Team Work - The Thrower's Part


by Jim Miears


My interest in disc-catching dogs began in 1975 when I first began throwing Frisbees. The only partner I had for over a year was the wind but for some reason my throws were not returned as well as I delivered them. At the time I felt the responsibility of dog-ownership was not an option for me. Fortunately, I found plenty of human partners to throw with and have since enjoyed many years of throw and catch.

Over the years I have taught literally hundreds of people the game of throw and catch versus the game of of toss and pick-up. Teaching Frisbee sports had become a passion so I began doing demonstrations at any school or organization that would have me. I met my fiancee a few years back (we'll be married this spring), and to my delight she suggested that I might want a dog. We somehow ended up with two dogs, and this is where the real test of my Frisbee experience, with both dogs and humans, would begin.

I now represent not only my own disc skills but those of 18-month-old Border ollie/Blue Heeler littermates Dexter and Tille (pronounced "Tilley"). We have worked hard over the past year and are making great strides in coordinating our efforts and establishing teamwork. Hopefully, (and for the sake of the sport) we have a long way to go!

Until this time my experience handling dogs was limited to readings and a general understanding of wolves and their social structure. These two little bundles of energy had given us the opportunity to nurture them, and I felt it was time to consult an expert or training advice. An animal behaviorist got me whipped into shape and I was ready to begin canine Frisbee lessons, the first of which was to create interest in the disc for my dogs and then keep it. I believe this is where my throwing experience has helped tremendously.

Dogs tend to thrive on the simplest rewards of success and praise. And one seems to be dependent on the other. The main point of this sport seems to be teamwork, and herein lies the thrower's responsibility. A great void is created in this system when there is no opportunity for success, i.e., nothing good for the dog to catch! Remember all those great Frisbee games of "toss and pick-up" that you and friends played at picnics? Well, your dog may enjoy them also, but they're certainly not much fun to watch. A few basics will greatly enhance the situation.

The most frustrating part of teaching your dog a trick is in the area of consistency, so let's focus here to begin with. Take an honest look at your abilities as a thrower. This is a good starting point. Your dog doesn't care how far you can throw as long as he can catch it. And what makes a disc catch able? The best answer is "air time." This is easily achieved by observing and mastering the most important features of disc flight. If you can toss the disc in such a way that your dog can consistently catch it regardless of conditions and his location on the field, then the rest of canine Frisbee training is left to your imagination and abilities.

The most important features of disc flight are SPIN, ANGLE, DISTANCE and SPEED. All of these elements work together to effect a desired flight situation. Without getting into the physics of all this, I'll attempt to clarify these terms for you. It might help to get a disc in hand to help visualize these concepts.

SPIN is defined two ways: direction and amount. Direction (clockwise/counterclockwise) is determined by the way the disc is released, either right or left-handed, or by throwing technique (forehand or backhand). The amount of spin needed for successful completions in varying conditions can be determined by a little ingenuity and lots of practice. The most important thing to remember is that maximum spin = maximum stability; less wobble means easier catches. Major amounts of spin mean greater air times. Windy conditions require more spin.

Disc ANGLE has become a major focus for me because a well-placed throw that has the wrong angle for your dog's approach to the disc can make for a very difficult grab. On the other hand, disc angle can be utilized to create some very dramatic and athletic catches by your canine teammate. The main cause of angled flight is the angle of the disc when released. Release angle determines a right or left curve path. Also, throws into the wind with the front edge (nose) too high can cause the disc to lift out of play, or worse, out of position, thereby disrupting the flow of your routine.

DISTANCE is pretty simple and should be carefully considered when the number of throws/time, wind, energy level of Fido, confidence of thrower or playing area limitations are a factor.

SPEED of the disc can be easily translated as how hard you throw in relation to the wind. Throws with the wind will go fast and throws into the wind will be slow. It must always be kept in mind that a disc thrown into the wind will climb and one thrown with the wind will drop. The wind will be your adversary and can only be overcome with actual practice. In all throwing you must spend time on the field practicing your goals.

In my opinion this is an awful lot to digest, so work on one factor at a time and all things will fall into place with plenty of practice. Learning to work two dogs at once has forced me to realize how important disc placement really is to execution of a consistent routine as well as just enjoying the activity. I feel certain that proper disc placement has prevented dogfights and collisions. Dexter and Tille work much harder when they have more teasing throws and a variety of throws to catch. Amazingly enough, they seem proud when they pull off a difficult or new catch. Remember you are a team and if you fail to do your part, your partner will have a frustrating time doing his. My guess is that your partner will most likely live up to your expectations if you can live up to expectations you place on yourself. Good luck to all, and PRACTICE so you can focus those prayers on good weather and excellent health. And remember to HAVE FUN!!!