Disc dog sport

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Disc dog competitions are another fun-based but physically demanding sport for dogs.

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The origins of this sport go back to 1871 when the Frisbie Pie Company started selling pies in round, flat pie tins in the USA. Young people soon found out that they could throw the tins in various trajectories as they became more skilled. In 1948 Walter Morrison had the idea of developing a flying disc in Bakelite, which he called the Pluto Platter (this later became the Frisbee). The first world championships were held in Pasadena, California in 1967 and the pastime soon spread around the world.

Given the dog’s natural aptitude for catching just about anything in its jaws, it was only a matter of time before canines started to play with these flying discs. The first demonstrations were held in the 1960s, followed by official competitions, mainly in the English-speaking world. In the United States the sport’s popularity exploded after a student gave a demonstration with his dog on live TV during a baseball game.

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Encouraged by the handler, a dog will often demonstrate incredible feats of acrobatics

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The rules are fairly simple. The handler throws a standardised disc, which cannot veer more than five metres left or right as it travels out to the dog standing a given distance away. The dog has to catch the disc and return it to the handler as quickly as possible. Encouraged by the handler, a dog will often demonstrate incredible feats of acrobatics. Freestyle competitions based on technique and showmanship are also common.

Disc dog competitions comprise various disciplines:

- Toss and fetch (short distance) is played on a grass field measuring twenty metres wide and fifty metres long. The handler tosses the disc from behind a throwing line and the dog must catch it and return it to the handler behind the line as quickly as possible. Performance is scored according to the length of the throw, how the dog catches the disc (on the ground or in the air) and how many times the dog returns the disc in a given period of time (generally 60 seconds). The distances are reduced for small dogs and young handlers.

- Circle is based on the same concept, although this time the playing field is marked as a series of concentric circles, with the handler in the middle.

- In freestyle the handler and dog are expected to execute a number of special moves in a given time frame (generally between 90 and 180 seconds) using one or more discs. The judge is most concerned with technical criteria (obligatory moves), taking into account the level of difficulty, coherence, creativity and the number and quality of toss and fetches. Musical accompaniment, accessories or special costumes are common in freestyle competitions.

- In long distance competitions, which are very popular in Florida, participants are ranked according to the farthest distance the disc travels through the air in three attempts within 90 seconds. The world record currently stands at 97.90 metres. The women’s record is 56.16 metres. The judge awards a certain number of points depending on where the dog catches the disc. An extra half point is awarded if the dog catches the disc in mid air. A bonus zone is also marked out.

The great thing about disc dog competitions is that they are open to dogs and humans of any age, as well as people with a disability who compete with everyone else, which is not always the case in other sports. The best performing dogs tend to be Border Collies, Tervuren and Malinois Belgian Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherd Dogs. To avoid orthopaedic problems, participation should be delayed until the dog has completed its growth stage.

Disc dog competitions are a great way to have fun, expend energy and pit yourself against others without becoming too competitive. Provided the dog is not more interested in eating the disc than fetching it, of course!

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