On the Aesthetics and Performance of Disc Dog Shapes and Flatwork

An interesting comment was posted recently by one of our Patrons on a recent lesson from DiscDogger Weekly on Shapes. It is a thoughtful and observant comment that goes straight to the heart of my understanding of the game. So I wrote a long comment in response and felt that it warranted a whole post on the topic.

Interesting topic. Am I right that Shape is unrecognized element of Freestyle which enhances the aesthetic perception of the game? Because I saw a lot of sessions containing many cool elements like Vaults, Flips, Overs and etc, but sometimes it looked boring. I didn’t understand why it happened. Now I think that the main reason is linear manner of the game. Could the Toss&Fetch be the root problem of spread of linear movement?

Oleg P. – Vice Director

My Response

Not just the aesthetic, Oleg. It’s performance as well. Shapes require understanding, planning, and execution by both dog and handler. Shapes are a BIG part of Team Movement and they require great skill and ability. 

I believe you are correct about the aesthetic gap in many performances. I think it is often a part of “what’s missing”, and it’s hard to pin down to a concrete, discrete cause…

Toss and Fetch is a cause of a lack of shapes, but it has several other causes – Shapes are not scored in most venues, and many judges don’t understand or recognize the application of shapes – whether it be simply the movement of the dog or the more complex and dynamic Shapes of the team and in the throws themselves. 

In addition to the lack of critical and competitive feedback on the topic, exploring shapes takes understanding and time. Nobody has time for anything other than sexy vaults and flips and whatnot and without the critical and competitive feedback, Shapes fall by the wayside. Just run your dog in a clockwise circle or out and back and throw in some sexy interior moves and you’re sexy AND competitive.

It frustrates me. Shapes and Team Movement are deep expressions of competent and “sexy” play. Shapes, Flatwork, and Team Movement should be the ultimate equalizer for players without a monster dog or great human athletic skills, and should be the deciding factor between relatively equivalent play, or a heavily weighted aspect of play for teams who execute them well. 

Instead, players of all skill levels skip them as foundation and future and focus on bumping up the sexy moves – as if the only place to improve is in developing a funky new Over throw, flip delivery, or fidget. This becomes the path to growth and elevated play. The judges wind up agreeing and placing more focus on the fancy new stuff. I just see more foundational gaps and missed opportunities for quality play. 

All that said, back to your aesthetic point… There is something special about this kind of play. It tends to show itself in scores in a ‘je ne sais quoi’ – that certain… I don’t know… – manner. While that is tough to pin down and score directly, it does have impact upon scores and the general vibe of play. 

So, yea, you’re on point with this comment, and speaking directly to me with your understanding.

This discussion gets to the points offered in this blog post. Education is important in a judged sport such as disc dog freestyle. We all need to know what’s happening out there on the field, players and judges alike. Nuanced, deep understanding is key to performance and judging of subjective sports. Without that nuanced deep understanding, competition suffers. .

Some Additional Thoughts

It’s not just Shapes, it’s Flatwork too, in both the aesthetic and performance sense. Shapes and Flatwork are more than the conventional wisdom definition of “patterns on the field” and “things that happen between the catches”.

Teams that run in both directions should get some credit for doing so. They should get some kind of benefit over a team that only runs clock, or only goes out and back and never change direction or set up from the other side.

Teams that use Flatwork, like handler communication and team execution pre and post-throw, to set up Shapes should get credit and should get a leg up on teams that only use throws to move the dog in linear, chasing fashion.

The dog that executes both clock and counter patterns, catches both interceptions and chase, and responds to both the actions of the handler and the disc should get a leg up on the dog that only chases discs in one direction.

Handlers that communicate to the dog AND throw well should get a leg up on handlers who only throw well while allowing their dogs to move freely about the field.

These valid aspects of quality play don’t seem to be on anyone’s radar, save UpDog players and judges, but even they are pressured to ignore these signals in order to conform to convention and remain relevant amidst their peers.

Putting This Stuff on the Radar and Into the Competitive Mix

I do seem to be pissing into the wind and probably pissing people off with this stuff. This “stuff” is not trivial and not easy. It requires work, practice, and understanding. It takes time away from other training exercises. And it is easily labeled a naval gazing distraction by competent and respected players. Nobody wants to be “forced” into a particular style of play in freestyle or to have their style judged and found wanting.

And it is not my intent to force people into a style of play. Don’t want to focus on Flatwork and Shapes? Don’t do it. It’s freestyle after all, and it’s still a free world, last time I checked… But there is no right to have one style of play be above critique or to have skills presented by others rendered meaningless because some people don’t do them or do not find them worth their time. Well planned and well executed Shapes and Flatwork are legitimate disc dog skills.

Shapes and Flatwork are happening, in all freestyle play. Whether focused on and emphasized or not. There are levels of Shapes and Flatwork in all freestyle play, those levels should be understood and acknowledged in order to be fairly evaluated for competitive play.

Related Articles

The Purpose and Value of Recognizing Shapes in Disc Dog Freestyle

Shapes are created by the position and movement of dog, handler, and disc. And shapes can be created by the dog, the handler, and the placement of the disc. Shapes are a fact of disc dog freestyle.

When the dog leaves the handler for a catch, that tends to create a line. When the dog is away from the handler and moves across the field to make a catch, as in a Zig Zag or Around the World, that tends to create a Shape.


  1. thought this was well said…shapes and flarwork are the foundation of building relationship and teamwork without that it seems like something is missing cause bond or glue that puts team together is not there..like the garth brooks song says the dance we shared…that dance is special to see

    1. Right on, Candace. You got it right there.
      I’d add that the Flatwork and interaction between the tricks is key for managing drive and engagement. So many handlers lose their dogs simply because they’re not obviously interacting at this point in the game.