Dog Athlete Spotlight: Disc Dog Champion Muse Soars Over the Competition
Jeff Hill has competed in disc dog competitions with his Furrari Aussies pups for years, but it wasn’t until Muse came along that the titles really started rolling in.
Since 2013, Muse has won multiple state, national and world championship titles, including the 2018 UFO North American Cup Championship, the 2017 UFO World Cup Throw and Catch Championship and the 2017 Skyhoundz Freestyle World Championship.
“When I got Muse, she was my fifth disc dog,” Hill says. “All of my dogs start early playing with a disc and compete. Muse is a naturally talented dog but almost any dog can do it.”
Muse is a seasoned champion now, but the thrill of the chase keeps her reaching for the prize.
The Art of Throwing and Catching
Dog Frisbee competition has become one of the ultimate dog sports.
“Disc Dog is the official name for canine Frisbee events—Frisbee being the registered trademark belonging to Wham-O, the company that popularized the toy in the 1950s,” says Haeleigh Hyatt a positive dog trainer and owner of Aim High Canines in the Greater Boston area. Though she doesn’t work with Muse, Hyatt is a world-class exhibitor in the sport of canine freestyle flying disc with her own dogs.
“Because there are many different brands, the catch-all term ‘disc’ is used when referring to the sport,” she says.
As the name implies, much of disc sports involve dogs catching discs.
“The most classic disc game is called toss and fetch, which begins with both human and dog standing behind the start line with a disc,” Hyatt says. “Over the course of a minute, a traditional game of fetch ensues, with the team earning points every time the dog catches the disc in mid-flight.”
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Hill
Clearing the Way to the Winner’s Circle
At the first competition Muse attended, where she was only 10 weeks old and not competing, Hill says they knew Muse was meant to fly high. Hill was walking around with Muse, taking puppy pictures and enjoying the event when Muse suddenly bolted off.
“We immediately [were] running after her and calling her only to see why she took off,” says Hill. “There were two people about 50 yards away throwing a disc back and forth—that was the moment we knew she’d be a disc dog.”
“Unlike a lot of dog sports, there are many [disc dog] events that have no age restrictions, [so] it’s not unusual to see puppies competing, although the competition is really for experience and having fun rather than trying to win,” Hill adds. “In either her first or second competition, another experienced competitor said, ‘she might end up being your best dog!’ because it was obvious she was a natural. I responded back, ‘I think she already is!’”
Training Like a Champ
When it comes to disc dog competitions, games often test different aspects of a dog/handler team’s strengths, such as distance, accuracy, speed and strategy, Hyatt says. As a result, training is all about improving those aspects while making sure your dog is actually good at catching the disc, she says.
Muse and Hill’s training involves individual and team training.
“There are several types of training both Muse and I do individually and as a team to compete at a high level,” Hill explains. “I do arm exercises, run and practice throwing by myself most days of the week. Muse does strengthening and conditioning on inflatable dog exercise equipment about once a week.”
Hill, who lives in Anaheim, California, also has a custom swimming pool for the dogs in the backyard, where Muse gets to jump in for some extra minutes of exercise every day.
“She also does jump grid and Cavaletti training every few months to keep her jumping skills sharp, and together we do hikes and trail running a couple of times a week,” Hill adds. This training is a type of jumping agility training that’s also used with horses. “Throwing discs with her and working on tricks is the least amount of time and focus, and we probably only do this for 2-3 minutes each day on average. When my dogs are younger, they do some of these more frequently, such as jump training, working on tricks and catching discs.”
Don’t let the hard training routine fool you; for 6-year-old Muse, it’s all about fun.
“When Muse sees me pick up a disc, she just about loses her mind,” Hill says. “She starts running around, squeaking, eyes bulging out and her little nub going back and forth so fast, it’s a blur. Imagine how much fun she has when I start throwing the disc!”
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Hill
In addition to ongoing training, competing dogs also need optimal nutrition from a performance dog food. Diets like Eukanuba Premium Performance dog food are specially formulated to offer competing dogs the proper nutrients and balance for lean muscle development and sustained energy.
Flying Into the World Championships
What’s next for Muse and Hill? They are working on new tricks for world championships season, Hill says.
“The best competitors around the world gather for the world finals,” he says, “so we are tested against the best of the best.”
Though several events are scheduled, Hill and Muse will compete in freestyle and toss and catch events.
“Toss and fetch is a single disc event where you get as many points as you can in 60 seconds by throwing to scoring zones that increase in value as distance increases up to 40 yards,” Hill explains.
Freestyle is a little trickier and one of the most entertaining events to participate in and watch, he adds.
“During freestyle, teams are given 90 seconds to 2 minutes on the field to strut their stuff, showcasing their best disc tricks in a choreographed routine to music,” Hyatt says. “You may see leg weaves, flips, dog catches, stalls and vaults, among many other tricks.”
There’s only one catch—in order to be scored, tricks must begin or end with a dog catching a disc.
“Judging for freestyle is a little more complicated than judging other disc games—it’s like critiquing a work of art,” Hyatt says. “That said, there are some benchmarks that are typically used to fairly score each routine: How well the dog and handler work as a team, the overall ‘wow factor’ and the success rate (how many times the dog caught the disc versus how many times it was thrown).”
No doubt Muse will come home with a few extra titles under her belt—er, collar.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Hill
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Jeff Hill