When the back-to-back UFO Canine Frisbee World Cup Tournament and Quadruped Canine Frisbee Disc Competition get under way on the Arapahoe Community College campus this weekend, free-flying Fidos from across the nation will be going for the gold, competing in a sport that's uncommonly joyful and a blast to watch, even if it is just for the dogs.
But it isn't all fun and games.
A dog that loves to snatch flying saucers midair on the arc of a soaring leap is really just a canine workaholic. That's why herding breeds, such as Christi Goodman's Australian shepherd Red Rocket Rider, a four-time Colorado state champion looking for his fifth win this year, tend to excel in the sport. "The Australian shepherd is an active, smart breed," Goodman says. "But if you don't give them a job, they'll create one for themselves. Sometimes it's eating your house." And the truth is, humans play a leading role in the sport as well: Every disc dog champion belongs to a two-headed team. In fact, more than a few disc dogs are also rescued dogs, adopted through shelters or dog-rescue societies.
Goodman adopted Rider six years ago after taking on the pup as a foster parent. "It took me about three minutes to decide I wanted to keep him," she admits, although she can't exactly say why. "He was kind of funny-looking; he was gangly and had huge ears and not a lot of fur. And he was very insecure. I guess he just grabbed my heart." But, she adds, runty Rider, small for his breed, turned out to be lithe, healthy and well put-together, with a necessary predeliction for putting himself in high places: "He's always been inclined to jump up on things -- picnic tables, the back of the couch, the top of the fridge." And he's a confirmed showboat, to boot: "He loves to show off. I realized that when we did a show for the Colorado Rapids with a good crowd. When he caught the disc, the crowd roared, and he looked out and went, 'Hey! They're yelling for me!' And he just started strutting around."
Longtime competitor Rick Brydum, co-founder of Colorado Disc Dogs and now a mentor to the region's rising stars, says any dog's success in the flying-disc field is firmly tied to its human partner's level of commitment. It's actually up to the flinger, rather than the retriever, to come up with new tricks. The humans call the shots, Brydum says, while the dogs simply react out of the sheer joy of the sport.
Dogs with a calling also tend to flourish when there's a special bond -- call it a working relationship -- with their partners, not unlike the one formed in the field by a shepherd and his herding companion. But you can't just take your dog to a park and start tossing a Frisbee around and expect the pooch to know what the heck to do with it. "It's easier to work with a dog if there are others around who do some thing," he says. "I tell people to keep it really low at first, keep it simple -- even roll the disc on the ground." Regular workouts (Brydum advocates an hour daily) are important, too: CDD members and mutts get together at least once monthly to shoot the disc and compare notes.
After that, it's all left to instinct. "Most dogs, if they're truly excited about seeing a Frisbee, can be taught tricks," notes Brydum. "You can tell by their 'prey drive': How much do they want to go for that Frisbee? When you take it out of the trunk of the car, do they look at that...or do they look over there at the tree?" If it's the former, take the disc and run.
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