Jump to section
German Shepherd Dogs, (GSDs), are high energy, athletic dogs. Both traits are necessary for learning how to catch a frisbee! Ideally, frisbee dogs are between 30 and 60 pounds, so some GSDs can be a little large for frisbee playing, but that does not mean that they cannot do it, it really depends on the individual dog. Sometimes dogs from breeds that are known as being excellent frisbee dogs show no interest in catching a frisbee, while others cannot get enough of the sport. GSDs are no exception; some are highly motivated to catch frisbees, some could care less. You will need to determine if your dog is a good candidate for learning frisbee by assessing his interest level. This does not mean you cannot encourage and get your German Shepherd interested in frisbees if he does not initially show interest, but remember some dogs are more motivated than others. Also, if your GSD has any joint or hip issues you should avoid frisbee catching, as jumping will aggravate orthopedic injuries or conditions that may be present.
Catching frisbee is an excellent way to spend time with your GSD, giving him cardiovascular exercise, building muscle, developing coordination and creating a team relationship. Young shepherds who are still developing and growing will not be ready for frisbee catching, as the jumping and wear and tear of the sport put excessive stress on developing skeletons and musculature. Wait until your dog is fully developed and ensure your GSD is in good shape to learn how to catch a frisbee. If your dog likes to chase and catch balls and sticks, transitioning him to catching a frisbee may be a natural progression.
To catch a frisbee, your German Shepherd will need to be very focused on the frisbee so that when you toss it out, he can track it in the air and then mark the best moment to leap up in the air and grab it in his mouth. You will then want your GSD to return the frisbee to you to be thrown again. Some owners teach their dog to release the frisbee on command, others have another frisbee available so that the dog will drop the first one in order to retrieve the second frisbee.
This activity will involve three skills: throwing, catching and retrieving. A disc that hovers in the air will be easier for your GSD to catch. Be careful not to allow your GSD to become too possessive of the frisbee or disc, or allow him to play with it unsupervised in case it breaks and could then injure your dog.
There are special frisbees or throwing discs available commercially at pet supply stores designed especially for dogs. These are better for dogs than standard frisbees, as they are made from softer materials and are less likely to cause injury to your dog or break apart and produce small jagged pieces that could harm your pet. Many training frisbees are made from fabric and rope and are good for getting started with a young dog, as they resemble toys he may already have. Many owners use two frisbees when teaching their dog to catch frisbees, to aid in teaching the dog to release the frisbee after it has been caught.
Do not leave your dog unsupervised with throwing discs as they can come apart if your dog chews on them and injure your dog. Make sure your dog is healthy before teaching him to catch a frisbee and has no joint issues that could become aggravated by exercise and jumping. You will also need a leash and treats when teaching your GSD to catch a frisbee, to control your dog out in the open when necessary, and to reinforce successful catching behavior.
The Generate Interest Method
Use a "dog" frisbee
Start with two “beginner” frisbees, soft frisbees or frisbees made from rope and cloth.
Get your dog interested in the frisbee. Put some peanut butter on it and introduce it to your dog to investigate--talk excitedly.
Roll along the ground
Roll the frisbee along the ground for your GSD to chase. Call your dog back to you and produce a second frisbee so your dog will drop the first one. Repeat.
Toss to retrieve
Start to toss the frisbee in the air and let your GSD retrieve it.
Encourage catching in the air
Eventually start using a disc that will hover and toss it out until your dog learns to track it in the air and starts jumping up to retrieve it.
The Fetch then Catch Method
Teach your dog to play fetch with a tennis ball, stick or favorite toy. Play with the object so your dog is interested in it. Toss the object out for your dog to retrieve.
Call your dog back to you and ask him to release it by saying “drop it” or “let go”. If your dog does not release the object, turn and walk away so your dog learns that the game is over if he does not give you back the object.
Introduce a frisbee
Once your dog is proficient at retrieval and releasing objects, introduce a soft frisbee to your GSD. Toss the frisbee for your dog to retrieve.
Teach to jump for the frisbee
Start holding the frisbee up higher and encourage your dog to jump up and take it from your hand.
Toss a frisbee that hovers for a period of time and encourage your dog to jump up and catch it. This may take some time, so do not become discouraged or reprimand your GSD for failing to catch it. Keep practicing until your dog is successful in snatching the frisbee from the air, then throw a big treat party with lots of praise and excitement.
The Shaping the Catch Method
Present a frisbee
Hold a frisbee in your hand at a low height, you may need to bend over or get on your knees so you are at your dog's height. Encourage your GSD to investigate the frisbee. When he does, provide a treat.
Reinforce grabbing the frisbee
Wait for your dog to grab the frisbee in his mouth. Let go of the frisbee so your dog has it in his mouth, reinforce with praise.
Reinforce releasing the frisbee
Ask your dog to release the frisbee; say “let go”. Hold a second frisbee out to encourage your dog to drop the first one, so he knows the game is going to continue.
Raise the frisbee
Now hold the frisbee up higher so your dog has to reach for the frisbee to take it. Reinforce with treats and praise.
Swing the frisbee in an arc
Hold the frisbee in your outstretched arm and swing your arm around in a circle so your dog has to follow it before grabbing it. Reinforce tracking and grabbing the frisbee at the end of the arc with praise and treats. Hold the frisbee up higher so your dog has to jump to grab it in his mouth. Reinforce.
Start shaping catching the frisbee
Gradually start tossing the frisbee for your GSD to retrieve. At first, he may only catch it on the ground. Continue to practice holding it in your hand above for him to jump up and grab. When he catches a frisbee in the air, throw a big treat party with lots of excitement and praise.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021