How To Train A Dog To Catch A Frisbee

Kate Basedow, LVT

Playing catch with your dog makes for hours of fun but how to train a dog to catch a frisbee? While fetching is easy, not every dog takes to catching quite off the bat. Your pup is going to need a helping hand to become an expert flying disk catcher. 

So how do you train a dog to catch? It all comes down to getting your dog to understand that you want him to catch your mid-air toss and bring it back to you.

Frisbees are lightweight, durable, safe, and can even double up as a great workout tool, so adding this fun game into your daily walks and playtime with your dog means a great time all-round!

In this article, we are going to look at the A to Z of frisbee catching so that by the end, your pup will be a champion frisbee catcher!

Why do dogs like to fetch? 

So why do dogs love playing fetch? Well, it’s because they get to exercise their brains and bodies at the same time. 

When you throw a frisbee, your dog has to figure out what to do next: he needs to decide whether or not to chase after the disc, pick it up, and bring it back to his owner. This requires a lot of brainpower, which helps strengthen both sides of the canine brain.

Plus, many dogs come from working breeds. That means completing set tasks is part of their DNA and their want to please their pack leader (you) is also inherent. So when you throw a frisbee or ball, your dog automatically knows that he should run after it and bring it back to where you are standing.

Prey drive is also a factor for many dogs. They see a moving object and their prey drive kicks in so they instinctively chase after it.

If that instinctive urge wasn’t enough, he then gets rewarded with praise or treats. In other words, he learns that he gets something nice like lots of praise or a dollop of peanut butter, and makes you happy whenever he brings something back to you, which is a win, win all around.

At what age can you teach a dog to catch a frisbee? 

Remember that all pups need to walk before they can run…and run before they can catch! Ensuring your dog is old enough to understand the concept of the game and have the physical capability to actually catch a frisbee is important. 

The age at which you start teaching your dog to catch a frisbee depends on many things, including your dog’s breed, size, and personality.

Generally speaking, puppies between 8 weeks and 3 months old are perfect candidates for learning frisbee catching. 

Learning to catch the frisbee up close with minimal speed/jumping/impact is fine at any age. But full-out hard running and jumping is a big no-no until the dog has fully matured and their growth plates have closed (usually around 12-18 months for most breeds – earlier for toys, later for giant breeds). High-impact and repetitive activity can do permanent damage to their joints and hinder normal growth.

For example, your dog is a rescue and you’re unsure about your dog’s age, ask your vet for advice.

How to teach a dog to catch a frisbee

Before you get started 

Like any activity with a set outcome, we want to ensure we are setting our pets up for success before we get started. Some dogs will take naturally to the task, whereas others will need some dedicated training and encouragement. Either way, having everything you need to get off on the best foot will help to reach the end goal faster. 

Choose the right frisbee

Frisbee” is a trademarked name for one brand of flying discs. Like Hoover or Velcro, we tend to use the brand name many of us know and love rather than the official name. But Fido doesn’t care about the brand, just about the rewarding experience and quality time with his best friend.

A good quality disc is essential. The material used in making them varies greatly, but generally, a thick plastic disc is better than rubber. Rubber tends to wear out quickly and break easily. Also, make sure that there aren’t any sharp edges on the frisbee. These could cause injury to your pet.

You can also get dog-specific flying discs which can often be softer. A floppy disc or soft fabric disc can be a great option for puppies as they are usually easier to pick up off the ground than plastic frisbees. My favorite is the Soft Bite Floppy Disc which comes in multiple sizes and works for all breeds.

If you’re looking for a little extra motivation, try using a toy instead of a frisbee. Just remember to make sure that your dog isn’t chewing on the frisbee or any of the toys you use.

Some dogs chew so much on a plastic disc that it creates sharp edges. Pieces of plastic can break off and create a choking hazard.

Have treats ready 

Using treats as a training tool works well for all dogs, but this is especially true for dogs that are motivated by food. If you use food rewards, make sure to use small pieces so your dog doesn’t choke on them. Don’t overfeed your pup either, as this could lead to obesity later down the line.

Find a good location

Just like in real estate, location is everything. When it comes to teaching your dog to catch a frisbee, there are three main things to consider. 

