Because my mini Aussies are Frisbee fanatics, I’m often asked how to teach them the sport so this is a general guideline from simple to complex.
To begin, not all dogs have the same drive to retrieve, but you know your dog and if they like to carry socks around or stuffed animals and will bring them to you..that’s all the “talent” they need to learn to play Frisbee. Some are speedier and have fancier moves, but just a go out, pick up a frisbee and return it is all the skill needed for you to exercise your dog while you watch 🙂
1 The first step is to teach your puppy to “get it” with any kind of toy. With puppies, I usually start with a stuffed toy that they love or a little ball. I jiggle it over their heads or around to get them really excited, toss it just a little distance where I can still reach it and happily say “get it” and encourage them to return it to you. This is a fun little game for puppies and yes, they may run the other way, but when they do bring it within reach, take it and give lots of praise when they “drop” or “give it”. I do this often with puppies and with different objects so they have different textures in their mouth. I do have a very small rubbery and fabric “disc” that I use for this inside game along the way. The key is inside where you have control of the object. Reminder, do NOT give chase if they go the other way because you are reinforcing a behavior that you don’t want. Praise when they come near you and will let you have it or tug with it and essentially ignore when they don’t. When you start, you may want to be in a small room like a laundry or bathroom, where they don’t have far to go.
2 Once you have the “get it” and “drop” going well, you can move to a bigger room, longer distance, but not outside yet. Stay with their favorite ball and soft toys for awhile adding the little rubber disc. Make “get it” the most exciting thing they’ve ever done. Lots of praise and use only a fun voice. Switch up on the toys so they learn that “get it” applies to lots of different things.
3 Now, it’s time to move outside with the small rubber disc. I keep a 20 feet piece of light clothesline with a clip on the end for recall and for practicing frisbee. I attach the line to the puppy’s collar and tie it to my belt or my leg. I use my most excited voice ever and get the dog all “revved” up before I toss the little rubber frisbee no more than 5-6 feet from me and then say “get it”. As soon as the puppy picks it up (and you can rub a little peanut butter on it), I happily reel him in and take it. Treat time!!!
4 Practice with the line on and lengthen the distance, eventually just letting the puppy drag the line. If he goes the other way, absolutely do not reprimand, but just step on the line and reel him in with LOTS of praise.
5 When dependable to return the disc, take the line off and practice some more. Your attitude and voice must make it the most fun thing on the planet to grab that little piece of soft plastic and bring it back to you. If you have skipped to this step and haven’t gone through the first ones, you most likely will have a dog that will grab the little frisbee and take off. If this happens, back to step 1.
6 As the dog grows, so can the size of the disc. However, don’t be chintzy and buy the hard plastic ones out of the dollar bin because they can break your dog’s teeth. Go with a softer disc meant for dogs available at www.skyhounz.com. I start my dogs on the “puppy” ones and move them up as they get more proficient.
7 Next question is how do I get the dog to catch it? If you have built their excitement and worked their drive, this isn’t a hard step. I jiggle the frisbee above their heads and get them really excited, then I hold it just slightly above their eye level, and do a pretend very low slow toss and instead of letting the frisbee go, I kind of let them run into it with their mouth to simulate a catch. Gradually, I do this step faster and higher so they get the feel of the impact of it going in their mouth. As I practice, they get the idea and their little feet will leave the ground. Woohooo! At the end of this step, visualize a little child holding their arms out and turning circles, except it’s me holding a disc and the dog following the disc with his eyes and simulating a catch.
8 All things in life take practice. Your dog will not have good precision or timing at first when you have them go out to get the flying frisbee. The tosses need to be as near their eye level and at a speed that they almost run into the frisbee. On one perfect toss, the dog will get it just right and do a catch!!! Bring out the sparklers!!! Hooray!!!! Good dog.
9 Fast forward to days, weeks or even months of your dog just picking up a rolling frisbee and returning it to you, then retrieving a tossed frisbee with an occasional catch when the timing is just right, to doing a smooth jump to snatch the disc out of the air almost every time. Two things have happened. You have learned to toss a frisbee that is catchable and your dog has timed himself to be there just at the right time with the right lift to catch it. This is when the fun begins! How long does it take? My dogs start to run out and catch a “perfect” toss by the time they’re 9 months to a year old. Once they get their confidence and coordination, then you can start with really long and high fliers.
10 Most importantly, you must make this exciting and not give up. Some dogs learn very quickly, some over a longer period of time and those Basset Hounds are just not built for this task. Consider your dog and his body style. Herding dogs and retrievers are born to Frisbee!! Do be sure to check out Disc Dog Competition videos on YouTube and check with your local training centers for competitions to watch. Have fun!