The Case for Front Footed Landings

So weʼre starting to ramp up for Disc Dog Foundation Class here at PVybe HQ.

PVybe HQ has been restationed in Kingston, New York, and we are giddy as schoolgirls getting the new Lady Gaga album because we have some blazing fast internet speeds here. That means our online courses will be even more awesome.

We will be kicking off our Pvybe New York Operations with the first of several instructional blog posts about the movement of Disc Dogs and the powers of observation. This one is all about proper dog landing.

The “All Four Paws” Question

The other day I was asked, ”How do I teach my dog to land on all four feet?”

This concept has been floating around the Disc Dog World for a little while and Iʼve not really blared my opinion on it, until today. See, the thing is, you don’t really want a four legged landing. Grab a milkbone and keep reading…

Best Paws Forward

Dogs front ends were built for shock absorption and stabilization during directional changes and landings. The front end of the dog finds the ground, orients the body then the shoulders, neck and chest flex. This funnels and absorbs a large portion of the impact before passing on the remainder of the impact to the rear legs. Once the rear legs are engaged, the front legs step forward and the dog further disperses the impact by moving forward.

Four footed landings decrease the ability of the dogʼs body to function correctly: the Front legs canʼt funnel the impact to the rear because they hit simultaneously so the impact is taken up solely by the flexing of the front and rear legs, just a few inches of cushion, and then if thatʼs too much for the legs to handle, the remainder is taken by the rest of the body, which pretty much means the back.

No Really, Call Me

Itʼs not unlike a human running, fast to jump high and far and then trying to land on both feet. Give it a try, but be careful, it doesnʼt work so well. We humans have a single shock absorber for stabilization and shock absorption during direction changes. Itʼs a single leg. It works well if you land on one leg and run out of it. If you land on both feet you put huge pressure on your knees and/or you fly forward losing your balance. Do that 5 or 10 times a day and youʼll feel it. Thereʼs a reason that long jumpers jump into a pit of sand. Itʼs just not the way our bodies were meant to work.

Dogs almost always land front feet first. Any time they land on their rears or all 4s, something weird happened like they jumped off a moving teeter or slipped on the truck bed or something. Watch your dog jump off of stuff or jump over stuff. Pay attention to getting out of the car, leaping out of a raised crate, jumping over a bush or garden plant – any leap that is natural and comfortable – and you give me a shout when you see a 4 legged landing that was intentional on the dogʼs part.

Ok so let me know what you think about 2 paws or 4 paws, front, center or rear landings.  Leave a comment below and don’t hold back, I can take it.

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  1. right on. landing on all 4 feet sounds awful to me. being out of the game, i didn’t know this was a new trend. good for you for saying something.

    1. Thanks Julie!
      I’ll take a 4 footed landing over a rear footed landing at low speeds, but that’s about it.
      I’ve got a few more posts coming out this week on canine movement. I hope you’ll check them out and hang out and chat.

  2. I personally always aim for a balanced landing because with malinois those two (rear) footed landings which often wind up as one footed landings scare me silly! Doing some jump work, I have given my heeler girl some different options for how she chooses to land and I think the dog will choose the least damaging option for him/herself. Heeler girl opts for coming down as though she will land on all four paws simultaneously but if you watch video so you can slow it down, the front paws usually touch down first.

    Um, what happened to that book that was supposed to be coming out?

    1. I agree with allowing the dog to choose, to some degree, but as soon as that target is up in the air, dog’s choices become quite limited, especially with dogs who love to kill targets.

      The near simultaneous landings, with the front legs landing first I think are quite fine for landings at speed.

      The book has become a desktop application called the Disc Dogger’s toolkit. 2.5 hours of video and 100 pages of text. The DVD is going out this week to be packaged up for version 1.0. Should be happening very soon!

      Thanks for the thoughts, Barrie!

  3. I agree on the two front feet landing first and the dog running out of the jump. If it looks smooth its a good landing. I don’t like the 4 footed landing, seems hard on the dog.
    Which brings up another topic. Where to place the disc on a vault. I think too many people throw the disc too late on vaults. I like to see separation from the handler and the disc when the catch is made. Placing the disc in a more out then up position. I think most people don’t realize how fast the dog is moving and release the disc too late. Not giving the dog time to analyze their jump before they jump. By doing this you allow the dog to see the disc in the air before it even hits your body and therefore they will make the adjustment to make the catch instead of you having to make the perfect placement of the disc for the dog to make the catch. Which in turn will equal a safe landing and preserves the dogs health.

