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

Patron’s Choice Sneak Peek | Public Access Dec. 26

Key concepts of the canine leaping skill and behavior chain that shape and reinforce a leaping catch.

Attention and Basic Positions

Visual communication and a stable position are required for cooperative work. Shaping and maintaining a leaping catch is a complex piece of cooperative work.

It is critical that the dog devote attention to the handler and be calm and stable enough to hold position so the team can prepare for the operation of catching the disc with purpose and style. 


Eye contact, aka: Attention, is the key element for most all cooperative work. Playing disc with your dog is no exception. A working dog should give eye contact in the absence of action. If your dog runs or throws behaviors at you in the absence of action, odds are you’re going to have some problems with purposeful and reliable leaping.

Attention should be an operant behavior; it should be the behavior that makes other behaviors happen that the dog should know that Attention makes it happen. 

Ideally your dog believes that eye contact makes next happen. If that is the case, then a solid position with eye contact should be easy,”Nothing is happening… Oh I get it, let me stop and look at you to make Next happen.” 

Basic Standing Position (BSP)

Basic Standing Position (BSP) or the Basic Standing Position pose is the traditional disc dog position and stance. The dog stands in Front position which is roughly 1/2 – 2 yards directly in front of the handler. 

This position is normally done with the legs and feet staggered a bit to create a bit of positional pressure for stability in position and/or to clue the dog in on the direction the team is preparing to go. 

The disc is held up in vertical fashion. This is a stop sign of sorts. The whole position means stop, look, and wait. Some styles of training and play have the cue doubling as a Drop cue. So it can also mean, Drop, for some dogs and teams.

The vertical disc placement and stability is key. A vertical disc tells the dog that the disc is currently uncatchable. The pose is a promise that a disc or something sweet is going to happen in the next few moments. This understanding is critical for stability of position and teamwork. 

The logo of the disc can be shown to the dog while the disc remains in vertical orientation to more clearly communicate a stop sign and that the disc is currently off limits. The logo placement stop sign makes the disc, literally, uncatchable. Resist moving the disc around in the pose and to avoid pressure from the dog. Movement creates opportunity and opportunity will encourage the dog to break position and pressure the handler. 

BSP is also a “pay attetion” cue. Hitting the pose should elicit eye contact from the dog. The pose can be held slightly out of line with the line of sight between dog and handler to discriminate between ogling the disc and staring into the handler’s eyes. 

Basic Standing Position is a great way to ensure positional stability and handler and target focus. It is an easy and effective way to have a solid, well timed start from which to execute a leaping catch.


BFP (Basic Flatwork Position)

Basic Flatwork Position (BFP) is similar to Basic Standing Position except that the handler is turned sideways to the dog in the desired direction. The hand closest to the dog, or the trailing hand, reaches out with a vertical disc towards the dog. This sets up a plane of team movement that has dog and handler moving together. We call this the Working Flank. 

BFP establishes the Working Flank using pressure and movement that pulls or pushes the dog towards the front of the handler and allows for control and communication while moving as a team. 

BFP is essentially a moving Wait, or a moving position. It can also be thought of as heeling at a distance. This moving Wait, heelwork at a distance, delivers a well timed, well connected start to your leaping catch while on the run.

Cue & Trigger

Attention and a stable position are a necessary start to reliable leaping catches. They set the stage for the actual start of a behavior. There are at least a couple of steps to a successful start of a team behavior. Let’s talk about the big two: the Cue and the Trigger. 

These might be one in the same, but they should not be. The cue is a signal that tells the dog what we are going to do while the trigger is what makes the dog and the team spring into action. The Cue says what and the Trigger says when.

The cue should be given before the trigger. Having a reliable rhythm between your cue and trigger is very helpful for successful teamwork, although it is not necessary, and if always delivered with the same timing and cadence, the Cue and the Trigger can blend together leading to timing issues.

Usually the cue is a verbal, or a verbal paired with a positional movement. The Cue tells the dog what we are going to do, which leads to a clean and sharp response to the Trigger. This sharp response is an intent filled response – the dog knows what’s coming and is waiting for the Trigger to get on with it, “Got it! Say ‘When’.” 

If there is no Cue before the Trigger, the dog doesn’t respond knowingly, the dog reacts, in the moment. Reactions in the moment often lead to mistakes and always damages the team’s timing. 

Be sure to identify your intended trigger and the action that is actually triggering the dog. They are frequently not at all the same. Good luck.

Cuing, Posing & Throwing

If Cuing is what, then a Pose is a cue of sorts. The pose is telling the dog what in a physical manner. We have already discussed the basic position poses, BSP and BFP. These poses tell the dog what to do: chill, look, wait – it’s coming buddy…

In addition to the positional poses, there are Throwing Poses. A Throwing Pose is a cue for the dog that communicates the type of throw that is coming and where it is likely to go. The Throwing Poses act on the same principles as BSP and BFP. During the Pose, the disc remains vertical (or vertical-ish) to communicate the uncatchable status of the disc. Like the positional poses, the Throwing Pose is a promise. The dog should believe that a throw is coming in the near future after seeing a throwing pose. 

