Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Teach Your Dog to Play Frisbee

By Langley Cornwell

Watching super dog-athletes at events like the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition is inspiring. The K9 Frisbee Dog Entertainment blows me away every year. Likewise, when I watch videos of dogs like Wallace, Bling Bling, Torch, Shiloh and Gracie performing amazing Disc Dog feats, I’m blown away. The way the canine athletes look at their handlers with such concentration and pure trust says it all. These dogs are focused on doing exactly what their person tells them to. At the risk of sounding corny or completely nuts, the look those dogs give their humans communicates the kind of love that can only come from a dog.

We play a very rudimentary version of Frisbee with one of our dogs. Our dog loves to chase the disc but rarely catches it in the air. Even so, she brings it right back so we’ll throw it again. She is a fine athlete; she’s very agile and can jump amazingly high. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I would take the time to teach her, she could learn to be a fine backyard Disc Dog.

Because the name “Frisbee” is a registered trademark, the sport is officially known as Disc Dog. Opinions vary on the specifics of training your pup to be a Disc Dog. It’s like all dog training; there are multiple paths to the same goal. Generally speaking, this method seems to be the most common:  

Use a disc specifically designed for dogs, because human Frisbees are not suitable for canine play.

Begin by introducing your dog to the disc. One of our dogs was interested in the toy immediately, but we had to take extra steps to entice our other dog. If your dog doesn’t take to it immediately, make the disc desirable somehow. Recommendations include waving the disc temptingly while talking in an excited voice, giving your dog a treat (and/or a click if you’ve clicker trained him) when he touches it, smearing peanut butter on the edges of the disc or rubbing a hotdog around the rim. Some people report using the disc as a food bowl and allowing the dog to eat out of it.

Once the disc is desirable to your dog, make it fun. Play gentle games of tug-of-war with the disc for a few days, always allowing your dog to win. Don’t pull too hard and never rip the toy from your dog’s mouth. Additionally, give your dog a CANIDAE treat, a click, or praise for playing with the disc. Reward your dog when he shows excitement about the disc. If he jumps up and tries to grab it out of your hands, reinforce the effort as good behavior.

When your dog has the primary disc in his mouth, use a second disc to entice him to drop the one in his mouth on his own. Choose a specific command; some people use give-it. Your goal is to teach the dog to give up the disc while still encouraging his attachment to the toy. Remember, always encourage your dog's drive to have and get the disc; it’s this focus that makes a good Disc Dog.

Go outside with your dog and issue a sit command. Throw the disc as a “grounder” so it rolls like a wheel. The point is to get your dog to chase and retrieve the disc, and grounders are easy to chase and retrieve. Once your dog has mastered retrieving grounders, toss the disc a short distance in the air. If the dog doesn’t respond to the disc flying through the air, alternate air tosses with grounders. When the dog catches the disc in the air and brings it back to you, offer praise and/or treats and then throw the disc again.

Gradually increase the distance you throw the disc. Eventually your dog will get used to the flying disc, learn how to follow along while it’s in the air, and will want the disc so badly that he’ll try to snatch it out of the air instead of waiting for it to drop to the ground. When you’ve gotten that far, gradually increase your throws until you’re covering some real distance.

You might also be interested in reading Disc Dog, a High Flying Sport and From the Shelter to the Championship Circle, a touching story about a talented and famous Disc Dog named Wallace.

I’m going to try to get our pup to catch discs out of the air. I know she can do it, if I can communicate with her properly. Wish me luck!

Top photo by R. Hensley
Middle photo by Sally9258
Bottom photo by Redjar

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Great ideas! I've worked a little with one of my dogs on this and suddenly she just starting jumping for the disc. She misses most of the time, but when she really tries she does great. I can't wait for spring to get here so I can try with her again. Thanks for the tips. :)

  2. Ok, although I have pretty much zero faith in my training abiities with Max, I am gonna give this one a whirl! Thanks! Great post!


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