    1. Great comment, Todd!
      That sounds like our vaulting instruction, man. Good show!

      When you talk about the 4 footed landing ‘seems hard’ on the dog, that’s my experience as well – not really noticeable unless you are going big, something you and I are both familiar with.

      A really interesting thing happened to me last fall with Si… Si is a HUGE dog, her game is on a scale that is pretty unbelievable – stride length, leaping ability, speed – all of it is really closer to a horse than a dog, really, and because of that I was quite reluctant to vault her. I started to do some simple leg vault stuff, just to teach her the concept after we started to do our Vault Discrimination stuff, and I noticed something pretty amazing. An 8 foot vault made for a softer landing than a 5 foot leap from the ground. It was pretty freaky, for sure. You could feel the impact through the ground on both skills and the leap was so much more intense – the ground vibrated more and you could hear Si exhale seriously on the leap. But on the vault, there was very little vibration and no audible stress from her. I noticed that the vault provided a better front footed landing, she literally just stepped right out of it instead of pounding the ground and her body with all fours on the big leap.

      Too late is a HUGE deal. As you said, the dog needs to leave the ground with a plan for the target instead of having to make decisions while already in the air.

      I also agree that separation is a big deal on vaults. The more linear distance the dog carries, the more apt they are to run out of the vault. It has to do with vectors and gravity and such – It’s just physics, man!

      Thanks for reading and for the comment, Todd. Be sure to stay tuned we’re going to do some more stuff on canine locomotion on Wednesday and Friday.

  4. What if your dog has a structual defect in the front end? Roo has a weak elbow and straight legs from the shoulder (lacking shock absorption). He’s a jumping maniac but chooses to land on all four paws. I jump him at a lower height in agility even though he can jump at his required height. I also do rehab to strengthen his weak elbow.

    1. Structural defects, especially on the front end, are hard to handle and should be handled with great care. I have some opinions on that, but I don’t want to speculate on such an important topic in online communication.

      I would recommend talking to a really good Dog Sport Vet. Carol Helfer is pretty awesome. – email her and ask her. Better yet, contact her and ask her to respond on this thread. 😉

      Sorry to cop out here, Josie, but I don’t have enough information or expertise to give you a solid answer to that question.


      1. I don’t think it’s copping out, Ron. I will contact Carol Helfer. I just wonder if Roo chooses to land on all four on purpose to compensate for the defect or is that just all he knows. My herding instructor observed that he does not want to go counterclockwise around the sheep. She thinks it’s too much stress on the bad elbow to circle that direction and he is not confident of being able to turn sharply if needed.

        This is a very interesting discussion. I have a new dog (9 mo old) to train in disc but can’t do much jumping yet until her bones stop growing. I will be very mindful of the front end landing and rear end awareness with her.

  5. I have built the ladder contraption that Mark Muir showed on his web site to teach rear end awareness and I’ve worked it with my dogs Dougal and Fergus. However, when they go up for throws they still tend to drag their rear ends. Is there a better way to teach them to bring their rears up so that they will do a front end landing?

    1. Hey Terry,
      We use a similar apparatus, the Railslide Jump, and it’s not as easy as it looks to get the dog’s rear end up. I know this because we tried to use it during the MN Camp this year and it didn’t go so well. We didn’t have much of a problem with it, we being Apryl and I – it looks really easy for Mark as well, but the participants at camp had pretty major issues with it. The dogs did not have a good foundation of patience and eye contact which allowed the dog to crowd the jump which made hitting it with the rear end more likely. Good reward placement – further away from the obstacle – and a foundation of unsolicited Attention (and Targeting) will make it far more likely to be successful.

      Another thing you can do is to set the target quite high, and as the dog leaps for it, drive it quickly towards the ground as the dog is in mid-air. The dog doesn’t get the target when you drive it down, but as the dog looks down at the rapidly dropping target, the rear end comes up – Every action has an equal and opposite Reaction – again – Physics. This technique was taught to me by Melissa Heeter way back in the day, and works but must be used smartly, as there is a tendency for the dog’s rear end to ‘cast’ as the dog tries to keep his or her eyes focused on the target. Using this smartly is essentially “shaping”. Once the dog is offering the rear end up behavior, then they get access to the bite, if they drag the rear end, then access to the disc is not allowed. Marking the rear end coming up is also part of doing this ‘smartly’.

