Posting from Tintagel

Dog Frisbee - positively reinforced predatory behavior

June 14, 2018 | 5 Minute Read

Dog frisbee is one of those dog-human team work activities which you can not practice using aversive methods openly. Regarding dog frisbee [training, performance], there isn’t something like a “punishment” for an uncaught/caught incorrectly disc or other incorrectly performed element. - Joanna Korbal says, multiple award-winning DCDC[1] player (in team with - mongrel Laki, border collies Lorie and Fido), Polish dog frisbee instructor. Freestyle, Toss and Fetch, Long Distance, every disc dog event related training bases on behavior chain in which units of behavior occur in sequences and are linked together by learned cues.[2] , relying primarily on Canis familiaris natural prey drive inherited after Canis lupus ancestors and fetching a toy tendency as a part of dog-human relations.

  • TRACKING -> Dog is observing a disc thrown by a player.
  • STALKING -> Dog is running after a thrown disc.
  • CHASING -> Dog is jumping/reaching for a disc.
  • GRABBING -> Dog is catching a disc.

Predatory sequence is clearly visible when frisbee roller is in action.

Returning with grabbed prey to the waiting human is a behavior typical for domestic dog exclusively, evolving in principle into a final link finalizing the predatory sequence. Top frisbee dedicated dog breeds are shepherds (border collie, australian shepherd, malinois) and retrievers (labrador, golden retriever). Leading in frisbee versatile, smart and workaholic, strong-eyed[3] border collies let their trainers shape in the herding instinct[4] associated elements. Tracking of escaping, flying, fast moving object, although sometimes naturally inherited within bloodlines, usually needs to be directed (natural fetch, retrieval[5], jumping high, running fast), redirected (vide chasing cyclists, runners, cars or just another potentially preyed animal) or driven (exemplary grip[6] ); before a dog is trained to correctly jump, catch a disc and to return with it to the player promptly.

left: (end of predatory sequence) Iria is grabbing a disc. | right: Iria is turning back with a disc. (retrieval in progress)

  • Dog is observing a disc thrown by a player.
    The dog is sent - on command, verbal or a gesture - from or around the player’s left or right, expecting a disc starting to fly.
  • Dog is running after a thrown disc.
    The dog, working independently, is ready to jump/reach for a flying disc when landing.
  • Dog is jumping/reaching for a disc.
    The dog, working independently, is in the middle of catching/reaching for a flying disc when landing.
  • Dog is catching a disc.
    The dog is positively marked verbally by the trainer in the moment when disc is caught (and further for making a jump to it being still in the air). It is supposed to turn back as quickly as possible, the shortest way (avoiding potential outruns), optionally dropping a disk nearby - on command or spontaneously; then is rewarded - verbally and/or just playing with the trainer.

partial sequence: stalking -> chasing -> grabbing

Usage of a positive marker allows the trainer to reinforce a specific behavior precisely, whereas clear communication motivates the dog in action. No negative emotions should appear during a training. If the dog is motivated enough, you can communicate that something has gone wrong, by staying quiet. - Joanna Korbal concludes. The dogs requiring motivation can be praised for other element instead (within the same frisbee sequence), encouraged verbally to chase the escaping trainer (if the dog grabbed a disc), proposed to play ‘tug-of-war’ for a while (where the grabbed disc plays a tug role) or to exchange the grabbed disc for another offered disc (if the dog hasn’t got an intention to give it back). - This way you don’t demotivate the dog, same as you don’t reward unwanted behavior. Multiple rewarding is scheduled to be used during a frisbee training - food reward, playing with the trainer (social reward), verbal praise (social reward), throwing a roller (a disk rolling on the grass); for some predisposed dogs another initiated frisbee sequence is sufficient reward.

left: Iria is rewarded for disc fetching (‘tug-of-war’). | right: Iria is encouraged to hand a disc to the trainer (fetch completing).

Historically, the first notable frisbee dog was Ashley Whippet, a sight-hound - purposely bred to hunt by sight and speed (up to 65 km/h). In August 5th 1974, Ashley was smuggled by his owner - a college student - Alex Stein into Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during the baseball game between the local team and Cincinnati Reds, transmitted by national TV. After jumping the fence, Stein went onto the playing field and started throwing discs for his dog which jumped 9 feet high to catch them, being the reason why the game was stopped, then being escorted off the field and arrested after a few minutes. Anyway, Ashley’s frisbee skills went down in history. Nowadays, dog frisbee is one of sports dedicated to dog and human mutual activity, a fraction of disc dog competitions, like exemplary DCDC or USDDN[7]. It is also a dog walk activity idea for a casual dog owner.

[1] Dog Chow Disc Cup, Poland.
[2] quoting Karen Prior Academy.
[3] ‘Strong eye’ is in-born aptitude to control the flock by staring at it when herded.
[4] Instinctive herding ability passed down by generations, triggered - if exists - when a shepherd dog meets a herd first time.
[5] i.e. dropping a ‘prey’ away from a human, at the human’s feet, handing it to a human.
[6] Consistent commitment with adequate focus before, during and after the moment of executing a disc.
[7] US Disc Dog Nationals, USA.
Dog & Sport, Polish magazine (2/2018), the article by Joanna Korbal.
AWI Series
Ashley Whippet K-9 Frisbee Museum