Vault as Leaping Foundation

Compliments of: Disc Dog Radio

A vault is nothing more than isolation of and manipulation of collection. Handlers who have dogs that vault BIG but leap small from the ground have a training problem, not a dog problem.

Bad Patterns

Odds are that this training problem is the result of pattern training. Many teams start playing with pattern trained behavior chains that are bad for leaping on the run — go around and run like heck chasing the target. They do this for a couple of months or years and then the handler says,”My Dog just doesn’t jump,” 🙁 and then move on to other, more fun and productive areas of the game, like set up moves, flipping, and vaulting.

The dog winds up good at all things disc with the exception of the leaping part. After all, ”He’s just not a leaper.”

…dogs that vault well but do not leap well do so because the vault is just a simple foundational leaping drill with concrete and easy to achieve criteria…

Vaults are Foundational Leaping

Performing a vault is performing the foundational elements of leaping. The dog is not moving. The cue is given. The collection point (vaulting platform) is defined. The target is placed to ensure a leap. The only difference between a vault and leap on the run are that the collection point is defined and it happens to be on the handler’s body. Other than that there is very little mechanical difference between the act of vaulting and the act of leaping from the ground. But what a huge difference it is in practice.

The difference is the level of criteria set by the situation. On a longer throw, the criteria is set quite high: the handler must throw perfectly, the dog must track well and collect well and time their jump well. Speed is greater on longer throws as is the likelihood of erratic placement – more speed, less consistency.

The criteria is also somewhat undefined on the longer throws. Is the criteria to catch, or to jump? If the dog knows to jump, from what spot should he or she start that jump?

With a vault, the criteria is super low. The collection point (point of takeoff) is firmly defined. It is most likely your back, leg or chest – that’s a small, well defined, finite target. Speed is low to none. The throw is relatively easy. Tracking is not really a big deal. The criteria is quite clear on vaults: There is only one way to get this target, and you have one shot to get there… “Vault!”

Fixing the Problem

So, what’s the problem? Speed and erratic placement are problems, but they are problems that lead to the real problem and that is the lack of understanding of collection on the run. 99.x% of the time, this needs to be taught to the dog, and if the dog has been playing disc for a while and doesn’t jump, the shoddy collection must be unlearned and retaught – not an easy task, but do-able.

Reduce the dog’s speed, force and isolate collection, and deliver a proper target,consistently, over and over again every time, like the vault, and a new habit is created. Clearly communicate the intent of the game – Is it catching or leaping? Be sure to mark and reinforce the good leaps on the run to distinguish them from the non-leaping catches. Then generalize the skill to various distances and situations and you’re good to go.

Spring Training

It’s not really as hard as it sounds. We have been working on this for a few years rather casually here at Pawsitive Vybe, but we’ve stepped it up a bit over the last few months, and this new realization, that dogs that vault well but do not leap well do so because the vault is just a simple foundational leaping drill with concrete and easy to achieve criteria, has been eye opening and will bring this leap training back into the forefront of our Disc Dog Foundation. We’ll be adding more stuff to our online courses and Disc Dog camp offerings this Spring.

I’d love to talk about this concept, Apryl and I are just starting to wrap our heads around it. What do you think?

Related Articles

Patron’s Choice: Vaulting Principles | Disc Dog Vaulting Defined and Definitions

To vault in disc dog freestyle is to leap off the handler’s body to catch a disc in flight. A defining aspect of competitive disc dog freestyle, the Vault is a simple operation with a great many physical expressions and variations. This book aims to explore and uncover the principles and concepts of the vault and to deliver sound understanding of all aspects of the skill to players and judges for success, style, and safety’s sake.

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.

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. Have you watched the Susan Salo DVDs? Thoughts on using that to teach a dog to collect minus the disc then add in the disc?

    1. Yes, I have Barrie. Excellent instruction, but the head being up for the target in the case of disc play invalidates the head down, round back trajectory that is of such focus with obstacle based jumping at speed.

      We have done some simple set point drills with targets but we immediately deviate from the focus of her (and pretty much all 4 legged leaping leaping) technique – round back, head down trajectory.

      Looking at vault training as a set point drill is what really kind of hit me yesterday and prompted this piece.


      1. Cool 🙂 That is what I worked on with my little heeler: two pieces of drain hose with short, low throws just past the second piece of hose 🙂

        1. Right on. The Bent Cavaletti is somewhat similar but we do a go out around a cone or something. The drain hose kind of flares out at 8 and 10 o’clock and/or at 2 and 4 o’clock. The dog regulates stride there. You throw to the other side of the get out and the cavaletti works during the dog’s arc of ‘getting out’.

          This sets a beautiful interception that can be replicated and reinforced over and over, teaching collection and interception in one swoop.

          The lesson is in our disc dog foundation and throwing classes.