      It really is rather simple; simple, but not easy, as we found out in our session at MN Camp. Apryl and I are working for a protocol on this that will predict and avoid the pitfalls, but that’s not easy either.

      I hope that is helpful to some of you…

      To get this rear end lifting on the run while chasing a disc, it’s neither simple nor easy, because the disc placement and the dog’s focus on the disc sets the dog’s interests against natural locomotion, but this and the remaining blog posts in this pre-Disc Dog Foundation series aims to help people understand the problems and complexity so they can develop and modify techniques to create their own solutions.

      “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

  6. I personally do a lot of jumping drills with my dogs but when you watch most of the time my dogs are running out of their landings front legs ever so slightly before the rear legs.
    What I don’t like seeing and I see it at almost every competition the competititors who continually let their dogs do hand stand front leg landings and when you slow down the videos it looks like the front shoulders are fixing to dislocate. I think it comes to teaching your dogs the smoothest way to flow out of a vault or trick and continue moving forward in a safe manner.
    Watching great agility dogs jump and land and continue flowing smoothly forward is so nice to watch. But remember we will all make mistakes with our disc dogs trainee or competing with our dogs but it is our job as humans to minimize this mistakes to keep our dogs as healthy as possible.
    I like all my jumping drills because they work for my dogs but I always have. Open mind towards more things.
    Sometimes on drills you teach one thing one way so when you go to live action it will end up a slightly safer and better way. Apologizing for typos I am on my small phone. Mark Muir.

    1. Great comment Mark!
      The handstand landing is not good, totally agree. There’s a ton of things to talk about here, and there are no hard and fast rules. Much depends on the situation and on the particular dog. It’s easy to get a smidgeon of information and run with it and wind up taking those loose rules ‘front legs first’ and ‘four footed landings’ and get in trouble with them by thinking that,”It is the Law!”.

      That happens with my stuff that I teach, and I’m sure it happens with the stuff that you teach. It’s very hard, online, or in a seminar environment, to communicate the nuance that is so important to understanding.

      As far as bad front footed landings, the Handstand, as you mentioned, is the one that makes me shudder. If you can perceptively see a stoppage of motion, a Clunk, or a broken or disjointed Front then Rear landing, it’s probably not very safe. Our rule for safety is not really front footed, it’s smooth movement and balance out of the trick. It’s covered a bit in the Disc Dog Foundation class.

      I understand coaching cues and overcompensation in drills, and agree with you there as well.

      This is the first of several pieces that I’ve put together on the movement of disc dogs to get us all thinking, and talking about these things.


  7. I come from a hunter-jumper background………….landing fronts first has just always made sense to me. I think what scares folks about front first landings is the angle of the dog’s shoulder when making that landing. Iow, I know you’ve seen dogs pulling crazy cartwheel style flips where they land fronts first, with the shoulder angle completely open – dog’s body is literally perpendicular to the planet. That is a hell of alot of impact coming down on the shoulders. So lots of folks began touting the “4-footed” landing for flips (i.e. the “helicopter” style, which creates more of a horizontal turn in the air, and thus a more even, 4-footed landing). I really think that might be where the angst about frontsfirst began. Anyhow, I’ve seen many many times, “low and late” can create some nasty open-shoulder landings. And “low and late” is something we see newbies do quite often. But then I’ve seen alot of “high and late” recently as well, and that seems to create a hinds-first landing – even if it is quite subtle. Hinds first scares me to death, lots of knee injuries just waiting to happen.

    I have always been pretty conservative in my vault heights. But now I have a dog who is sort of Kiva-esque in his abilities. He has forced me to let go of my hesitations and put the disc where he needs it. Like you said with Si, the landings are dramatically better when I give him a big release than when I think I am keeping things ‘safer’ for him.

    Nice article!


