dog we do this thing called a Take – a Take is a “throw” made to the dog that is not thrown at all – the disc is simply held in the hand and the dog takes it from the handler. This is a training tool, a very useful one, but something that does not score in competitions. A take is not a throw in competition, but it is a goto method for teaching vaults (dog leaping off the body) and should be a last ditch move for teaching a dog to flip, but many people have started to use the Take for flips as foundation.

The Take does 2 things really well:

  1. Makes Placement Easy
  2. Makes Time and Timing irrelevant

Limiting the difficulty of these key elements of a vault is important and useful you need the simplicity for training and learning, but this hides many intangible skills and completely eliminates the two most important aspects of playing discs with dogs, throwing, and working as a team: Timing and Placement.

The Placement is easy, as you’ve just got to put your hand there. And the timing is irrelevant because the dog can (and often does) wait for something to trigger the Bite. But to move on to a more mature skill the Trigger and the Target have to be properly related in time or we’ve got timing problems in the future.

The Take is used as a tool is to eliminate key difficult, yet important aspects of the skill while you learn how to do it. It makes the complex skills of placing a disc in space and time and the timing coordinated team movement simple, algorithmic exercises and does what all algrorithms are born to do: to hide the complexity of the reality and replace it with something that is more useful in this application. 

Ron & Everly use a Take to install the Trigger for a Vault. A solid trigger is critical for successful vaulting. Most all vault problems stem from a faulty understanding of what triggers the dog and who triggers what. Using the Take affords us both the elimination of Time from the equation and ease of focus for installing the Trigger. Get a good Trigger and never be late again.

Algorithms Hide and Highlight Particular Truths

Most all we do, I think, can be considered an algorithm. But the point is that an algorithm hides the details, sorts and categorizes, then highlights results. It’s the hiding of the details and the sorting and categorization that are important here as they are, all at once, product, producer, and proof of the highlighted results. If the highlighted results are pointed and useful for predicting the future, then that is a successful algorithm. I think that’s about it, right?

I’m not really having it out against algorithms, but they are limited and limiting, by definition as they are designed to get the truth without regard to experience or with limited data – good ones yield useful representations of reality.

The problem I see with algorithms comes along when vital data or a key variable is omitted from the algorithm’s purview. If an algorithm doesn’t factor a key element and that algorithm is relied upon to deliver a sense of reality, that key element can cease to exist in this reality. This can quickly turn into a wicked problem with a long tail, and it has in my little DiscDog World. 

The Wicked Long Tail of the Algorithm of the Take 

The Algorithm of Take, once it plays out, affects nearly all aspects of DiscDog freestyle. The ability of teams to perform, learn, and modify tricks is impacted. Judging is impacted. The very understanding of the Game is altered due to the pernicious omission of Time, Target, and Trigger and a

Using a Take makes a vault (dog leaps off handler’s body for a disc) happen right now. I mean, that shit is easy. Not having to deal with timing the Trigger and the Target certainly does simplify things. But this success fools us – getting the answer we want is not the same as getting the answer we need. The answer we want, more often than not is to “Do the Vault”. The answers we need are “Install a Trigger”, “Get Target Lock”, “Note the space and time of catch”. All of those answers that we NEED, answers that will enable the team to Vault well, develop their skills, perform creative vaults and to do so in a mechanically safe and effective manner. All of these answers aren’t even on the Radar with the Take. In fact they’re not only hidden but they become completely irrelevant, or even worse, assumed to be completely understood.

Dunning-Kruger Is Real

This claim of understanding is not hubris, it’s the practical result of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. If you are competent in doing the skill, you must know how to do it, right? I mean, I do it fine. I’m doing it… I’m doing it just like everybody else is doing it.

The easy success of the Algorithm of the Take for a vault tricks us into believing that we understand the vaulting process because we are “doing it right” – because we got The Answer™ – you know, the one that looks like my performance and understanding of the Vault. All this talk about separation, triggers, and targets is academic – what does it matter that my throw is 12 inches and the super bad ass player’s throw is 48″? We’re both doing the same thing, the dog is vaulting, right? Actually no, that’s not right.

