Patron’s Choice : Shaping a Leaping Catch | Leaping Functions

Sneak Peek for Patron’s only… Public access Dec 27th

Functions of canine leaping and how leaping catches function. 

Attention & Basic Position


Attention should be used to set the stage for your leaping catch. Attention provides a breather and moment of pause for the high drive dog. It allows us to get hooked up and prepared to act as a team. Your dog should look at you and believe that the cue will be offered. 

Attention is key because it makes the handler the object, or center of the game allowing the disc to become a tool used to create fun interaction. This lucid, thoughtful focus on the handler reduces the overwhelming interest and desire for the disc leading to more thoughtful engagement and pursuit of the target.. .

Thoughtful engagement and pursuit of the disc are both highly reinforcing to a leaping catch. It sets the stage, emotionally, physiologically, and intellectually. If the stage is set with offered Attention we start each trick with a sense of purpose and teamwork. 


Basic Standing Position is the physical, positional expression of Attention. It hooks up the dog and handler as a team, it slows the dog down, and creates some time and space to think while physically setting the team on the path to the leaping catch. Combined with the lucid and thoughtful predisposition of Attention, BSP further reinforces the likelihood of a leaping catch.

Basic Standing Position can be used as a cookie or as a cue. Reinforce Attention or the cued Drop with BSP and you lock the dog in to a Wait in front of the handler. You can also offer BSP as a cue for the dog to look at you. 

While in BSP, wait for Attention. Offered eye contact is your signal that the dog is ready. Marking the Attention and reinforcing with a thrown disc, set up move, or Next rather quickly turns Attention and BSP into a secondary reinforcer. It also turns the disc into an earned cookie. The dog learns to like to chill and give eye contact in order to make the disc happen. 

A static position loaded with intent to make a disc happen means the dog is highly likely to stay tuned until the trigger happens. The dog will offer eye contact to make the cue happen, and if the trigger does not happen shortly thereafter, the dog will offer eye contact again to try to make the trigger happen. This desire to look at the handler, from a stable position, reinforces the likelihood of the dog actually seeing the trigger.

The trigger from BSP is the disc flipping from vertical to horizontal after the backswing. If the dog is conditioned to offer eye contact and believes that Attention makes it happen, it’s not hard to wait for eye contact before presenting the trigger.

Feel free to move a bit and try to trick the dog into leaving. Start with a backswing keeping the disc vertical throughout. Move back and forth with the disc in the vertical orientation to keep the dog honest. You can also fake the throw. Reach back through the backswing and fake a throwing motion while the disc is still held vertically. This will most likely trick the dog. It’s cool. Just wait for Attention, and repeat until the dog stays with you while you pretend to pull the trigger. When you pull the trigger and make the throw, the dog will be looking and will respond to the trigger. And we’re starting out on the right foot for the leaping catch. Woo hoo!


Basic Flatwork Position performs the same function as Basic Standing Position with the exception of the fact that the dog is moving. It is really just a moving wait, but the dog is still moving. It is sometimes tough to time and get hooked up while on the run. Good experience and understanding of Attention, BSP, and the vertical to horizontal trigger will make this hookup on the run far easier and more likely to be successful which means more leaping catches on the run.

BFP or the throwing pose from BFP can be offered as a cookie for Attention or a cued Drop, just like in Basic Standing Position. Present BFP as the cookie for the cued Drop and gain control over the dog’s movement directly. BFP as cookie locks the dog into team movement with the handler directly from the cued Drop or from the moment the dog sees the handler (Attention).

Be careful offering your throwing pose before the dog complies with your drop cue or looks at you. If you offer the position before the cued Drop has been completed, you will have given the cookie before the behavior. If you offer your throwing pose before the dog looks or while the dog is not looking at you, it’s not much of a pose is it? I don’t know… Can it be a pose if nobody sees it?

Trigger & Cue

Keep your cue and trigger separate and distinct by varying the timing and cadence between them. This is important in all dog training and dog sport. If the Cue and Trigger are always delivered in the with the same timing and cadence, the dog will start to trigger on the Cue, rather than waiting for the Trigger.

