Anyone who’s ever tossed a flying disc to a dog can appreciate the satisfaction of a perfect throw and catch. While the exact origins are unclear, the sport of disc dog has been a part of canine culture since at least the 1970s. Disc dog has been around in some form for decades, but the sport, derived from the age-old game of fetch, evolved largely under the auspices of independent governing bodies outside of the American Kennel Club.
In October 2019, however, the AKC announced it will begin recognizing accomplishments of disc dogs participating in UpDog Challenge with an “AKC Disc Dog” title. A premier disc dog organization offering ten unique disc games, UpDog Challenge currently includes over 10,230 teams, with over 440 events held in 2019.
“It’s exciting to watch dogs’ enthusiasm for the sport,” says Doug Ljungren, AKC Executive Vice President of Sports and Events. “The AKC is delighted to associate with UpDog, and feels disc dog events will complement the many other AKC sports and activities.”
History Of Disc Dog
Asked to name the most iconic disc dog of all time, many in the sport might give the same answer: Ashley Whippet. The world-famous Whippet was born in Ohio in 1971 and gifted soon after to a man named Alex Stein. As Ashley grew, Stein realized the precocious pup’s talents for catching flying discs. So, the pair moved to California in search of fame and fortune.
One day in 1974, Stein snuck Ashley onto the field in the middle of a Los Angeles Dodgers game to perform disc dog tricks. Naturally, Stein was arrested and Ashley nearly disappeared, but the pair had made their mark on fans. After being reunited, Stein and Ashley went on to perform at the Super Bowl and the White House. The pair captured the first three Frisbee Dog World Championships in 1975, 1976, and 1977. Moreover, their exploits succeeded in helping to popularize the sport of disc dog across America and the world.
In the years following Ashley Whippet’s whirlwind career, several independent bodies formed to further the sport of disc dog. Rules vary by organization, but some constants existed, like the requirement that dogs catch discs on the fly. One day in 2014, a group of dedicated disc dog competitors decided that the sport was in need of another organization with a new set of rules.
“UpDog came to be when several disc doggers decided to stop discussing what could be different in disc sports, and started putting those changes into action,” says UpDog Challenge CEO Kat Fahle. “We’ve made the sport more accessible to new players by having games that allow shorter throws, rollers, and floppy discs.”
A “roller” refers to a disc that has fallen from the air but continues to display forward momentum in any direction on the ground. In UpDog Challenge, rollers are allowed in levels 1 and 2, and “ties” are ruled in favor of the dog. Rollers are a controversial topic in some disc dog circles. However, their allowance in UpDog has created a more inclusive environment for teams of all breeds and skill levels. Indeed, the UpDog mission statement affirms that “everyone deserves an equal opportunity at success.”
UpDog Challenge Disc Dog Games
Among other inclusive aspects of UpDog Challenge is the variety of games offered. Currently, UpDog Challenge includes seven disc-only games as well as three disc+agility games. The addition of agility obstacles is a unique feature that helps to encourage dog sport athletes from different disciplines to give disc dog a try.
“Each of the UpDog games are designed to build different team and disc skills with the ultimate goal of showcasing these skills through creative expression in the game of Freestyle,” says Fahle. “We have challenged the highest level players by creating games that involve different strategies and a system where a team can level up to a higher level of play.”
Disc Only Games
Time Warp (Levels 1 & 2)
- A fast-paced event where dog and owner must complete three catches (one in each highlighted zone), with owner, dog, and disc subsequently converging back behind the start line, all in under 60 seconds.
ThrowNGo (Levels 1 & 2)
- A multiple-scoring zone setup where teams score different points for discs caught in different zones. In general, longer throws and those in the bonus zone in the middle of the field will score the highest.
Spaced Out (Levels 1 & 2)
- A precision-driven game where a roll of the dice determines your fate. Handlers are assigned to one of five throwing zones based on the dice. Throwing zones and catch zones for dogs are spaced throughout the field.
4WayPlay (Levels 1 & 2)
- A high-scoring game where teams try to earn as many points as possible in different quadrants. The dog must make catches in four separate “score zones” while the owner completes throws from the center “Sweet Spot.”
- A distance-driven game where 1 yard = 1 point and the winning score is the highest cumulative point total after three throws. A final ‘sweet shot’ round offers teams a final chance to score with an extra-long toss.
- Don’t get greedy! Handlers can throw to any zone without repeating back-to-back. Catches earn different points in different zones. Teams must complete one catch from all four throwing zones before time runs out, or they lose everything.
- An open, creativity-driven “game” where teams are judged on 4 criteria: human performance, dog performance, teamwork, and success. “Celebrity” judges from outside the disc dog world may appear here.
Disc + Agility Games
FunKey (Levels 1 & 2)
- A game combining the multi-zone aspects of 4WayPlay with the obstacles found in agility. In each zone, dogs complete obstacles for the opportunity to complete catches and earn points.
- A diverse game with seven different field set-ups, featuring seven agility jumps spread across 15 zones. Score by alternating jumps and catches until catches are completed in five different zones and the center Sweet Spot.
Frizgility (Levels 1 & 2)
- An agility-driven game wherein dogs must maneuver through 3 obstacles before completing a catch in the catch zone, with the obstacle/catch routine repeated as often as possible in 60 seconds.
For an in-depth look at each event, including different field set-ups, scoring strategies, and more, check out the UpDog game demonstrations on YouTube.
Achievements, UPs, & AKC Disc Dog Titles
In keeping with UpDog’s fun and quirky competition culture, achievements are awarded in each game, based on points scored and the manner they’re earned. For example, the ‘High Roller’ achievement is awarded in Time Warp for completed rounds using only rollers. Conversely, the ‘Terminator’ achievement is awarded for 75 or more points earned in any way.
However, achievements like these are awarded just for fun. Points scored during gameplay are what ultimately count towards unlocking coveted awards known as “UPs”. Depending on points accumulated, dogs can earn a Bronze UP, Silver UP, Gold UP, Platinum UP, or the crown jewel, Unobtanium UP.
Under the new AKC Disc Dog title system, dogs with bronze UPs in three or more games are eligible for a Disc Dog Bronze (DDB) title, while top dogs earning Unobtanium UPs in six or more games may apply for the Disc Dog Unobtanium Elite (DDUE) title. Below is a full breakdown of the AKC title structure.
“AKC Disc Dog titles are a great new aspect to UpDog,” says Fahle. “It allows existing UpDog competitors the opportunity to earn AKC titles with their dog. And encourages AKC competitors who have not yet tried the sport to try something new and fun with their dog. It’s a win/win situation. It’s great to see that, with this partnership, whole new segments of dog enthusiasts will be introduced to the sport.”
Visit UpDog Challenge to learn more about getting your dog started in disc dog, plus detailed game breakdowns, rules, upcoming events, photos, and more.