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The Journey of A Disc Dog Competitor and His Human

My dog Vader is an Australian Cattle Dog (ACD), one of the herding breeds. Herding breeds have high energy and lots of drive, and adopting one is a big responsibility.

We adopted Vader in December 2012 and it only took a few days to realize that he was a very energetic pup. We soon called on a professional trainer to teach me and my wife, Amy, the tools we needed to help Vader have a great life with us.

We started taking Vader for lots and lots of walks, hitting up parks and  throwing tennis balls for him to chase. We later used oddly shaped items that made funny bounces because they were more fun and kept him mentally challenged. Eventually we graduated to flying discs. (FYI: Frisbee is a trademarked name, hence the use of the terms disc and disc dogs  instead.)

One day our trainer suggested we check out a Disc Dogs of the Golden Gate (discdogg.com) competition taking place in San Ramon. I was reluctant and dragged my feet getting there. Darn, we were too late to compete… I thought. But when I asked about the Toss and Catch contest, the folks running the event said I could still sign up and give it a try. I agreed. I mean, how hard is it to throw a disc? Right?

In the Toss and Catch competition, you have 60 seconds to make as many throws as you can for your dog to catch. The longer the throw, the more points a team can earn. You get bonus points for mid-air catches. A contestant is only allowed a single disc for this contest.

As easy as it sounds, there definitely are skills involved. Your dog needs to be able to snag a disc out of the air, bring it back to you, and quickly release it so you can throw it again. You need to throw the disc far enough to get decent points while keeping it in the field for your dog to catch.

These skill takes a bit of practice to perfect with your pup, but when it’s all put together it’s a blast and provides a huge sense of accomplishment and team work.

That first time out was rather dubious. Sure, I could throw a disc twenty feet flawlessly, but as I started shooting for 90- and 120-foot distances I discovered that my ability to throw straight down the field was questionable. As good as Vader is at catching discs, he could not seem to catch them when they landed in trees or on tents. Go figure!

But playing with my dog on the field that day sparked something in us. A powerful new connection was born. That day, we became Team Vader – which includes Vader, me, and Amy.

After that first outing I researched disc throwing and started practicing with Vader every day for several weeks, testing different brands and models of flying dog discs. We won in our division the next time out because I had gotten my stuff together.

We later evolved into Open Division competitors. This division involves a round of Toss and Catch plus a Freestyle performance round. In Freestyle you have 90 to 120 seconds to perform throws and maneuvers that are judged and categorized for Canine Athleticism, Degree of Difficulty, Showmanship, Catch Ratios, and the like.

This is the contest fans love watching, with dogs “vaulting” off their humans’ backs, chests, or thighs to catch discs, and doing other spectacular moves. Do a Youtube search for “disc dog freestyle” and you will see what I mean.

This Freestyle game is also the most humbling for the competitors as you have to learn a set of more difficult maneuvers than Toss and Catch. It’s another level of working with your pup that’s a joy to accomplish.

Over time I discovered that disc dog clubs have wonderful folks as members. Some of us are competitive, while others are there just for the fun and camaraderie. The bottom line is the fun we have amongst a group of human and canine peers.
Vader’s World disc dog team has gone from a timid Toss and Catch competitor to a member of a freestyle demonstration team. All with the incredible support of the club we’re a part of.

This sport can be for any dog who likes to run and play, not just herding breeds. Echo, a deaf Pit Bull, is just one example. Another is Sammy Davis, a Dachshund! Both are pure pleasure to watch.

It’s not too challenging to teach your canine pal to be a disc dog. All you need are a few skills, resources like a good trainer and clubmates, and a bit of patience. To the dogs, it’s all fun and games with their humans. So what if our discs flop and roll across the grass, they still get to chase them! It’s always a joy just to play with your pup.

Vader reminds me of this every now and then. When he notices me getting frustrated with something – the wind, my throws, or even him – he gives me his cattle dog “stink eye” look and simply stops running after the disc.

That’s when I laugh, remember what this is all about, and we get back to having fun.

Upcoming Events for Disc Dogs of the Golden Gate Club:

Club BBQ & Play (fun) day, Sat., Aug 23, 2014
Memorial Park, Bollinger Canyon Rd., San Ramon, CA

DDotGG Tournament #4, Sun., Sep 21, 2014
Memorial Park, Bollinger Canyon Rd., San Ramon, CA

DDotGG Tournament #5, Sun., Oct 12, 2014
Memorial Park, Bollinger Canyon Rd., San Ramon, CA

Crusty Classic two-day event, Oct 25-26, 2014
Hall Park, Dixon, CA

Bruce Simmons is a proud disc dog human who is fully house trained and takes good care of his pup. Vader makes him run his website, VadersWorld.com, and his Facebook page.

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Main article photo by: A & B Simmons