The Throwing Pose is full body communication. The feet, the hands, the disc, the shoulders, all can and do communicate direction and movement. Be wary of pointing or stylish maneuvers that can muddy the waters of communication. 

The Throwing Pose is the Cue that predicts the Trigger, which is the disc flipping to horizontal at the end of the back swing and start of the actual throw. The Trigger is the moment the disc becomes catchable. Your dog should always see the Trigger, you know, actually looking at the handler while the disc leaves the hand. 

It’s amazing how much better leaping (and catching) gets when the dog actually watches the disc from hand to mouth. 


What are you trying to do out there? Are you keeping the dog off you? Trying to make fancy throws? Trying to look cool? 

The intent of the handler has great bearing on the results of training. It’s easier to hit a target that you’re intending to hit. It’s easier to improve if you’re actually practicing the skill you want to get better at. 

Place your intent and focus on the skills and actions you want to see expressed in your performance. If you’re shaping a leaping catch, intend to throw a leaping catch. If you’re doing something else, intend to do it. 

For instance, when trying to reduce an outrun after a catch, exercise some intent. Intend to slow the dog down – slow your cadence, move a bit slower than normal, your markers and your praise should be given with less animation and intensity. You could also intentionally throw a bit higher than normal, or slightly behind the dog. 

The handler tends to get what the handler intends from our handling and training. If you want to shape a leaping catch, you must intend to throw a leaping catch.  


The pace of the game being played dictates the type of leaping and athletic maneuvers and kinesthetic focus of the game. A super fast game creates a twitchy, reactive, or even spastic athlete. While a game that is too slow doesn’t generate enough speed to require high flying athletics. The regulation of speed is, perhaps, the most important skill for leaping catches. 

A game that is erratically paced can create a bit of physical schizophrenia making the dog incapable of reading the situation properly. This can lead to irrational or erratic responses like irrational leaping, premature ejumpulation, frustration barking or aggression, obstinate or unpredictable behavior. Controlling pace crudely or in a ham-fisted manner can lead to the same.

The pace required to shape leaping catches is not too fast, not too slow – it’s a Goldilocks type pace. It’s got to be just right… for this dog. Too fast and the dog can’t collect to leap. Too slow and the dog doesn’t have any momentum or pressing need to make the leap to make the catch. 

Speed regulation on the dog’s part is absolutely key. Ask a dog to regulate speed and the dog learns to regulate speed. 


Targeting the disc seems obvious. And in any catch or even any attempt to catch, the disc has been targeted. The question is,”When?” When does the dog pick up that target?

Most dogs don’t watch the disc leave the handler’s hand. They take off when they think the handler is going to throw. Many dogs will wait until the backswing, but as soon as that throw starts, they’re gone. Either way, if the dog doesn’t see the disc come out of the handler’s hand, the dog is late to the targeting behavior. 

Attention as default behavior combined with Posing and a solid trigger all act together to promote early and effective targeting of the disc by the dog. Without them, the dog sets the pace and chooses the place, and the handler is forced to throw the disc to where the dog is going to be and when it needs to be there. 

Asking the dog to look at the release of the disc is as simple as not throwing on your dog’s demand and waiting for the dog to look for the disc that wasn’t thrown. If the dog goes, don’t throw! 


Once the disc is in the air, the dog starts to track it. Tracking is both reading and prediction. The dog reads the disc and then predicts where it is going and where the catch will be made. This often happens very early in the throw.

 Tracking a disc is a complex mathematical skill. It’s high level calculus that we all do on the fly. A flying disc is at once both easier and harder to track and catch. It is easier in terms of timing and speed – they actually fly instead of simply falling – this flight principle leads to much more time to read and more datapoints to use for prediction.

The benefits of flight also come with drawbacks, namely the unpredictable nature of flight in the wind. The smallest of changes in wind speed and direction impact the flight path and destination of the disc. 

The better we are at throwing the less experience our dog’s get in tracking. If you’re close to throwing perfect most of the time, your dog doesn’t get the experience of learning to read and track a disc. If you’re always trying to throw the perfect toss for reasons of safety or success, you are robbing your dog of the vital tracking experience needed to read and line up a leaping catch. 


dog leaping for target

This dog has lined up the target and is leaping to go get it. It’s much different than leaping as a last resort, or after you have missed…

Collection is the movement between chasing and leaping or catching. Rarely does a dog actually run through a catch. Any stride regulation on the way into the catch from the chase is the dog’s collection.

Collection for a leap is a complex process. The catcher has to read the target, slow down, adjust stride, place the feet, rock back and lift the head up, and then leap. Lots of stuff is crammed in there. Now try to do it at a million miles an hour. Or just as bad, try it from a dead stop. 

