Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Soaring Sport of Canine Disc
Got a dog who relishes marathon games of fetch and who shakes the life out of his toys?
You may have a superstar athlete in the making.
Melissa Heeter knows this firsthand. As the first woman to win a flying disc dog world championship, Heeter purposely adopts dogs who tend to use their mouths too much.
Pups like Viola, a 6-year-old Cattle Dog mix who can make hairpin turns at super speeds and acrobatically snatch a flying disc in midair.
“We like difficult dogs for this sport,” says Heeter, a veteran dog trainer who helped create the United States Disc Dog Nationals. “Dogs with strong prey drives do well in this sport when properly trained to rechannel those natural instincts.”
What Exactly Is Canine Disc?
Dogs have been fetching flying discs since their invention, but you can credit Alex Stein and his Whippet, Ashley, for starting the canine sport.
In 1974, the pair interrupted a nationally televised baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds by racing onto the field. Stein flung discs for Ashley, who snared them in full sprint for about eight minutes before security escorted them off the field.
Those eight minutes on national television were enough to draw interest among dog-loving viewers. And Stein ultimately created the annual Frisbee Dog World Championship competition.
The rules vary slightly depending on the disc dog organization, but there are two primary competition formats: toss-and-fetch and freestyle.
Toss-and-Fetch: Don’t blink or you'll miss the action. Dogs line up behind a line while handlers hold stacks of discs. Top points go to the canine who catches the most discs in 90 seconds over the greatest distance, which is typically 40 yards.
Freestyle: Think of this as a cross between figure skating and gymnastics — only for dogs. Each high-energy routine lasts between 90 seconds and three minutes, featuring choreographed musical routines in which the dog and the handler are judged on execution, creativity and how much of the field the duo covers. Maneuvers include vaults, midair catches, flips and a tricky technique called the dog catch — handlers must catch pups in their arms just as the dogs grab the discs in the air.
Are Certain Breeds Better at the Sport?
“We want a dog who's structurally sound, a lean dog with an hourglass shape. He should be slightly longer than taller, and his toes should not face in or out,” Heeter says. “If the toes face out too much, the dog will land with a lot of shock on the shoulders. If the toes face in too much, he may develop weak elbows.”
This sport is best suited for speedy dogs who love to show off — and always keep their eyes on the prize. And since canines need to leap high in the air and turn quickly, Heeter notes that it's not conducive for breeds with long backs and short legs, such as Corgis and Dachshunds. Nor is it a good fit for heavy, slow-moving breeds, like Bulldogs.
Age is also taken into consideration. Most disc dog organizations heed the “18-month rule,” setting that as the minimum age for a dog to compete, so his growth plates can fully develop.
Where Can I Catch a Canine Disc Competition?
Local and regional competitions generally take place in the spring and summer, with world championships staged in the fall. A few popular events: Skyhoundz World Canine Disc Championship, the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge National Championship and the United States Disc Dog Nationals World Finals.
There are also touring groups that perform in professional sports arenas and other large outdoor facilities across the country.
Heads up: Since canine competitors need to focus on the flying discs, spectators are often asked to leave their own dogs at home to minimize distractions.
Related Stories on Vetstreet
Vetstreet attended the finals of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. If you're interested in reading more about the amazing things that canine athletes can do, check out our coverage of the event by clicking on these links: