Nine Distinct & Observable Properties of the Disc Dog Noob

Here are nine things that noobs do that everyone should be aware of so they can avoid doing them and get bigger and better scores on the competition field. Any one of these issues can and will cost you more than a few points in a contest:

Bending Over

The best way to lose 4 points a round in freestyle is to bend at the waist and knees while playing with the dog. It’s hard to look cool while you’re all bent over. This puppy playing position is a hallmark of new players and people who are not confident athletes, although confident athletes are often caught up in this as well. It’s a defensive, cautious, and weak position that makes it near impossible to project an air of experience and competence. As soon as you present this position the judges will be likely to lowball your skill level and might mistake skill and intent for luck and happenstance. It also looks bad to boot. Don’t do it! One should:

stand up tall, lean back, and be cool… like Fonzie.

Watching the Disc Dog

When playing a round of disc dog freestyle, you are not a spectator. It’s easy to make a nice long toss and get caught up in the drama of watching the dog make a big leaping catch. It’s beautiful and exciting. I know, I’m an addict too, but if you watch the dog catch, you’re going to have a problem with Disc Management and Flow. You’ll wind up flat footed, backpedaling and rushed — for no reason at all. Make the throw and throw it with intent, but after it’s gone move on quickly to your responsibilities as a handler so you can be prepared and look like you know what you’re doing out there. In a contest setting, just listen to the crowd. They’ll tell you if the dog catches or not.

Single Disc Disc Management

Winding up with no discs and no plan is a handler’s nightmare. Running from one disc to the next, picking up and flinging – pick it up… fling! is not a flattering style. It’s the logical end game when you’re at the end of your rope, and if it happens to you frequently something should be done about it. It’s costing points from nearly all freestyle judges. Having stimulus control over the Drop (it only happens when cued) is a great way to plan and control where the discs are dropped on the field. Being able to tell the dog where and when to drop the discs can help ensure that the handler picks up more than 1 disc at a time. Better routine planning and development will help, but the best way to handle bad disc management is to have the dog drop the disc around other discs ensuring that the handler is able to pick up more than one disc at a at a time.

Make it a habit to always have 3 discs in hand.

Repeating Cues

“Drop…Drop!… DROP!!!

Talk about painful to watch as a judge (and as a dog trainer)… It screams “not in control”. Give one cue: “Drop.” And that’s it.

It may be necessary to shape and reinforce a weak behavior during a contest. Some judges might look favorably on that, some may not, but it’s better to repair the problem than to try to mask it. Don’t be afraid to use the competition field for training. Habitual re-cuing of  Drop, Go AroundThrough, or Vault, or any other behavior for that matter, does not reflect well on the handler. The tone and flow of the communication between dog and handler in the game of disc can make you look professional and in control or overwhelmed and treading water and everything in between. Teams that communicate well get better scores.

Repeating Missed Tricks

Miss it once and you didn’t do it. Miss it twice and you can’t do it.

This is especially true when missing badly. Be very careful repeating tricks that have missed. If you blow it, forget about it and move on. If the dog blows it, move on. If the dog misses valiantly, take the big effort and move on with good energy. Resist prideful urges to “get it right” and pursuits of perfection. There’s a time and a place for that and it’s called the training field. Competitively, it’s much better to build and establish a Flow and good energy than to get a specific trick performed correctly on the field. If you need the skill for a sequence, you can reset and try again, but you should do so calmly and efficiently and make darn sure you get it right.

Miss it once and you didn’t do it. Miss it twice and you can’t do it.

Throwing Late

There is a timing when it comes to many tricks in the game of disc, and the rule of thumb is that the timing should be early — before the dog has to make decisions on where to leap. This means that vaults, overs, passes and even zig zags, need to be thrown before the dog leaves the ground in the case of vaults, overs and passes, and before the dog crosses the handler’s plane on zig zags and other out throws. Throwing late busts the dog’s groove and chops up your Flow. There are exceptions to this rule, for sure. Lots of awesome players throw late tosses, and some tricks and sequences require late tosses, but those should be exceptions and not the rule.


Nothing can make you look more noobish than rushing (or being rushed). When nothing seems to be going right, slow down… Heck, STOP!… reset and give it another shot. Breathe, play slowly, like you’re comatose. When you have to move, move. Don’t watch your dog, don’t rush, just move, quickly and efficiently and get to where you need to be. It sounds silly, but the answer to not rushing (or being rushed) really is not allowing yourself to rush (or to be rushed). It’s kind of an intent thing.

Throwing the Kitchen Sink – Poorly

Few things are worse as a judge then watching a player play over his or her head. A wide variety of terribly executed, crappy throws is not what the rules call for and is certainly not what the judges are looking for. Not very many people realize that, and it’s a bummer as it is this oversight that leads to years of frustration and partial success. A handler should only throw high quality, precise and accurate throws to the dog on a competition field. When any handler does that, he or she can’t look like a noob because noobs can’t do that. More is not always better. If you want to prove yourself as a good competent thrower and player, then deliver well thrown discs to your dog.

Pro throws don’t wobble and they are caught in stride by a leaping dog.

Overworking the Dog

Signing up for every event at every contest and playing with the dog between rounds, at the hotel, in front of the photographers and cameramen, springing tricks on innocent bystanders… and the dog craps out in the finals on Sunday — happens to noobs all the time. A weekend at a contest can be an exhausting and trying experience for many disc dogs. It’s a ton of work as it is.

Warm your dog up, cool him down, and keep him comfortable. That’s about it. Don’t over do it.

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.


  1. Thanks Ron, great tips! I can think of several of these I need to work on. Are things like this going to be able to be added to my Tool Kit?

    1. Thanks Chuck! Appreciate it.
      Saw the vid of the new pup. Pretty awesome!

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