As an example, most dogs leave the handler when the throw is started. As the handler starts to reach back the dog takes off, leaving both the disc in the handler in the rear view mirror. This can even happen as the handler starts to turn to make the throw.

This happens because the cadence of the Cue and Trigger is too predictable because the timing is always the same. “OK, I got the cue, I’m gonna take off because I know the Trigger is coming in 1.25 seconds.”

Vary and test the timing of your Trigger in relation to the Cue. A “fake out” technique is easy to employ for this as is using the Trigger as a cookie for Attention. 

Cuing, Posing & Throwing

The Pose, whether is a positional pose or a throwing pose, is a cue that tells the dog what throw is coming and where it is going to go. 

Use a throwing pose as a cookie for Attention, Drop, or acceptance of BFP or BSP. Posing as cookie is a powerful tool for managing a dog’s drive and focus.

“Drop… YES!” and Pose as cookie. Dog looks at you,”Yes!” and Pose as cookie. Dog goes through,”Yes!” Pivot, turn, Pose as cookie. 

Use a Pose to lock the dog in with the promise of a throw after any desirable behavior.

While in a Pose, if the dog goes, DON’T THROW!!! Just wait. This is quite important while the dog is running on the Flank. While running on the flank in Basic Flatwork Position, many dogs get some inkling that the handler is going to throw and just take off. It is at this time that many handler’s chuck the dog a cookie as they throw to a dog that has left the handler. If the dog goes, don’t throw. 

Watch your dog look at you and your hands while throwing. Not only should you watch your dog respond to the transition from the Pose to throw – as the trigger is going off – but you should actually see your dog looking at you during this pose to throw transition. 

The likelihood of a leaping catch jumps up if the dog sees the target leave handler’s hand; from hand to leaping mouth.


All of the above put the dog and handler on the same page and eye to eye. All you have to do is read the dog and deliver the disc to the spot that will elicit that leap. Absent that intent, a leap may or may not happen. The intent to deliver the disc to that spot at that time is key to being able to make a dog leap and absolutely key to making a dog leap reliably. 

Leaping for a disc is a behavior. The same kind of consistency required in dog training to shape and create reliable behaviors is required to shape and create a leaping catch.

Intend to deliver the disc to the spot where the dog must leap for it. Intend to put it at the proper distance and the proper time. Intend to hang the disc at the spot so it stays there as long as possible. 

Without the intent to make your dog leap, it probably won’t happen. If your intent is to simply get a catch, odds are you’ll get it, but the leap may or may not happen – probably not. 


The handler creates the pace, not the dog. If you’re trying to match your dog’s pace, the dog will run too fast to leap effectively. The functional ideas above are what you use to regulate speed. Apply them. 

Use Attention and the positional poses to set the pace before the start of your throw. Use the cue, pose, and trigger to create a clean start. Intend to do all of this. Deliver your throw to the spot. If the handler does all of this, who controls the Pace of the dog?

When teaching or learning the leaping catch, keep the distance somewhat short – five to seven strides or 10-15 yards. It is easier to shape and maintain a good Pace for leaping at shorter distances. 

Throwing too far will challenge the dog to run fast and will turn control over pace to the instinctual drive of the dog. If you are actually reading this to help your dog leap, odds are that’s going to be too fast. 


The manner in which you deliver the disc also has an effect on pace. Ideally, the disc sticks and hovers before the dog gets there. If the disc is sticky and hovering by the time the dog is half way there, the dog knows it’s not going to get away, so the dog plans to make the catch. “I think I’m going to get there early, and it’s hanging up there. Better get ready to leap.”

If the dog picks up the disc early and the disc is not going far enough to allow for a sprint, the dog will be in good position to make a catch. If the target gets stuck hanging or hovering in the air as the dog approaches, then what is a dog to do?

Get up there and get the target. I mean, it’s just sitting there, right?


Tracking is something of a safety valve or plan B type device in regards to the leaping catch. If everything above is done perfectly, then tracking is a non-issue. It doesn’t need to happen. 