          You ought to be able to whip something up based off that description, or you could take a class and get the straight dope…

          Oh, it’s going in the Toolkit update too… don’t recall if you have a DiscDogger’s Toolkit or not…

  2. Hey, Ron, nice piece! I will say that we’ve understood the lack of collection being a serious issue with ‘premature ejumpulators’ for some time now………’s interesting to me that the “non” leaping dog can have the same issue with collection that the premature ejumpulators have. Dealing with lots of cattle dogs, it’s something I see very often: extremely prey driven dogs, with little natural “self control”, and little to no concept of collection/finding the proper take-off point. Add to that the fact that these dogs actually do make the catch at 5-6′ off the ground about 1 in 15 or 20 times, and you’ve got a behavior that is truly on a variable reinforcement rate……………every now and then, even a blind squirrel gets a nut : )

    I can definitely see the correlation between some non-leaping dogs and lack of collection, dogs moving at a high rate of speed. However, what about the dog that is a “waiter”? You see a large number of border collies in particular, playing with this style in T/F or long out throws. We have a great example of this in our bc mix, YardDart…………….he’s a good vaulter, flips, and has high jumped as big as 48″. So he can jump! But he chooses to slow down/time his target, and wait for it to fall to him. He is, in fact, showing the utmost collection most of the time, as he is shortening stride and getting his hind end under himself as he waits for the disc to fall.

    Back to the non-leaper lacking collection, I did want to mention this is something I have seen first hand with Chill. When we first adopted him, he was totally ground bound. After about 9 months of jump work, zz’s, outrun patterns, etc…………I had a big leaping dog! His first year of freestyle in ’10, he was spectacular. He is a huge vaulter. But then, something interesting happened over the course of this season……………..his leaps started to really flatten out, his speed started to increase, his jumps became smaller and smaller. In looking at video comparing the 2 seasons, I can see my throwing placement changing as well. Instead of floating these nice hovering discs out for him, I started getting safer and keeping discs low and in front of him. It’s as if it is a vicious cycle………….he starts to loose collection, I start lowering throws to keep him successful at the catch, that causes him to never be collected, and so the cycle continues. I’ve been working with him on some changes since Nov, seeing good results!

    Anyhow, very interesting concept!


    1. What an excellent comment, T.

      I think a lot of us have been on this issue for a while now, we’ve talked about it several times…

      The issues with the premature ejumpulators and the ‘waiters’ is a lack of specific criteria by the handler and a lack of forced collection as a product of the angle of approach and the placement of the target. If the dog believes that the catch is super critical, they might be compelled to wait by the criteria, but there is no waiting if the disc is a well placed interception (ie – zig zag) – that same criteria of “Catch it!”, if the collection is forced upon the dog should yield a leap. Perhaps not pretty, perhaps not big, but it should promote a leap. Do it often enough and it becomes habit. Once it’s habit, generalize it to more of a chasing angle, and it should be done. Easy, right? lol…

      With the premature ejumpulators, the problem is most likely that the catch is not the focus of the criteria – at least not in terms of reinforcement. This really shows itself in Toss and Fetch most glaringly, and it should be no surprise – more speed and less consistency in placement, to start, and then the intent of the handler. Almost all handlers out there when they work toss and fetch keep their mind on the clock. So the criteria from the handler’s perspective becomes “Catch as many as you can at 40 yards”. This is at odds with the important criteria for success by the dog of “Catch It!”.

      So the handler winds up reinforcing the missed jump by continuing play and the dog winds up being reinforced, 3 times, regardless of whether or not they hit the criteria:

      1. Opportunity for the catch/leap
      2. Pounding/Picking up disc
      3. Continuing Play

      How many handler’s actually address this problem? And if they do address it, how do they handle it? Do they stop the game? Some do. Do they reduce criteria? Some do, but what is the criteria? Catching it? Or leaping for it?

      Most handler’s I know attempt to reduce criteria by throwing a lower and faster disc to keep the premature ejumpulating dog from being able to jump. I have even seen instruction that suggests that the handler throw rollers and get the dog out there even faster. Of course this will increase the likelihood of a catch, but in doing so, it will make the speed vs collection problem much worse, all but guaranteeing that any disc mistakenly thrown high will be prematurely ejumpulated on or that the waiter can simply run through it.

      It’s a band-aid for a brain tumor – it looks good, it might even give some temporary or emotional relief, but the disease is still there.

      I feel for you on your Chill issue. Been there, done that, but it sounds like you’ve got your fix. I believe the reason that happened is that your criteria as a competitor: catch them and win or miss them and lose – overshadowed the criteria as a trainer and handler. It happens all the time.