A vault has the dog leaping from the handler to get the disc. A properly triggered vault has the dog leaving the ground for a target. This is key for safe and successful vaulting because it means the dog makes 1 decision, and any weirdness in the throw is compensated for from the ground. So you give the trigger (usually presentation of the vaulting obstacle – leg, back, chest, etc), the dog responds. The handler throws the disc while the dog is responding allowing the target to be visible so as to allow collection from the ground for the target.

Teams laboring under the Algorithm of the Take can’t make the throw until the dog has committed. So the dog is leaving the ground for nothing on the live vault, or is leaving the ground for some spot out there. The handler is then on the hook for delivering the target to the dog’s mouth. If the handler makes any more than a 4-6 inch mistake on the throw, the dog is in trouble and has to pull a Plan B maneuver. That plan B maneuver will result in the tearing of your flesh and pits your dog’s sense of self preservation against their drive to get the disc.

If the throw goes wrong on a vault that is properly triggered, the dog takes the mistake in stride, making even a 1-3 FOOT mistake in placement a fairly easy and safe recovery making the catch without rending flesh off the human or flailing around like they’ve been thrown out of a moving vehicle.

The two vault techniques are not at all the same, at root. And the Team – Dog and/or Handler – who suffers the negative effects the Algorithm of the Take likely doesn’t even know these things exist or completely knows that they exist and are obviously doing them “Because I’m vaulting… just like Betty BadAss & Champ do.”

The Hidden Shame of the Algorithm

This is the 21st Century. We’ve got the answers at the tip of our fingers at any time. If we don’t know a piece of trivia and can’t consult the google, we’re uncomfortable. We are only comfortable when we know the answer, which means when we can do the skill. To not be able to do the skill is one thing, you just can’t do it – yet… To not know what you’re doing in a skill is a completely different situation.

A failure to understand is FAR worse than not being able to do it. To not be able to do it is to not be able to do it. To not know what a skill is, however or to not know what you’re doing while you are doing said skill is to be something close to an idiot. I mean, what kind of fool can do a skill and doesn’t know how it works? Most all of us, actually. I know very little about what is actually happening in DiscDog skills on a moment by moment basis. I’m learning dozens of new things per month and have been for the last 25 years.

The only people who really care about not knowing how a vault works is someone who has been tricked by the Algorithm of the Take into believing that they already know. Being exposed like that is to deliver the wrong answer in public, or even worse it could be like answering a math problem with “Potato”. To quote the preface to my book:

There are so many questions; important questions. These questions rarely get asked because people walk around with full cups of limited experience. Filling our cup from the internet has become so easy that we are only comfortable if our cup is full and it loads fast. It’s OK to not know or to not understand something.

Seeking an answer to something you didn’t know is how you learned every thing you know. If your cup is full there is nothing to learn and this book will have nothing to teach. 

Ron Watson, Tao of DiscDog

The problem with this is that nobody can stand having their cup empty – the moment we don’t know something we hit up google and fill that cup up with The Answer™. The Algorithm of the Take fills up cups rapidly but vapidly.

If we’re tricked by the algorithm then we just take all the new info and new answers and cram them into the same old pigeon hole.

Escaping the algorithm is both easy and simple which means It is a challenge to understand and requires some kind of experience or epiphany to pop the bubble of safety and surety that the Algorithm of the Take provides.

It All Starts with a Clear Trigger…

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Patron’s Choice: Vaulting Principles | Disc Dog Vaulting Defined and Definitions

To vault in disc dog freestyle is to leap off the handler’s body to catch a disc in flight. A defining aspect of competitive disc dog freestyle, the Vault is a simple operation with a great many physical expressions and variations. This book aims to explore and uncover the principles and concepts of the vault and to deliver sound understanding of all aspects of the skill to players and judges for success, style, and safety’s sake.


    1. Thanks, Jeff. It’s a little harsh if you want to take it that way, but the definition and spirit is fairly on point. The behavior might rock, but the understanding for dog, handler, and team lacks flavor, utility, and substance.