If you could only do five things to improve you and your dog’s disc dog freestyle, these would be five to make a habit of. Here are five ways to help take your freestyle to the next level.
1. Practice, practice, practice your throws without your dog.
“Without” is the key word here. There is no replacement for throwing practice. Even after you learn how to throw it correctly, you’ll need to practice it to keep your skills sharp. Not only will it make your job (and your dog’s job) a lot easier, but it will be safer for your dog. When you don’t have to think about your throws, you can focus on more important things, like #3 and #5 on this list. For every throw you make to your dog, throw ten by yourself. Challenge yourself by practicing the throws at the same height and distance that would suit your dog in your routine.
2. Play to your dog’s strengths.
It’s pretty common for dogs to naturally favor certain disc moves over others. In fact, many dogs don’t absolutely love all aspects of disc. Making a dog love a move that they don’t really care for isn’t always possible. Some dogs love to do close moves, like dog catches and vaults. Others like to play a far away game with lots of long throws. Certain dogs love to flip, while others would rather conserve their energy. Some are speed demons and others have a more methodical approach. All of these strengths and weaknesses are what make your dog unique.
Try not to box your dog into a certain routine just because it’s the style you particularly favor. There are countless combinations of moves and styles of routines your dog might like. Remember, one dog doesn’t have to do all possible tricks. They just have to do a good job of the ones they do. If they happen to love all of it, it just means you have more things you can choose to include in your routine. If you’re not sure what your dog likes, dabble in all of it. Usually, you can easily tell by their enthusiasm if they liked what you did.
3. Move to and with your dog.
When you’ve collected discs and are ready for the next sequence, run to your dog. Don’t wait for them to come racing back to you. This not only saves time, but also creates movement within the routine. If you’re doing multiple long throws in a row, take a few steps to follow your dog. Even if you’re not a runner, just taking a few steps will make the routine look more natural. When a dog races around the field and the handler stands motionless, the handler sticks out like a sore thumb. Don’t be a tree in the middle of the field. A handler should blend into whatever their dog is doing, kind of like a background dancer.
4. Focus on quality over quantity.
Often, handlers that have recently accumulated a lot of moves/tricks with their dogs want to shove all if it into their 2 minute (or 90 second) routine. Don’t worry too much about the number of throws. If you’ve got more than 20 throws in a two minute routine, you’re okay. Choose your best, most consistently caught tricks. If time is running out, and you still have a whole sequence left, just do the routine as you would if there were no time limit. Or if you feel your last trick is your best move and you just have to get it in the routine, just skip to that move. A general rule is when the timer says 10 seconds, that’s when you should be getting ready for your last or second-to-last move. Never rush for the sake of finishing the routine. Chances are, it’ll backfire.
5. Check in with your dog before every single throw.
This one is courtesy of 2009 AWI World Champion, Todd Murnan. What is meant by “checking in” is to look at their eyes and see where they’re going. While some dogs are pretty magical, don’t just rely on him/her to always be watching what you’re doing. They’re busy tracking and catching discs. Just take a half second to make sure they’re ready for the next move. Checking in prevents miscommunication and poorly timed throws. This should be done before every single throw. (Okay, there are a couple moves that are an exception to the rule. But in those cases, the dog should know the pattern and that another disc is coming.) This is especially helpful if both of you aren’t on the same page and your round is going downhill. Take the extra second and reconnect.
Of course, there are many other ways to improve a freestyle routine as well. Maybe those will come in a future blog post… For now, happy disc dogging!