      We’ve (PVybe) got some drills for slowing dogs down and isolating and forcing collection, but I don’t think we’ve done enough on that isolating the leap and collection to the degree of simplicity that a vault does. I’ve seen it before, even worked it before with Greg Tresan and it’s been on my todo list for leaping, but I’ve not really put it together as a very similar drill to vault training. I think that the isolation of collection (zero speed) and forced collection point (box/jump bump/stride regulator) are going to be important for our leap training in the future.

      Oh, and BTW, I know you go back to horses… Was trying to find really good terminology on the different stages of collection. It seems to me that collection is a very loose term in horse talk. It means a shortening of stride on the run and also means ‘head up, rear feet forward, leaning back with a round back. I’d like to get much better terminology to work with…

      Thanks for the really awesome comment, T.

  3. Hey Ron,

    Just read this blog post and I think you’re right on, as usual. I have one of these head-down non-leaping dogs that somehow leap great when vaulting and, as you know, have been working with her to solve the issue by practicing collection and slowing her down. I think we’ve really really improved from what you saw a while back.

    But about the “waiters”… I have seen some “waiters” whose problem was solved by practicing something completely opposite of slowing them down and forcing collection. Don’t you think that the wait in some border collies results from the fact that they do a big circular outrun, literally outrun the disc. Then they do collect and slow down, hover around the 40-yard zone eyeing the disc until it catches up with them. And in that case, what I have seen work (with some, not all) to get them to leap is actually holding them back and not letting them do their outrun at all but having them chase the disc in a straight line. Am I making sense here?

    1. Right on Justyna. Glad that you’re working this still. Your cavaletti work is really good instruction for people to see.

      Foundation – Opportunity, Consistency, Experience and Reinforcement

      I do not think that waiters are caused by the outrun. The way I see it, the outrun sets up an interception. It creates that angle that we’re looking for in the Interception vs Chase piece in the Throwing section of class.

      I think that the waiters’ problem is a lack of opportunity, consistency, experience and reinforcement for leaping, most likely in that order. The key is to get the leap happening on nearly every throw so that is what the dog does – that is what their experience of playing disc consists of – running and leaping for targets.

      It’s interesting that you are talking about action by the waiter at the 40 yard mark. The question I want to know is,”Does the dog jump at 10 yards?” No jump at 10 yards, then there’s most likely not going to be a leap at 40. I think this is a HUGE issue with this problem – people refuse to work foundation because most handlers are focusing on the criteria of competition – it overwhelms foundation very frequently.

      Waiting vs Biting

      I think that the waiter’s either have too high a value on the catch itself or too little value on leaping. This is very easy to do and to have happen in your training especially if you are not using a marker. If you neglect the leap and focus on the catch, you can create a waiter because there is not enough value on the catch and the game continues on and is fun and exciting, leap or not.

      What you want to do is to cultivate an understanding that catches finish with leaps and reinforce those like mad! This is near impossible to do at 40 yards and near impossible to do if your competition criteria overwhelms your foundation.

      Cavaletti Usage

      A cavaletti, as we’re using it in the Bent Cavaletti Drill, is about more than just slowing the dog down. It’s about forcing collection in a particular spot and time so we can deliver a target that must be lept for. Having done the drill, Justyna, you should be aware that we are actually creating a small outrun on the dogs.

      For the disc killers, premature ejumpulators and head down gallopers, this works quite well. That small outrun changes their pattern and sets up a situation where the angle is right for a leaping catch because of the principles of Interception vs Chase.

      For the waiters, we’re setting a proper angle at a small distance, adjusting their stride for them, and giving the handler great intelligence on the placement of the target. Same drill, different application.

      Clock or Counter?

      Dogs with outruns tend to have a strong side and a weak side. Most handler’s force the dog to run clockwise as that seems to provide a better hookup for toss and fetch. But not all dog move well in a clockwise direction. So what winds up happening is that the dog winds up playing the game in the wrong direction. It’s like you throwing with your left hand.

      Si, our Muppet Giraffe, leaps poorly when running clockwise – over pursuing, trailing her rear end low, undershooting the target at times. When running counterclockwise, she’s a cat. It’s truly amazing. I wonder how much of this promotes waiting? It’s hard to tell given the history of most dogs’ play and the intent (or lack of intent) by the handler.

      Thanks again for the great comment, Justyna!

  4. ” but what is the criteria? Catching it? Or leaping for it? ”
    Egg or chicken? Is it that hard? It is DiscDogging.

    In basic: Dog catches disc.
    In advanced: Dog catches disc while there are some “problems” to be solved.
    e.g.: a different throw, wind, underground, position or height.
    In competition: do advanced and look out for points

    Is there a need, that every catch has to be made out of an jump?
    Of course jumps are nice, but oh well try to get a fast multiple done while the dog jumps for every disc…

    I play with one dog at competitions and I am proud of having with him a good leaper. People tend to say : he is a nice leaper, where did you get him from? And I have in mind- yes of course- that is what we trained for.

