Xs and Os
There are 2 kinds of patterns in Freestyle: Linear and Circular; Xs and Os.
Xs are the linear patterns, out and back, passes, zig zags, overs, etc. Os are the round patterns: around the world, outruns, flanking maneuvers, field circumnavigation.
Each team has a preference, X or O, and this preference should be dictated by the dog. In which pattern does the dog function best? A Malinois? Most likely an X dog. A Border Collie? Most likely an O dog. Of course these are not hard and fast rules by breed, but each breed tends to have a particular body type that dictates the kinds of patterns that the dog is most com fortable with. Of course there are exceptions.
What is important, is that we, as handlers, pay attention to the patterns that our dogs are comfortable with, and play to that strength. This will help our dogs not only look smooth and comfortable, but feel comfortable and have fun playing this game. Training against instinct is difficult. Trying to cram an X dog into an O game is really silly, but we see people doing it all the time. Sometimes it is a veteran player trying to push his new dog into his old dog’s game. Sometimes it is a noob trying to emulate a team that they have been impressed by. Regardless of the situation, trying to make a dog play freestyle in patterns that do not fit his or her style will just cause problems with our games.
That being said, simply playing only to our dog’s strength in terms of patterns and ignoring the opposite pattern makes the routine too one dimensional: we wind up with a tennis match – tick-tock, or NASCAR – Stop! it makes me dizzy.
The key to having an interesting and diverse routine is to mix it up a bit. If we are running a really round Border Collie, like Leilani, toss in a few linear moves; a zig zag, some passes, or some big overs. If your are running a Malinois, throw in a flanking maneuver here or there, or a rounded 3 disc sequence, what about 1/2 a round the world? There are so many things we can do to add a little flavor to our routines, let’s talk about a few of these things, shall we?
Xs from Os – Creating Lines from Arcs
Let’s say we have an O type dog, a Border Collie with a real pretty outrun, or a frantic jack that cruises around you like a little land shark. Trying to get them to straighten out can seem like an impossible task, but it is not really that difficult.
If we can send our dog through our legs from back to front, we have a ready made linear move. All we have to do is throw the disc while the dog is still underneath us. So we send him around, as if we are just throwing toss and fetch, call him through, from back to front, and make our toss. Bingo, there is a straight line. Simple eh?
But that’s only one move. How do we counter the victory lap, or the outrun after the catch? There are a few things we can do to straighten out the outrun after the catch.
We scream our dog’s name and run directly away from him. This should really freak him out. “What?” “Whoa! I better get over there!” Once he breaks for us and is hauling tail directly at us, we stop, reward him with a roller,a tug, or his favorite move, and bingo! we got a reversal of field.
Run Him Into a Wall
No, we are not going to run him into a wall literally. What we are going to do is to throw towards a ‘wall’ or a corner, so he must stop and turn immediately and return to us. We need to use some common sense here, and be very careful.
If you are not confident that you can place the disc in the right place, or your dog is the kind of dog that will go through an object in pursuit of plastic, you do not want to try this.
Of course we don’t need a wall to accomplish this. We can use any obstacle: a hedge, a fence, a backstop, a soccer goal, field flags, any obstacle that will force your dog to reverse field will work.
Run Him Against His Instincts
A herding dog that is even slightly unbalanced, can easily be made to reverse field when moving against their strong side. So a dog that does clockwise circular patterns very well could be ran in a counter clockwise fashion, making the reversal of field, an X maneuver highly likely.
Feed Him Directionally
One other thing that we can do to straighten out a round dog is to simply feed him in the direction he is already moving.
All we have to do is to call a drop, and as soon as that happens, we place a disc in the path that our dog is already traveling in. This is a really cool excercise, and can yield some really sweet linear patterns.
We are simply going to follow our dog’s lead. He makes the catch, we call the drop, and make the throw to where is is already heading. We don’t try to control anything, we are simply reading our dogs and reacting.
Os from Xs – Turning Lines Into Arcs
There are a few ways we can get some circular patterns from our linear dogs as well. Let’s talk about them.
Get Out on the Flank
The easiest way to get some circular patterns from a linear dog is to send him around and make a toss out to our left or right. Starting from the set up move allows us to start this movement out with a circular pattern. All we have to do then is to call the out and throw upfield. There we go; a nice little ‘J’ or ‘U’ pattern.
Short, Medium, Long
Another thing we can do is to make a short toss, followed by a medium toss, followed by a long toss. The closer they are together, the more round the pattern will look. We can get special props from the judges if we can get 2 or 3 discs in the air at once.
If we set up to the short side of the field, meaning facing the judges or the sidelines, we can make this pattern develop quite easy. So many of us never even think of playing to the short side of the field, and it is a shame, as we can get quite a bit of help developing patterns from the boundaries that make up the field.
Make a Box
A poor man’s around the world can be made by simple making a box around us on the field and hitting the corners of that box. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4; bang, bang, bang, bang. Here we are going to lead our dog, throw before he has time to hit the brakes and reverse field. Lead him.
This might be difficult for some of us, as our dogs will not be expecting the disc at the next corner. That’s OK, we need to give him a couple tries (keep the same distance, and orientation on the field; things need to be exactly the same or our dog might be too confused to learn the pattern) before we write it off as something he cannot learn.
Again, feel free to use a corner of the field or the sidelines to set up the confines of this box. The boundaries of the field are our friends, we shouldn’t be afraid of them.
Pay Attention to Balance
We need to be very attentive to our dogs latent instinctual O patterns. Consider Balance as being left or right handed. Dogs either like to move to the left or to their right, there usually is a dominant direction. This can be observed while watching our dogs spin before they lay down. They will spin in their strong direction. Flipping is also a Right-Left Handed kind of situation.
Dogs also display preference for moving away or moving towards both the target and the handler. Some really drivey dogs will only turn towards the toy, or may only turn towards the handler, or always move to run. All of these things can affect the patterns we create on the field.
Our job is to discover and use this information to our advantage.