    1. Thanks T! Great comment too!
      Horse stuff is pretty much where all dog leaping stuff comes from, but there are two differences: Speed and the Target (disc). Those things throw a whole bunch of stuff up in the air and make for interesting discussions and counterintuitive understanding.

      I think what scares folks about front first landings is the angle of the dog’s shoulder when making that landing. Iow, I know you’ve seen dogs pulling crazy cartwheel style flips where they land fronts first, with the shoulder angle completely open – dog’s body is literally perpendicular to the planet. That is a hell of alot of impact coming down on the shoulders.

      I agree with you here for sure. I think that is where it came from. We’ve gotten more and more aggressive over the years with people replicating flips and creating and manipulating trajectory, so things have started to look more crazy.

      I also think that a lot of people tend to be biased towards how their dogs do things, or how their dog’s structure, size or style works for them and then try to apply that towards everybody else, excluding techniques or cramming square pegs into round holes with different canine athletes. I have had this discussion many, many times, and it’s not always a good one. 😉 Guilty!

      Your point about the angle of the shoulder I think is an important one. When the shoulders are in line, stretched out in front of the dog, as if they were running, I think they can handle just about anything we can throw at them. It’s structurally designed for taking those impacts and funneling them to larger muscles, muscle groups and the rest of the dog’s structure. Where it breaks down is when the dog’s legs are not out in front of them, but either up around their chin – stretching the underside of the shoulder joint too much – or when the legs are under the dog, down by the belly or the bottom of the rib cage. Both of those angles are terrible for the shoulder joint. It takes a pretty well trained eye and good understanding of these concepts to see those things, so it’s easy to just make some arbitrary rule and try to make everybody adhere to it. It makes sense too. I wonder how many people’s eyes have glazed over during this conversation?

      I don’t mind the perpendicular to the planet landings as long as the dog is in line – head, shoulders, torso and hips. If the dog is in line, then the impact should be funneled into the dog’s structure as it’s designed to be and there should be no clunking or hand stand kind of a landing.

      Too Late and Too Low is a maxim that we have lived by for a LONG time! I was blessed with a monster athlete right out of the box in Kimo and learned that lesson rather quickly. Not all of us have that experience to draw from and it can be intimidating and scary to put the disc in the right spot, I get that, but that experience with Si was really important for clarifying and crystalizing my understanding of both the front footed landing and vaulting/over safety. I’m sure you know where I’m coming from.

      Thanks a ton for chiming in here. It’s a really great conversation.

      See you soon, T.

    2. Hi Tracy,
      I have two dogs 2.5yo and 1.5y. The older one is a native flipper, it was easy with him. The second due to his dimensions, he is really big and very athletic, I had to start with helicopter first. This movement, in time, lead us to very interesting drills. One of them is airborne spin catch with landing on all 4. Landing on front, in this case can be dangerous due to body momentum and shear tension (hope is the right term) on front feet. What I want to say is sometimes 4 footed landing is safe and recommended. In wend I’ll cut a video with my crazy boy.

      Ron, as always, great article. Brain food 🙂


  8. Yep Ron on my one video months ago. I kind of teach slightly rear legged landings with my dogs with my drills well but when I slowed down the videos almost all the time my dogs are running out of slightly front legged landing. It was neat to study this. I guess one thing with my dogs is my focus was on I did not want them lunge saluting and I want to make sure they load up properly and continue that momentum into a good smooth landing.
    Too me my Gipper and Irish land the best but if Irish has a all four paw landing she let’s me know with a grunt. Now Rocket oh my gosh what a blessing of a first disc dog but he is a get from point A to point B as quickly as possible without care of his body so I have to watch carefully what I do with him. Now Thunder is the most athletic dog I have had but I am just taking my time with him and working on forming a lot of desired future characteristics with him. But he is a point a to point b as quick as he can no matter what it takes.
    But some very great points being brought up and I hope people will start watching their peers at competitions and their pups and videos of themselves and they will learn a lot, I know I am always learning daily.

  9. hello ron

    nice topic,here in the netherlands are we training that the dog lands almost on four paws
    also in high speed jumps
    we train that first in a low position ,and drop the frisbee while the dog jump over your leg
    when th dog jumps nice he get the frisbee

    i do not agree that the dog land on his behind legs wile his front legs are in the air

    it is difficult with a micro dog but i am still training to jump

    greetz from holland

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