Disc Dog Flatwork – Are You Feeding or Leading?

In an earlier article, Flatwork is Flow, I wrote about the concept of Flatwork in the game of disc:

In agility, the stuff that goes on between the jumps, the team movement and cuing proper direction is called Flatwork. Running agility fast has far more to do with Flatwork than it does the obstacles.

We have a similar situation in the game of disc. All of the important stuff happens between the discs being caught. Putting the dog in position, turning them to the left or right on the run, creating large sweeping patterns that lead in to the vaulting and flipping and that are incorporated into your game of disc.

At Pawsitive Vybe we have put together a Flatwork Foundation of Set Up Moves and Position, Directional Feeding, Directional Leading and a drill we call the PVR. We add in some Front and Rear Crosses to help us better move our dog around the field and to give the handler control over the team movement.

I don’t really want to go too deep into the intricacies of Flatwork as it’s a pretty large topic, but there are two drills that we need to define and understand so we can begin to wrap our head around the concept of Flatwork:

Directional Feeding

Disc Dog Flanking and Feeding

Directional feeding is a drill that we do here at Pawsitive Vybe in order to allow the handler to learn how to hit a moving target and to learn how his or her dog moves.

Essentially, Directional Feeding is calling the drop and throwing a Frisbee on the line that the dog is on when he drops it. Throwing with the intent to hit your dog in stride, on the run, at a good leaping height.

It’s an excellent drill for novices and pros alike.

Directional Leading

Directional Leading is the same basic concept as Directional Feeding, but the handler alters the dog’s line and pushes or pulls the dog around the field it helps to teach handlers how to move their dogs around. Handlers learn to create and execute a plan to deliver a disc their dog, in stride at a good leaping height, to a spot of the handler’s choosing. It is a powerful skill that is pretty much unknown, underused and under appreciated in the game of disc.


Most players that are playing Disc with their dogs competitively these days are relying nearly entirely on the Directional Feeding concept of Flatwork: Throw it to where the dog is going to be. The handler’s learn their dog’s patterns and feed them.

Feeding the dog in the direction that the dog has chosen to go (or is going) is a great skill, but it’s not the only skill and too much of it leaves us at the mercy of our dog’s high drive behavior. The handler becomes a disc dispenser and the dog goes on autopilot. Discs are served up on a silver platter (hopefully!) and delivered to the dog.

Feeding almost always leads to either a back and forth game or a circle, depending on whether the dog is an X or an O, and lots of setting up from the front of the handler.

This kind of game reduces the ability of the handler to ask things of their dog at key moments in the performance. Patterns and habits develop that may be very hard to break. The handler often does not have the power or ability to move their dog to where they need them to be for various wind conditions or sequence building. Once the dog breaks from the handler and strikes a line, that’s it. The handler can either feed the dog on that line or call the dog back and try again.

Extracting ‘honest work’ out of the dog can become difficult as well, as the whole game away from the handler tends to be free and the game close to the handler is work, leading the handler to cater to the dog’s desires in close with flips, vaults and repetitive set up moves or risk balking, refusals and stress.

This also increases the scale of the game. The handler must read the dog’s line and then throw. Allowing fast dogs to get 10 yards down field before the throw is made which leads to 30+yard throws that the dog simply runs down. So the handler winds stuck in a phone booth or chucking 30 yard throws.


Disc Dog Flatwork with Groovy

If a handler is leading his or her dog, moving the dog around the field, cuing directional changes, then the dog and handler are working as a team. The dog is reading the handler, taking the handler’s cues and then getting the disc as reinforcement.

Patterns are not limited to what the dog offers; dog and handler can create any pattern they would like if they are well versed in Directional Leading.

This kind of game allows the handler to influence the dog’s movement at key moments of the game. The dog can not stop paying attention after they go around. The dog must pay attention to the handler to take the directional cue to make it to where the disc will end up. There is no autopilot, the dog and handler are connected

If there are shifting winds, a sloppy part of the field, a distraction that needs to be avoided it’s no sweat to pull the dog around and lead them to where they need to be to succeed. If there is a breakdown in communication, the handler can take it in stride and reset with little trouble.

When the handler can lead his or her dog, the scale of the game is totally dynamic as well. Short, medium and long throws can be made because the dog is paying attention to and reading the handler. Patterns are easy to create and to change.

Feeding or Leading

So the question is…

Are you feeding or leading?

Related Articles

Throwing With Intent

Throwing with Intent is throwing a disc to your dog with the intent to make them look good. Throwing the disc to promote a big leap, to hit the dog in stride on the run or throwing a disc that your dog is going to flip for 10 yards away, is the sign of a mature handler.

Patron’s Choice: Shaping a Leaping Catch | Creating a Late Read

Reading the disc is a skill that astute dogs and humans pick up rather quickly. The float, the spin, and the speed can reliably be gauged and predicted after several reps. Of course this changes with wind, disc choice, and throwing ability but, generally speaking, the flight path of a disc is easily predicted.


  1. Right on, Matt!
    Flatwork Foundation will be covered in our Disc Dog Foundation class starting on Nov 1.
    Pretty excited to get that going…

  2. thanks for sharing. I’ve always taken it for granted that my herding and agility work has made my dog more responsive to my body positioning. Never thought about using front/rear crosses in the mix. Might be interesting to try to work out a set w/serpentine handling. I think we get a bit of a helping hand with BC’s with a strong balance instinct.

  3. Thanks for reading Adriana!
    Using front and rear crosses is super cool for disc. They are really flashy and allow the handler to control the dog’s position for wind and other routine needs.

    Never thought of using serpentine handling, I take it you mean that subtle shoulder switch from left to right to cue direction…

    We do a HUGE serpentine though with Rear Crosses, it’s essentially a moving zig zag except the dog is releasing away from the handler with wide arcing turns. Sooper cool!

    As far as the BC balance instinct goes, it’s a blessing and a curse. I used to go nuts with Leilani, a HUGE outrunning BC because once she passed 11 O’clock or so, she was off for another trip around. It takes a long time for a dog to go all the way around the field as you’re waiting.

    I started using a front and rear cross to control the outrun once the dog has passed the balance point. Now I can bring Leilani in from any point on her outrun. It’s so nice!

    I’ll try to get some video of some front and rear cross usage on here soon. Perhaps we’ll shoot some today.


  4. Thanks, Ron, for this glimpse into the deeper aspects of positional handling. It’s very helpful to consider these aspects of training, though we are really still taking baby steps. It’s good to keep in mind where we are headed, as we lay foundations in training.

  5. With our game, I’ve been working Eko on going for the disc, returning, calling the drop then pulling her back around and back to the front for another toss. She’s definitely an X dog so I know I need to work on the O part of the equation. Just from analyzing what she and I have worked on, it sounds like our game is just a feeding game. So instead of pulling her back around to the front for another toss in the same direction should I send her out and try leading her to where I want her to go, then throw the disc out for her? I want to keep her engaged in the game but am unsure if this will aid in that.

    This is where we are currently.

    1. That’s so awesome, Lindsay! Go Eko!
      A couple of things… It’s too long. You needed to quit at about the 1 minute mark to ensure that you quit while she was high. Also get the drop then pop up your hand cue for the PBR.

      Remember the Consequent Cue, the drop makes the cue happen.

      What you are doing is leading, but I think you are not quite Throwing with Intent.

      Are you still working directional feeding? You might want to in order to get a cleaner drop and to lower the performance criteria.

      It’s really nice Lindsay. Proud of you two!

  6. Thanks Ron. Yeah that is about the max we go in a session and I only run her maybe 3 times a week, if that. I really try to keep it brief but I can definitely make it shorter.

    I have to remind myself a lot of the consequent cue.

    Not sure on “throwing with intent” so I’ll need to read up on that.

    As for directional feeding, no. We’re still having trouble with that. I think that’s the next hurdle we’re having to tackle. While her drop is better, she will not drop in the middle of the run. She waits until she’s about 4-5 feet from me before she drops. In a way that’s a good thing, at least in a D/A game, but doesn’t work well for freestyle. I would love for her to drop on command during the run and I’ve done some work with her on that but its still not solid. I have to really remind myself not to repeat the cue and cheerlead her. She will drop when she’s trying to pound the next disc on the leading but not on a cue even though she knows the cue.

    Basically what happens, if I don’t do any directional leading, is when she is on the return, I call the drop and if it doesn’t happen, the game stops until she drops the disc then I pop out a roller or additional throw. Not sure that’s a good thing because I surely don’t want the game to stop or get boring.

    I know with boxers, they need more repetitions of a behavior and cue to really get it in comparison to a herding breed so I know I have to be patient with her but I really want her to think through her actions and respond to the commands. We’re getting there. I can see improvement but there’s always room for growth.

    Thanks again for the information and putting all this stuff out there for us in cyberspace. Much appreciated! 🙂


  7. @Lindsay –
    Quit BEFORE she starts to slow down.

    As far as the drop goes, try this…

    You want to set up an association between the drop cue and the drop itself. So if you have a good, fast reliable drop during bitework, get 10-20 reps of dropping on cue then take a break.

