By Dr. Becker
If you've ever played "catch the flying disc" with your dog, you already know how entertaining it is. Even if all you've ever done is watched a guy with his buddy playing this popular canine activity, you probably want to try it. With your dog, of course. The original "flying disc" was called a Frisbee, and from the time it first appeared in stores, it was an extremely popular game not only for kids and adults to engage in for sport, but for dogs, as well.
Like Band-Aid and Kleenex, Frisbee has become a generic reference, but the name is still under trademark. There's probably not a dog from coast to coast who hasn't played with some type of mock-up of the flying disc, even if it was just a Tupperware lid, and many of them undoubtedly loved it. If you're interested in getting in on the action so you and your dog can play, there are a few things you may want to know first, and some may surprise you.
One of them is that some dogs' physical makeup is designed for more successful play than others. PetMD contends that your dog needs to genuinely enjoy chasing after things. You've probably met dogs who had no interest whatsoever, and that's OK. But if your dog does, and he's also 50 pounds or less with a lean body structure, you're both probably in business. What else do you need to know?
Things to Check Before You Toss the First Flying Disc
The first item of business may be to clarify that older or overweight dogs may have a harder time getting into a lively game of "catch the flying disc" compared to most wired-up youngsters. In any case, it's best to have your veterinarian take a look at your pup to make sure he or she is in good physical condition for the activity and doesn't have some problem like hip dysplasia, which some breeds are more prone to, that make it difficult or even painful for him to partake.
If your dog is out of shape or hasn't consistently and rigorously exercised in a while I strongly recommend you initiate a daily 30-minute aerobic exercise plan before you begin and fun sprinting games to avoid ligament strains or tears.
Next, make sure your dog has at least the most basic commands — i.e., most important for their safety and well-being — under their proverbial belt. If you trust your dog to stop when you say stop, come to you when you call and not go running off to the next county with the disc in his mouth, you're at least halfway there.
If not, especially if she's a younger pup who's still reveling in the throes of irresponsible adolescence, you may want to wait to play this game with your canine companion so you don't get frustrated and she doesn't get confused.
Not All Dogs Know How, AKA, How to Teach Your Dog to Retrieve
Not all Frisbee-like discs are the same. Some are designed for people, and some are designed for dogs. Dogs, you may already know, have very sharp teeth and love to chew things like leather shoes, tennis balls and even car tires. Get the pliable kind designed expressly for dogs. Like many other new things you want your dog to learn, it's always best to start slowly, PetMD says:
"Introduce the disc during regular playtime, allowing your dog to hold it in his mouth so he can become accustomed to holding it. Show enthusiasm and praise your dog if he shows an interest in the disc. In the beginning, throw the disc low, at the dog's level, as you would a ball. You can also roll the disc on its side — again, as you would a ball — and let your dog chase it across the room or yard."1
When it's clear your dog enjoys retrieving the disc and bringing it back to you so you can toss it again, the next step might be to try tossing it a short distance outside. Praise him (you know he loves it!) when he chases it as well as when he retrieves it and brings it back. Keep throwing it low, which is easier for him to go after. Just like any skill, it takes a little practice. You might also use treats to encourage your pup each time he goes for it.
When to Introduce the Game
Once it becomes clear that Fido is learning how to handle the disc, try new ways of playing, like rolling the disc on its edge like a rolling quarter. Keep throwing it low — about your dog's height — and again, short distances. Remember to toss it to the dog, not at him, so an injury doesn't occur. Additionally, don't send the disc out too far if there's no hope of him catching up to it in time to actually catch it. That's no fun for anybody.
Preferably in a fenced-in area, such as at a park or backyard, unless your dog can be counted on not to sprint across the street behind a squirrel, you may want to use a training lead, and one that won't tangle. The beauty of this is that she can be reeled back in if she goes too far.
You'll know your dog is ready for the next step in the flying disc training process when she drops it on command. At that point, you can begin throwing the disc slightly farther and slightly higher in short increments to get her used to depth perception.
Tips and Tricks for a Good Disc-Catching Game With Your Dog
Here are a few more tips designed to help you and your dog in the pursuit of the best flying disc game:
- One reason you want to start slow and throw higher gradually is that you want your dog to learn how to land on all fours when he comes down. Landing on just his hind legs puts too much pressure on them. You might try teaching him how to jump through a hoop to help him get used to landing on all four feet at the same time.
- Dedicate the flying disc to play only. If you let your dog chew on it, it's very likely to get punctured, which can not only keep it from flying as it should, but may also damage her teeth and even deposit bits of plastic, which she could end up swallowing. Put it away until it's time for some high flying, and when your dog sees it, she'll know exactly what it's for. Bonding time!
- Check your local events pages to see if there are any "disc dog" sports, events or competitions. There are actually clubs dedicated to the sport, and it's a great way to introduce your dog to other people and dogs who love the sport. Further, you might meet people you can get together with to practice with your pup.
- Pay attention to how your dog moves after he's been laying for a while. If it looks like he's moving slower or even limping, stop and take a look. Rest often and provide a little water at a time, and don't let him get overheated. This is a fun activity or sport, not something that demands weekend warrior status from your dog. The most important aspect of you and your dog perfecting your chosen sport is to remember that it's all about togetherness and having fun.