Getting ready for THE BIG CONTEST!

by Ron Ellis

With the ALPO series of contests quickly approaching, I thought it would prove useful to address elements of the contest to some extent. The subject matter presented below will hopefully not only introduce newcomers to competition but also offer practical insights related to training, performance and what to expect from the judges. Please keep in mind that these thoughts aren't intended to be exhaustive by any means, merely helpful to some extent. Also, you don't have to be a competitor to benefit from the advice.

Whenever you and your dog "emBARK" on a competitive mission, your level of readiness can be broken down into a few important issues: conditioning, practice and expectations. I make a distinction between conditioning, a physical state of readiness developed by fitness training, and practice, the repetitive aspect of developing your throwing skills, your Freestyle routine and your Distance-Accuracy strategy.



Any athlete will want to be in the best possible condition as it relates to his or her chosen activity. Canine disc can be a demanding sport, and if you want to perform at your best, you should give attention to your ability to throw, sprint, stoop, jump, etc., within a limited time frame. The best approach is to do what works best for you personally, but I recommend an aerobic exercise (cycling, jogging) combined with calisthenics or weight training to get the most balanced workout. This kind of work may not make you a physical specimen, but it will surely help your stamina, flexibility, speed, and lung capacity, to mention a few.

Over the years I've struggled with my weight, but I find I'm still able to perform, no matter how I look, as long as I'm getting good, consistent exercise and nutrition. Nutrition? Of course, but I don't have any secret formulas for success, except that a banana with oatmeal is a good stress-relieving "pre-game" breakfast. Also, I find my stomach settles down better when I lay off acidic beverages like coffee and juice. Water works nicely.



Practice, practice, practice! I can't say it enough. To some the competition environment is a good way to show off the pooch with a built-in audience; however, those who wish to compete effectively will devote time to a workout regimen for your dog. I'll not preach to you about overworking your dog, because everyone should know that too much too often is not too good. What I would like to say, though, is that if you don't work with your dog in a consistent manner, he will not be in good shape and will not only perform less than his best but could also have difficulty with nagging injuries or worse.

Ideally, you want to practice low impact stuff (running and retrieving) with your dog until he seems fit enough to begin more rigorous training (flips, vaults, hard cuts, etc.) This will often take a few weeks or more depending on the condition of your dog. Then begin practicing the things you and your dog will be doing in your Freeflight routine and Mini-Distance. Time your rounds just as you would be timed during a contest. This way you'll ensure you'll have time to do everything you plan to do during the actual competition.

Probably the most important aspect of practice, assuming your dog is in good shape, is the honing of your throwing skills. If you can't throw the disc a variety of ways in all weather conditions, you will not be consistently effective on the field of play. The best approach is to simply discover what it is you want to do, then spend time trying to master the throws involved. Find yourself a willing instructor and LISTEN to the instruction. A good teacher will make sure you know all you need to know to make a successful throw.

In our club we are fortunate enough to have folks capable of teaching. Contact a club officer to locate someone in the club who can help you. Besides that, all I can encourage you to do is practice until you're satisfied. If you need to practice but are concerned about overworking your dog, practice by yourself. A combination of visualizing your Freestyle and Distance-Accuracy (Toss & Catch) routines and practicing with your imaginary dog will help you get in more repetition while saving your pet.



Where canine disc competition is concerned, I believe you should be thoroughly familiar with what the format of an event demands, and you should be able to come to grips with what you realistically expect to bring to the playing field. The first part is easy enough to comprehend. One should always be familiar with the rules of the game. In Skyhoundz contests, the judging criteria and scoring is explained in good detail. Some people give cursory attention to this information, but if you want any chance of being a successful competitor, I would suggest you STUDY those guidelines.

A good example regarding information that often gets overlooked is in the description of the Skyhoundz criteria for judging Freestyle. The four criteria are Presentation, Athleticism, Wow!Factor, and Success. People often consider when they have more drops than catches it will adversely affect their Success score. This is true since consistency is a part of the Wow Factor criteria. But what people often don't realize is that all Freestyle criteria emphasize "consistency" as an integral part of what the judges are looking for.

A difficult throw cannot be scored if the throw does not involve a completed catch, thereby lowering the Degree of WowFactor score. Likewise, if a dog leaps ten feet from the ground throughout his routine but fails to catch half the throws, his Athleticism score will suffer considerably. Again, a team showing great flashes of entertaining brilliance during a routine may have gotten a better score in Presentation if they had not incurred so many drops.

All of this to say that if you don't read the rules, guidelines and criteria for judging, you may be ill-prepared and thus disappointed. That's why I say, "STUDY the guidelines!" You may better understand what the judges are looking for. Once you understand what you THINK the judges want to see, decide what you realistically expect you and your dog will accomplish. Some of you will approach the game with fear and trembling while others will be a little arrogant. The middle ground in this scenario is the best place to stand because you tend to be confident in your dog's abilities, but you recognize there is still much room for you personally to learn and improve.

You may be really good from the outset, but take care not to flaunt it. You'll lose friends and respect all around. It's a plus to be humble but confident; by this you can disarm your serious competitors and win many admirers. Above all, make sure you are showing off your dog and not just yourself. If you keep in mind the things we've discussed here regarding conditioning, practice and the judges expectations, you will begin to develop healthy expectations of your own. Avoid the pitfall of placing undue pressure on yourself and your dog to live up to an unrealistic standard. Set attainable goals and practice, practice, practice. Observe everything, be teachable and strive to come up with new and fresh material. And remember to enjoy this little adventure with your dog.