Toss and Fetch Strategies
Toss and fetch strategy is a subject that has come up numerous times lately. By strategy I am talking about how to maximize your score and what makes up a good toss and fetch round. I ran a session at a clinic on this subject and have had several conversations with people since. Although freestyle is my main focus, I still spend a lot of time on toss and fetch and have been able to consistently score high and win toss and fetch events.
Components of a good toss/fetch round (see below for a video of what my toss/fetch looks like):
1. The catch (in bounds). This is far and away the most important aspect of a toss and fetch round. This may seem obvious but frequently competitors will be throwing to a zone that is beyond their capabilities either for distance or for accuracy. I do a lot of drills to teach my dogs to catch discs from every possible angle and height.
2. The retrieve. This is the next most important aspect of a toss and fetch round. This is because if a dog has a slow retrieve, the time loss is compounded over the distance of the throw. I teach a fast retrieve using restrained recalls and tugging as a reward for a retrieve.
3. The exchange. This is the aspect I spend the most time training, despite not being QUITE AS important as the catch and retrieve. A good saying in my line of work is it takes 85% of the effort to get the last 15% done. I prefer to have a dog hand me the disc and go around. There are many different styles people have, but a hand-off with around is my preferred method. The hand-off generally takes a lot of time to teach (I use shaping, treat rewards and tug training to teach it). Having a hand-off helps me for my next throw and is also very efficient as I am not wasting time trying to get the disc off the ground.
1. To get the most points possible in any of the current organizations, you must throw for the highest zone that you can successfully achieve. Throw to the farthest zone that you can have a catching success rate in bounds of 90-100%. This means if your range is 40 yards, you should be throwing 40 yards, not 30. Many times competitors wonder if they could get more points throwing 20 or 30 yards and getting possibly an extra throw or two in, but this is never true. I will explain why – longer throws have many advantages. Dogs get up to higher speed on the way out and on the retrieve (if you have a fast retrieve). Being you will have fewer throws, there are fewer exchanges and fewer times where the dog has to stop and turn around after the catch. These are all time wasters. To get the maximum points in every organization, you must throw to the maximum zone, preferably the last zone, typically around 40 yards. To do this, spend many, many hours by yourself at the park throwing hundreds of discs. Lastly, the highest scoring zone can be worth bonus points.
2. Throw high. By high, I don’t mean 50′ in the air. I mean more like 8-10′. Most people do not do this though. They tend to try to throw line drives that they feel will be easier for the dogs to catch. Or they feel their dog has trouble catching discs that are high in the air. I hate to break it to you, but you have to spend the time to teach your dog how to find the disc above their head! I do this with hundreds and hundreds of repetitions with the dogs at short distance. It forces them to look up for the disc. Do not fall into the trap of throwing discs out in front of your dog at a height of 4-5′. This is a huge problem waiting to happen. You aren’t teaching your dog anything except put their head down and run without thinking. Another problem with low throws is they so often end up in the dirt and the poor dog is running 25mph and has no chance to catch it. It’s dangerous (the dog can tumble) and I always say this is the one rule I have in toss/fetch. DO NOT OUT-THROW YOUR DOG!!! Throwing a disc too low is the same as out-throwing them. By throwing higher, your dog always has a chance to catch the disc. Once they learn to watch and track, they will be more successful. Lastly, a low throw typically results in the dog having a long outrun. With a higher throw the dog will have to slow down right before catching, which will allow them to turn and come back fast.
3. 5 throws at 40 yards. This is a magic number and something that is discussed frequently at the highest level of competition. You must have a fast dog with an efficient exchange to get 5 throws at 40 yards. Most dogs that can do it get the 5th throw off with under 5 seconds left. At most local or regional level competitions there are only a handful of dog/handler combinations that can do it. 5 throws at 30 yards is not the same thing. That’s not bad, but it’s a whole different game trying to get 5 throws at 40 yards!
Those are the most important aspects in terms of getting big scores. There are many other details on how to have a good toss and fetch round such as having fun, communication, positive thinking, timing yourself during practice, reading the wind and making adjustments on the fly.
One other interesting discussion is sending the dog around. First, I suggest you DO send your dog around one way or another. Some people do not do this and have had no problems, but I have seen others develop into a problem where a dog cuts the return short and simply turns around to take off. Having an around will avoid any possibility of the dog cheating or taking a shortcut. As a right handed thrower, most people send their dog around clockwise. Teach both directions! You may find one way works better for one reason or another. Whether the dog can track better going one way or another or if you prefer to see your dog as they go around or if you prefer to have the dog give you the disc a certain way. See my video below of how sending the dog the opposite way (to conventional thinking) can be a plus. She hands me the disc while I’m in my throwing position. When I send her, I can’t see her but I am comfortable that I don’t have any need to see her based on the chemistry we have.
As of 2015, I have the following target scores for a single round in each organization. Rules are always changing, so these numbers could be different in the future. Skyhoundz and USDDN 20+. UFO 15+. AWI 10+. To get these scores consistently, you have to be able to get 5 throws at 40 yards.
I don’t record a lot of toss and fetch rounds but here’s how I prefer to do a toss and fetch round. This is Muse from 2014.
Here’s Tooney from 2008 at the USDDN world finals with a 23 point round. She ended up with a 3rd place finish with 44 points. No hand-off but the rest is very smooth. My throwing form was a bit different then. I’m sure if I had a video from 1998, you would see that was also different from this. Constantly learning and adjusting every aspect of my game.