Disc Dog by Heather Smith

Getting started in Disc Dog has never been easier than it is now even though this canine sport is relatively new to the UK. I had seen it on videos online and I had also seen it demonstrated when I had been judging Heelwork to Music abroad but it was so very exciting to hear it had arrived here in the UK!

I started two years ago and have since become a UK Disc Dog Association trainer, judge and assessor. I had gathered enough interest here in Scotland to have a weekend seminar and was surprised at how much more there was to this activity than simply Freestyle which was I have to confess my initial interest!

Maddie – Lily the Pink Picture courtesy of Janet Dawn

It’s perhaps no surprise that my interest was in Freestyle as it rather looks like my main activity, also known as Freestyle in Heelwork to Music, the difference lying predominantly in the presence of discs! I have been doing heelwork to music for around 14 years now and was aware that many other top competitors abroad were successfully combining these two activities and I suspected that it added a great deal of motivation to the tricks and sequences of tricks that both activities include.

In the UK Freestyle is known as Freedisc and you’d expect to be putting together a routine which included tricks from your dog with a variety of throws from yourself all set to music of your choice! It is the most challenging of the Disc Dog Activities that you can take part in here in the UK and it is perhaps the most spectacular to watch as the handlers include such tricks as rebounds off their bodies, jumping onto their backs and with the dogs doing flips and jumps there is certainly plenty of excitement. And with the inclusion of different types of throws of the disc the handlers and their dogs have to be very skilled.

Freedisc Training

There are other Disc Activities which make for a more accessible starting point. There are a variety of activities such as Toss and Fetch, Throw and Catch as well as UK Disc Dog Association Throw Disc. There are slight differences in the rules of these activities but they all about speed and distance – so how far can you throw your disc and how fast can your dog go catch it and fetch it. These are always against the clock and are fast, furious and exciting. They make for a great entry point to disc where you can hone your throwing skills and your dog can learn to catch. You can play as an individual or as part of a team and they are highly motivating and confidence building for your dogs.

For those of you who enjoy agility, you may very well enjoy Jump Disc. In this UK DDA activity, your dog must complete a sequence of three obstacles which may include jumps and tunnels or three of either, prior to the disc being thrown. It adds an extra skill to the foundation level Throw Disc and prepares your dogs well for the greater and more challenging jumps involved in the freedisc.

Disc Dog is a very active and physical sport and with this in mind one of the most important issues I can address is keeping your dog fit and safe in taking part in Disc Dog, or indeed in any other canine sport.

With physical fitness in mind, I always recommend that new starts and those with young dogs participate in a Body Awareness or Canine Proprioception Course with myself. The purpose of these courses is to develop fitness through a variety of exercises which promote awareness of body parts and in doing these ensure your dog will be less likely to sustain injury.

Developing body awareness

So many of the body awareness exercises involve trick training which as a Dog Dancer are things I am teaching anyway. Such basics as can your dog lift his paws not just the front feet but the back paws too can form the basis for exercises such as bring front and back paws together or all four paws coming together as the dog becomes fitter and develops a strong core.

There is also a great deal of merit in alongside the paw lifting and placing tricks, teaching your dogs to place their feet with precision and care and to this end teaching cavaletti is a lot of fun for both dog and handlers. You can quickly learn a great deal about your dog’s movement which is also useful as both a warm-up exercise but in recognizing whether your dog may have an issue which may require examination by a vet or physio.

Of course, most of my students love all the ‘sexy’ equipment which a body awareness class includes. So, there are paw pods (and sometimes little bean tins and bean bags!) which the dogs use to learn about paw placement, there are peanuts, donuts and exercises balls which are used to develop balance, core and fitness. We even add some tricks to these such as bowing whilst balancing or perhaps even begging and these then are progressed on to my Gymnastricks class!

Gymnastricks is a unique programme that combines sensible exercises to help keep your dog healthy with great tricks for you both to enjoy

Gymnastricks is a whole lot of fun as in this class we are looking at the tricks that Disc Dogs do onto their humans’ bodies and they are a natural progression from Body Awareness Class. Some dogs are cautious about climbing all over their humans’ others simply see no reason not to! You can expect to be teaching your dog to be jumping into arms or onto your body, begging on your back, balancing on your upturned feet and so much more!

Keeping your dog fit and safe means not progressing too fast, taking time to consolidate all your ‘tricks’ so that your dog has a good basis on which to develop and progress. To that end it is advisable you’re your dog should not be jumping until he is 12 months. We are all very aware that dogs, especially large dogs are still growing and developing and there are so many foundation skills to put into place.

Another thing to consider is how you train. So many injuries are borne out of repetition. For example, I have had two agility dogs who both sustained RSI injuries relating to landing and turning, this is a repetitive activity in agility dogs and since the 1990s I have not had these injuries as I have adapted my training to avoid repetition. So, keep your sessions varied, short and repetition free with all dogs irrespective of age.

A good warm-up routine is very important

A final word – make sure you warm up your dog before any activity and that includes throwing a disc. It’s never acceptable to take a dog straight from a car and throw discs. Consider an active warm-up where the dog is active in this (as opposed to stretched by his or her human!) and tailor this to the activity the dog is doing so turns left and right, small jumps etc. A warm-up can take approx. 20 mins, and a cool down period is equally important with the dog’s activity level, heart rate and breathing slowing down and finishing with a massage. A good class will advise on this or take advice from a qualified physiotherapist.

So, if I have captured your interest, I am hoping you might be asking how do you get involved in Disc Dog. There are a whole host of clubs springing up now throughout the UK.   In Scotland, I am the only person running training at the moment and I have regular classes in Ayrshire with foundation classes in the Glasgow area and of course, I am bookable for day or weekend workshops.

The winning disc team at the Dog Lover Show. Jackie McLaughlin and Brachen, Michelle Porter and Luna, Marie Docherty and Walter and myself and Google

Trainyourdogs with Heather Smith

Gymnastricks: Targeted Muscle Training For Dogs

Hyperflite Discs

Trixie Dog Activity Balance Cushion

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