Tracking skills by the dog are employed when the throw is not perfect or the wind affects a throw. If the dog is good at Tracking the disc, on the approach to the catch, the dog will notice the approach is off and make the adjustments to get into a good position for the catch. If the dog is really good at tracking, the adjustment will happen earlier and may result in a leaping catch. 


If all of the above have happened then collection should happen rather easily. You should see your dog adjust stride, rock back, look up, pull the rear legs forward, and launch. 

Collection IS the leap. No collection, no leap. Collection is how the dog throttles down and shifts momentum from horizontal to vertical. This needs to happen before the dog reaches the target. This can be quite difficult if the dog is chasing the disc, as the disc and dog’s speed are relative; both are moving with the dog accelerating and disc decelerating. It is very easy to get under the disc before collecting. This is not collection in order to leap for the target. It is collection to leap because you’ve already missed the target. “Uh oh. Better leap, I’m in a bad position to make the catch.” 

To mitigate the effect of relative speeds and collection, a good solution is to create an interception opportunity for the dog. An interception changes the situation from relative speed between two racing objects to objective speed: the disc is going this fast and I am here, “How fast do I need to move to get it and in what direction.”

Setting up an interception creates two major benefits. First off it creates a plan of attack from the moment the disc is targeted, which if you’re posing well means the dog starts to formulate this plan as soon as the disc comes out of your hand. This initial plan is critical to controlling the dog’s pace and intent. 

The interception also sets up a do or die moment for collection and the catch. There is exactly 1 spot that dog and disc are going to hook up on a disc that is intercepted. If the plan the dog makes is a bad one, the dog and disc won’t meet – the dog will run by the disc without a chance to make the catch. The only way to make the catch is to make a good plan and then execute that plan.

The culmination of this plan, the collection for the leaping catch, must happen before the dog gets close to the disc. If it is made at the disc, the disc has already passed the dog and the do or die moment has passed and there is no hope of success. Leaping higher won’t help. Leaping, landing, then leaping again won’t help. And slowing down after the do or die moment won’t help. There is no recovery from late collection or a bad plan (from targeting – catch) on an interception. 

Working the interception will help a dog collect before reaching the target and reduce premature ejumpulation and irrational leaping. 


If everything has laid out well up until now, the disc is most likely going to be caught. There are only a few things that can create a miss at this time. 

A simple mistake. Dogs make them. It happens. Ignore this and mark and reinforce well to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. 

Historical unintended reinforcement after a miss is also a potential reason for missed catches if the functions of leaping catches all check out and pass muster. This is a big one. Be sure to punish with a pause or reduce the intensity of play after anything but an honest mistake type miss. Getting excited about the leap and moving on with exciting play without the catch following it up reinforces big leaping misses.


Landings are the most important part of leaps. A poor landing is not safe and it’s not pretty. It might lead to acute injury on this rep or will lead to chronic injury after many reps. 

The only common crash landing in leaping for discs on the run is a rear legs first, vertical, pogo stick type landing. The pogo stick landing is happening because at least one part of the sequence before the catch – attention, trigger, intent, targeting, tracking, collection – has gone wrong and the dog has over pursued the disc. Over pursuit comes in two flavors: too fast and too deep. 

Too fast is obvious, and we touched on too deep with Collection above. 

Zooming Out

Being Present

In order to see, do, and understand this stuff, you must Be Present. You must be aware of these things that are happening, the things you’re doing, and the things you’re dog is doing. Depending on video is not enough. Video is an analog. 

Video requires you to understand the things you’re looking at in order to make sense of – you have to know what you’re looking at and what you’re looking for to make sense of video. Nothing truly new can be learned from video. You can only uncover things you already know or have some experience with. 

Depending on video to be present for you will not allow you to understand the skills you’re doing out there. The only way to truly understand what is happening and what you’re doing out there is to keep your eyes and feelings open and take note of what is happening. That is being present. 

You can’t be present while concentrating, coaching yourself, yelling at your dog (or yourself), or crunching data. All that stuff needs to happen before you start the skill or between reps. 