    Revisit the bitework for a couple reps then make your toss. On her way back in predict the drop, when she is likely to drop, you said about 4 feet away, right? Call the drop at 5 feet so you have an immediate drop cue/drop relationship. Fire out a roller or give her a bite as reinforcement.

    Once you have her dropping on cue when she’s likely to do it, then test her with the drop cue slightly earlier. If you don’t like the response time, go ahead and break the game down for a moment and restart – even if she drops after you’re tired of waiting.

    Does that all make sense?

  8. Where’s the Mark?

    If you were marking I couldn’t hear it, and I didn’t notice Donovan responding to a marker either…

    “Around… Yes!” Throw…

    25 seconds in and no mark. No marking for catches, drops, or set up moves – mark those behaviors that are really solid or that you are looking to improve when they happen. This will make the game feel more successful for the dog. They can get feedback on each skill you have worked, bringing the skills and behaviors into clear focus for the dog.

    This entire session neither you, nor Donovan really knew what was working well and the game was just kind of stuff you’re doing. Marking behaviors centers the handler and dog and keeps you focused on task. That’s what felt different at camp. Mark those behaviors!

    Try this!

    Directional Feeding

    Choose one behavior and mark and reinforce it – try the drop. The next directional feeding session cue and mark the drop. Let him take a couple of steps after the catch and select a line to move on. Once he’s chosen his line, call the drop, MARK IT!, and reinforce with a throw on that line that Donovan has selected.

    PVR or Just Jamming

    Mark several – mark the catch and reinforce with the drop. Mark and reinforce the drop with a set up move. mark and reinforce the set up move with a throw. Mark the catch. Repeat…


    For those of you who are skeptical of marking lots of these behaviors on the field due to watering down your marker:
    All you have to do is to make sure that the marked behaviors are followed by some cool action that leads to a throw or some kind of excitement level increase in the game. A flashing lure that attracts the dog over your back can be plenty reinforcing, a set up move sandwiched between a positive marker and a throw can be quite reinforcing as well. If you look at it in this manner, you can see how we can take the entire game of Frisbee and make it nothing but secondary reinforcers. It’s pretty sweet! Happy to talk about this wherever… 🙂

    Slow Down

    You were really rushed here. Donovan is a patient dog. Let him land and take a couple steps so you both can breathe a bit. This will also allow him to set a line that he will start moving on. This is super important in Directional Feeding – it’s the Directional part. You were so rushed trying to get him to drop and fire out another disc… there’s no need for that. Let him move a bit before you try to force another disc out there on him.

    Directional Feeding should be a much slower paced game. Let the lines set up, let Donovan retrieve the disc a bit before you cue the drop and make your throw. If you have trouble, just count to 3 after he lands before you cue the drop.

    A Lesson Inside a Lesson

    This was really interesting to me, Cassi, it really made an impression on me as to how the timing and pace (Rate of Reinforcement) of throws can really affect the pattern. The higher the Rate of Reinforcement the more the dog works away from you and the lower the Rate of Reinforcement the more you get a retrieve based game. Pretty fascinating.

    Let’s give this another shot. You can post the video here…

    One More Thing

    Almost forgot… Set the Flank! Get Donovan out to your left or your right on your initial out throw. This will set a different pattern from the get go. If you don’t do this, and throw out front, it really just sets up a game of fetch. This is one of the most important skills in flatwork. Get that dog out to the left or right – look at the diagram at the top of the page…

  9. LMAO! “This entire session neither you, nor Donovan really knew what was working well and the game was just kind of stuff you’re doing.” um yeah we need help! lol Ok, back to rhe drawing board, new video soon. THANKS!!

    1. It is a bit funny, Cassi, but it’s largely due to your lack of a mark, not your performance of the skills. At least if you were marking behaviors you two could have grooved to the drop and gotten some clarity as to what was going on…

  10. mark mark mark! yeah and thats our issue you pointed out at camp! Ok, I think I will work again with more focus on the mark and drop than anything else, I dont want to get ahead of myself again!

  11. I am finding that my poor disc throwing skills are really getting in the way of me efficiently practicing this skill. I have little accuracy and my discs seem to curl or nose dive at the end. I am working on some of the week 3 throwing stuff to work on it. Understand directional feeding and leading in theory, but with my poor accuracy, difficult to put into effect.

    1. That will happen.

      Work these lessons: Human Freestyle as Basis for Learning, Seven Spot, The Flick Myth, Rock In Rock Out, Precision & Accuracy and the Wall and Pole Drill. Manufacturing success would be good as well. I’d suggest working from the Throwing Class PAge: http://pvyb.me/throwdiscs .

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