Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Disc Dog: A High Flying Sport

By Ruthie Bently

CANIDAE All Natural Pet Foods recently donated prizes (which included high quality pet food and Frisbees) for Slovenia’s first Disc Dog competition. It was hosted by the Maribor Kennel Club on Saturday, September 26, 2009. Fifty-six international teams from six countries (Hungary, the Netherlands, Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia) competed in the event. The event was held to raise funds for Slovenia’s Horjul Animal Shelter. Their mission is to help as many homeless animals as possible by finding them new homes and providing them with temporary accommodations, health care and improved living conditions.

The art of playing as a team with your dog and a round flying disc is known by more than one name: Dog Frisbee, Flying Dog Disc sport and Disc Dog. Because the name “Frisbee” is a registered trademark, the sport is officially known as Disc Dog. It is now an international sport, and there are teams in the United States, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Canada. There are now international competitions for teams, as well as demonstration events.

While I knew who Ashley Whippet was and was able to see him perform, I didn’t know the beginnings of Disc Dog itself. It was started by Alex Stein (Ashley Whippet’s owner) in August 1974, when he jumped a fence during the seventh inning of a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alex and Ashley performed for eight minutes, while Ashley leapt nine feet in the air to grab discs and ran at a top speed of 35 mph. The baseball game was actually stopped during the exhibition, and Joe Garagiola kept announcing the action on the field until Alex and Ashley were escorted off the field.

Ashley Whippet went on to win three Disc Dog world championships, starred in a documentary “Floating Free,” performed at Super Bowl XII and even performed for Amy Carter at the White House; all other dogs since are measured by his standard. Thirty five years later, the sport of Disc Dog is still alive and well.

Any dog with an aptitude to catch things is eligible to play, as long as they are entered with a human partner. Most canines have a natural talent for Disc Dog because it plays to their prey instinct to chase things and stop them. What makes it different from chasing a ball is that the disc is more of a challenge. It can reverse direction or hover, can be thrown high or low, and really tests the dog’s ability to pay attention. You are also able to bond more with your dog during these sessions, even if you choose not to compete and only play for fun. It doesn’t matter if you have a big or small dog, purebred or mutt – any of them could theoretically learn to play. Before starting any form of exercise, you should have your dog checked out by your veterinarian to make sure they are physically capable of playing.

There are three types of Disc Dog competition: freestyle, long distance and short distance. There are variations within the types, and room for physical artistry and creativity. During the distance/accuracy events where only one disc is used, teams are awarded points for the distance and accuracy of the catches. Short distance events have many names: Throw and Catch, Distance/Accuracy, Toss and Fetch, and MiniDistance. The idea is usually the same: on a field with incrementally longer distances a team gets sixty seconds to get as many catches as possible. The longest distance is usually 54 feet (50 meters) for the longest catch. Points are given based on the distance of the catch, and if the dog is completely airborne during the catch they get an extra half point. A Long Distance event (where generally the longest catch wins) has a few different formats, and while still popular it is less common.

Freestyle seems to be the most popular, and routines can be anywhere from one minute and thirty seconds to three minutes long. They are frequently choreographed to music with more than one disc in play at a time. When competing in freestyle, a team (which consists of a dog and their handler) are judged subjectively. Each team is judged on showmanship, degree of difficulty and canine athleticism.

Freestyle is seen as the highest level of accomplishment. It is well-liked by spectators for its multiple catches, super speed, fabulous vaults and incredible flips. The competition divisions in Disc Dog events are based on the experience and skill of the handler, and men and women compete together. The Long Distance event is considered a “power” event, and is broken into women’s and men’s events. Competitions usually take place during summer on flat grass fields, though winter Disc Dog on snow is also popular in some areas.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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