Get yourself prepared, take a breath, and then do your best to take note of what is happening in front of you. Good luck.

Reward Placement

Reward Placement on this very rep and historical have great bearing on most all dog training – shaping the Leaping Catch is no exception. 

Understand that historical Reward Placement, like erratic throwing, aToss and Fetch foundation, or keeping it low to keep the dog safe or successful, is going to negatively affect the reliability of a leaping catch. Be sure to give yourself some time and repetitions to create a new Reward History. Nothing short circuits learning like expecting a magical change in 1-3 reps. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself for missing your target. Getting upset, flustered, or frustrated while learning is not going to help you and makes learning distinctly un-fun for your dog.  

Game Intensity & Drive

When working on leaping, keep the game intensity at a level that is conducive to the Pace of game required for leaping. Take your time and try not to rush things. Reserve big, exciting positive marker marker and praise to bonafide excellent performance. Otherwise keep your demeanor and energy level at a calm and cool level. This is extremely important if your dog is absolutely bonkers over the disc and/or plays in overdrive. 

If your dog is on the lower end of the drive scale and lacks the drive to smash the catch or needs some cheerleading, keep it on the lower end of exciting until the dog hits one of the important criteria for the leaping catch. 

Use the energy level of the game to shape the leaping catch behavior. Bumping up the energy level or continuing on at the current pace tells the dog “that’s what we want to see, buddy” and reinforces the behavior offered. Killing the game entirely or dropping down the intensity significantly punishes the behavior offered. Be careful to send the appropriate message to your dog. 

Sticking To and Shifting Criteria

This is the hardest part of Shaping the Leaping Catch. Knowing when to stick to or to shift criteria is what makes a great dog trainer. It takes experience, knowledge, and a certain degree of courage. 

When working on leaping it will be necessary to mark and reinforce many of the functions we’ve explored here. You might want to focus on Collection or the Catch which means marking and reinforcing Collection and ignoring the miss that happens after. This is a common occurrence. 

Resist the urge to shift criteria from Collection to the Catch because of one miss, or even a couple of misses – after all, it’s most likely the Collection that is costing you the catch – fixing collection reinforces the Catch. 

That said, be careful to not unintentionally teach the dog a big leaping miss by reinforcing Collection too many times without the Catch.

Less is More

Learning long behavior chains made up of complex, tough to execute skills, can be exhausting. Fatigue does not reinforce a leaping catch. The longer you work, the less likely the leaping catch becomes. 

Get on, get hot, and get off. Less is more. 

Check out the first installment: Shaping a Leaping Catch: Leaping Concepts

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  1. Helen

    Great! Right off the top I found a major hole in my leaping catch training – I have been rewarding my dog for rushing me!! I definitely need to split out and train collection more- my koolie struggles with it in agility too!
    Here are some of the notes I made while reading with “editor” glasses lol:
    Could you Explain bfp earlier when 1st use it
    Typo under second comic strip- misspelt throw
    I think a diagram or such on interception point would be helpful for newbies like me, under the collection section
    Under reward placement – repeat what you should do in addition to what you shouldn’t (reps of low for eg)
    Any tips for teaching the dog to land well that could be linked to here?

    Now I need to go make a list of what to work on based onnthis!

    1. Ron Watson Post author

      Thanks for the comment and editing heads up, Helen. Will get the typos fixed.

      BFP is explained in the first piece of this series, Leaping Concepts. Please take a look at it and let me know how they go together. I tried to lay things out there and then expand upon them here in this piece. I agree with the interception illustration, don’t have one handy and don’t have a computer. I’m writing on a tablet right now.

      Glad that point about being rushed resonated with you. It should resonate with many people.

      Thanks again, and keep those editor’s glasses handy.

    2. Ron Watson Post author

      That’s great.
      Distance on the Reward Placement is forthcoming – either in the “Leaping Forms”, which is next on the outline or in some kind of “Leaping Mechanics” section. Lots of stuff needs to be tied up from these two pieces.

      It’s too big a package to allude to here without unpacking. I’ll answer it soon. Happy you have the question and the vision and focus to ask it.