Again regulation of speed is key here. Dogs who can’t regulate speed can’t collect.

Collection for a leap cannot happen unless the handler delivers a target that can be leapt for. Placement of the disc in terms of distance, height, and time, is critical for shaping the leaping catch. 


The actual catch is the easy part. If the team have done their jobs throughout the process above, odds are the throw will result in a leaping catch. Miss a key aspect or a couple of key points in the stuff above, and the odds of a leaping catch drop; significantly. 

Notice that this heading is “Catch”, and not “Leaping Catch”. There is a reason for that. If the things above shake out correctly, the dog will have to leap for the disc. If the dog does not, then we just have to add a bit more value to the catching behavior, which is easy to do. 


The most important part of a big leap is a clean landing. Landings are absolutely key and watching them will show the handler where the dog’s weaknesses are and which elements of the leaping catch should be exercised. 

Dogs naturally land on their front legs first nearly all the time; unless they’re leaping for a target. Ideally, you get to see your dog’s front feet hit the ground slightly before their rears. This is the ideal landing on all leaps; front legs hit the ground, taking a bit of the shock, then the rears slide forward and hit as the front legs are moving through and getting ready to leave the ground for the next stride. 

Unfortunately the target being above the dog’s head and the disc dog’s incredible desire to get that sucka leads to less than desirable landings. 

While chasing discs at any distance, most of the time, the rear legs will hit first, slightly before the front legs. This should be considered OK if the angle or the time between the front and rear legs is close to being even. It gets to be a concern if there is any visible clunking, if the angle is significant, or if the rear legs hit much earlier than the front legs. 

The physical clues above, displacement behaviors and calming signals, and general balance and mobility on landing should be looked for when assessing safety and impact. 

Zooming Out

Trigger & Cue

Telling the dog what we’re going to do before popping off the trigger to get it started is required for team movement. If they’re not solid then your team is really just two individuals playing the same game. It works, but for how long and how far can it take you?

We preach and teach verbal cuing here at Pawsitive Vybe. The verbal cue is followed by a stronger, physical cue. The verbal becomes something of a pre-cue – it’s the cue that predicts the Trigger or the cue to act. The trigger is, more often than not, a physical cue. The dog takes the verbal cue and waits for the physical cue for confirmation. 

Handler says,”Through,” with closed legs. Dog sees closed legs and looks at handler.. “Ummm… There’s nothing to go through…” Then the legs open, and the dog springs into action – dog, handler, and team, all on the same page. 

For vaults, the presentation of the obstacle is a strong a powerful trigger. Use the presentation of the obstacle to ensure that the dog can’t leave until you move. The dog will have to watch you and do nothing until you move. When you move, the dog has to wait to read the vaulting obstacle movement, giving you time to make the toss without being rushed. 

In all the poses, the trigger is the disc switching from the vertical, pose position to the horizontal throwing position. The dog has to watch the whole backswing of the throw before acting. By the time the dog has a read on whether or not the throw is actually going to be made, the disc is out of the hand.

Be sure to give a positive marker when you catch your dog looking at you to see the disc leave your hand.

Placement & Timing

The disc needs to be placed in both time and space. The distance, angle, and height must be calculated and the disc needs to be delivered to that spot at the right time.ˆ

Time is critical to placement. The disc has to arrive there at the right time or needs to hang there long enough to entice the dog to leap up and get it. Discs that are thrown to float and hover create more time and an incentive for the leaping catch. Discs that do not float or hover prompt a chasing, running catch – no leap. 

Disc placement in both time and place relate to the pace of the game and regulate speed.  

Reinforcement & Marking

There are many types of drive triggered in the game of disc dog freestyle. Running, chasing, leaping and biting, and even next are all motivators – they are all cookies. Play the game well enough, and each behavior and the whole game becomes a cookie. 

This is amazing, it’s one of the greatest things about freestyle – it’s like a give and take of nothing but cookies between dog and handler. We both get reinforced through the act of playing. This can be a problem though; there are so many potential cookies. When everything is a cookie, if you do anything you reinforce the dog (or yourself). 

Beware unintended the unintended “cookies” of continued flowing play, handler or crowd exuberance, missed discs that are fun to beat up while on the ground, handler movement, and a host of other unwanted behaviors that are actually reinforcing.

Use a positive marker to isolate and draw attention to the behaviors you want to see. Deliver good, quality reinforcement for desired behaviors, and punish with a pause, the behaviors you’d like to see go away. 


Criteria, like in all dog training, is key. Be sure you know what you’re looking for before doing it. Use a positive marker and reinforce the desired criteria.

It is OK to reinforce trying and good or better effort, just be careful that the trying or ‘better’ doesn’t supersede or replace desired criteria like leaping or catching. This is best accomplished by keeping the number of ‘trying’ and ‘better’ cookies to a minimum. Use them to grease the skids, not to move the load. 

Check out the Next Installment: Shaping a Leaping Catch: Leaping Functions.

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