  • Be distraction-free: when the goal is to teach your dog anything, you need to have their full attention. Therefore, having a private space, rather than an open field or park will help to keep your dogs concentration. This is especially true for puppies, as new sounds, smells, and friends are way more interesting than anything you have.
  • Ensure you have enough space: while it’s a good idea to be enclosed, like in a backyard, so that it is unlikely your frisbee will go AWOL or another excited canine will steal your frisbee mid toss, make sure there is enough space for your dog to be able to run and jump freely.
  • Use a learning area that has soft and even ground underfoot: with dogs, just like children, it is important to have safe areas for play. In those first stages of learning to catch, you need your dog to be in a location with good footing. Grass, rubber matting, or turf are best to start. If you have a miniature breed, carpeted floors work as well. 

Get your dog used to the game first

You’ll notice that most dogs play fetch with their owners. This is because they’ve been conditioned to expect praise and treats when they return with whatever they find. It’s important to get your dog used to fetch first.

Start by simply tossing the frisbee and see what he does naturally, this will give you a good sense of how quickly they can grasp the idea of the game as well as how much training they are going to need. 

Be patient 

Rome wasn’t built in a day. The key to getting your dog to learn to catch a frisbee is patience. Every dog is different and some dogs, whether down to their age or breed, may just take longer to get the hang of it. You may not get results right away, but if you stick with it, eventually your dog will pick up on the concept. 

How to train a dog to catch a frisbee?

Now you have everything you need to make this training session a success, we need to consider the logistics of how the training will work.

Introduce your dog to the frisbee 

Let your dog and your frisbee make friends. Quite often younger dogs can be scared of new, strange objects. So making sure your pup knows this weird circle thing is for fun is a great place to start. Again, you can get the basics of fetch down with a squeaker toy first and then substitute the toy for a frisbee.

Teach retrieving 

When you throw the frisbee, make sure you do it from a distance where your dog cannot reach it. This means you should have a safe spot where you can toss the frisbee without worrying about your dog will try turning it into a game of tug.

Throw the frisbee straight into the air and let your dog chase after it.

This is the point where you want to start working on catching the frisbee.

Gradually increase the distance

As your dog gets better at catching the frisbee, gradually increase the distance between you and your dog until they can retrieve it from a reasonable distance.

If your dog has never had any experience with a frisbee before, don’t worry too much about throwing it far. Just keep increasing the distance until your dog is comfortable with the idea. If you’re having trouble, you could always use a tennis ball instead.

Keep your dog’s energy level up

Make sure your dog has plenty of water and food during this process. If your dog gets tired, chances are they won’t be able to concentrate on the task at hand.

Assess your dog’s fitness level

Some dogs are natural athletes. 

For example, Aussies can do backflips from a standstill like it was the easiest thing ever. But Belgian Tervurens are very athletic, but not flexible, and also horrible catchers. Tervs can catch a frisbee thrown long and low that they chase and snatch out of the air, but if you just toss one to them it’s hopeless.

If your dog is out of shape or overweight, they are more likely to get hurt jumping. If the dog has really poor structure, they are more likely to get hurt even if they are in great shape.  

This is not as big an issue for casual play, but if you want to do competitive disc dog stuff, you need a well-built dog.

Work on your throwing technique

Work on your technique so you are throwing consistently. This will help your dog figure out catching more quickly. 

Long low throws are the safest. This way your dog’s jump will be a big stride. The higher they jump and the more flips and turns they do, the greater risk of injury. 

Praise your dog after each successful catch and retrieval 

If your dog catches the frisbee, reward them with a head rub and lots of praise.

If your dog drops the frisbee, don’t punish them. Instead, praise them for being smart and keep trying again until you get it right.

Praising your dog after they catch the frisbee is better than giving them a treat. Some dogs become fixated on receiving a food reward and will lose motivation to catch a disc for praise alone.

What if my dog isn’t interested? 

It’s normal for dogs to show little interest in something new. If your dog is struggling with this exercise, there are ways to help them out.

  • Try throwing the frisbee closer to your dog so they can grab it more easily.
  • Put the frisbee in an interesting location such as a tree branch or even a fence post.
  • Give your dog a bigger reward for picking up the frisbee.

Key takeaways on frisbee training  

Throwing disc-shaped toys is not only fun for you, but an amazing exercise for puppies and adult dogs alike. Disc training can be a great bonding experience but may take a little bit of time for your pup to get the hang of.  

Starting with the right frisbee, even choosing a disc specifically for training purposes, with slow throws, plenty of praise, and positive reinforcement. 

If you’re looking for more advice on training your dog, why not check out this article on puppy training.