    Before we started with building set up moves or even vaulting- it might be exacter but it is higher: I played with him a lot of mini-distance.
    I wanted to train him to jump- and to land on four paws. If the dog jumps- it is always connected with a landing! In everything we do in this sport the dog has to land and to position for the next task.

    My way of beginning with training was very simple : First of all- roller and small catching to get him the impression of discs, grass and me in combination 😉 and of course to get his body used to movements like this.

    Let’s talk now about longer throws and the dogs task.
    I splitted my criteria as I do when I split a trick for free shaping,

    What do I want? What does the dog has to do to fulfill my goals?

    I want to train for mini-distance so the answer here is:
    1. I want a healthy dog,
    2. who catches relieful discs (at 40 yards, most points) and
    3. yes- leaps well (additional (half)point)

    1) always in mind

    2) throw different! Generalize the dogs ability to catch a disc! There are so many things which can change!
    a) Wind – disc drops fast, disc gets longer- don’t look always for a not-windy place to train- allow your dog to get used to different weather conditions
    b) sun – sun in your back, in front of the dog,side, morning, evening…
    c) length – I am to nervous on a competition to throw steady 40 yard throws – there might be an 15 yard throw coming of „nowhere“ 😉 the dog has to focus the disc (You dont’t want your dog not seeing it and waiting on the 40 yard line for it – who has not seen scenes like that?- we want a catch and a next one!)
    d) side- nearly same as length, I add every time a „LEEEFT“ or „RIIIIIIGHT“ and yes- he turns to the right (haha) side even when he didn’t see the disc on the side yet (because he expected it in the middle)
    e) change the throw, you can use it for freestyle or there might be a FDDO waiting for you sometime, somewhere

    These different elements help your dog to follow the disc constantly and as I mentioned above the catch is for me more important than the jump.

    BUT I love the jump!

    So 3) if he jumped nice (round) got the disc AND landed nicely with some more steps in the landing direction to get the impulse in a forward movement I chear.
    Clapp my hands and a scream cheerfully ;D “Well done, good boy!”

    sometimes followed by a running game, perhaps a soft treat, or a thrown disc to the complete other side… reinforces faster coming back…

    The clapping will become an positive reinforcement and your dog gets used to it.

    If it was a very good jump’n’catch I am louder and more cheerful than other times,
    if he jumps nice but doesn’t catch at all, I say nothing or commentate „hum, nice jump, but what was that?“ and keep my voice normal.

    Well that is just my experience and might not be the holy grail, but I repeat my behaviour 😉 with every dog I can play and am reinforced positively 🙂

    So I would recommend for the waiting dog:
    Throw it elsewhere. Try to get the dogs attention back to the disc movement, if you are to good at throwing 😉 the dog doesn’t has to pay any attention to the flight of the disc,
    the dog already knows where it will come down. Don’t fulfill this expectations.

    Make it interesting.

    have fun
    Bettina & Tabasco

    1. Excellent comment, Bettina! Lots of stuff to chew on there for sure.

      ” but what is the criteria? Catching it? Or leaping for it? ”
      Egg or chicken? Is it that hard? It is DiscDogging.

      In basic: Dog catches disc.
      In advanced: Dog catches disc while there are some “problems” to be solved.
      e.g.: a different throw, wind, underground, position or height.
      In competition: do advanced and look out for points

      You are mistaking performance criteria for training criteria. I am talking about what the criteria is that you are trying to hit to be successful as a trainer? The answer to that question tells us whether we are working on basic or advanced skills as you mentioned in the excerpt above.

      If we are just using catch it as our criteria, then we are working at a very base level of Frisbee. Whip it out there and have the dog catch it is the simplest expression of our game. While throw it to make the dog look good, or throw it out there and make the dog catch it at 8 meters 1.5 meters off the ground, in stride while on the run, is an entirely different set of criteria, and in terms of performance criteria would be considered an advanced game.

      Separating performance criteria from training criteria and identifying key training criteria is how you get there if it doesn’t happen naturally for you and your dog. With Kimo, this totally happened naturally. As a youngster, he was an amazing disc dog, and we experienced big air and big tricks quite easily. The problem was that I didn’t have training criteria set in my brain as to what I was actually doing, so I wound up losing those abilities as performance criteria overshadowed dog training criteria.

      Having the ability to identify, manufacture, capture, mark, and reinforce different criteria like drop, commitment, collection, jump or catch is huge. It allows us to work and teach, develop and maintain these skills. We do this very well in vaulting, but not so much elsewhere when it comes to leaping.

      The key areas on this topic, IMO, are identifying and manufacturing the criteria. We have to know what we are looking for and then we need to make it happen; the same, every time so we can have the same consistency as our dog training. Not easy to do with anything more than 5 yards.

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