There’s no doubt that your exuberant Labrador jumps at the opportunity to get outside and play a few high-energy games, but which ones are safe for your Lab? Many Lab owners gravitate towards an energetic game of Frisbee, but should Labs be playing Frisbee at all?
Can Labradors catch Frisbees and should they? Labradors, when correctly trained, can catch a Frisbee very well. If the right Frisbee is used along with correct training, Labradors can and should play Frisbee. Labradors are superior to many breeds in terms of obedience, agility, and sporting activities, including Frisbee.
Note: Although “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of WHAM-O Holding, Ltd., this term continues to be used generically of any flying disc. Understand that throughout this article, we will continue to use the term “Frisbee” in a similar generic way of any flying disc on the market.
When it comes to playing Frisbee, the age, physical condition, and fitness levels of your dog will come into play. If your Labrador is personally averse to physical exercise (which is rare for the breed), then you might have a hard time teaching it to play Frisbee. To learn more about a Labrador’s fitness for playing Frisbee, how to teach your Labrador to catch a Frisbee safely, and which are the best Frisbees for your pet, read on.
Are Labradors Good Frisbee Dogs?
The simple fact of the matter is that Labradors are good Frisbee dogs. In fact, they are listed as one of the top 5 dogs to play and enjoy such a game. Labradors have a variety of characteristics that make them great Frisbee dogs. To name a few, they are:
- Hardworking dogs that learn quickly
- Natural hunters and retrievers
- Highly energetic
- Eager to please
- Extremely agile
- Gentle by nature
Are Frisbees Safe for Labradors?
Unfortunately, not all dogs are designed to play physically impactful sports such as Frisbee. In 2014, according to The Telegraph, a dog show actually banned Frisbee from its competitions. That being said, it depends on the size of the throwing disc relative to the dog. You cannot expect a poodle to play Frisbee with a hard disc that’s nearly double its size. When playing Frisbee, your first priority is the health and safety of your pet.
According to Pet MD, It is safe to play Frisbee (or “flying disc” as it is sometimes called) with dogs that are lean, fit, and weigh under 50 pounds. It’s also important to play Frisbee with dogs that are bred for hunting and retrieval, as it is in their natural instincts to retrieve an object. If you have a dog that is considered high-risk for hip dysplasia in its lifetime, avoiding Frisbee is a good idea.
Trying to teach a dog that is not physically, mentally, or emotionally geared towards high-energy retrieval games is likely going to put the dog at risk of injury and/or frustration when they can’t perform the physical task. That being said; when it comes to choosing a dog who is an excellent candidate for playing Frisbee, Labradors are a great choice.
Teaching Your Labrador to Catch a Frisbee Safely in 6 Steps
Before you jump into teaching your Labrador to catch a Frisbee, you should ensure that your pet has already gone through the basics of obedience training and knows other basic games, such as fetch. Having said that, follow these 6 steps to teach your Labrador to catch a Frisbee.
Step 1: Introducing the Frisbee
Most dogs become accustomed to playing with a ball quite quickly and show an interest in them from an early age. When you add a hard round disc to the mix, your Lab may show little to no interest in it. This is why an introduction to this new toy is encouraged.
When you first introduce the Frisbee, make sure to show a high level of happiness and excitement so that your pet sees that this is something to be excited about. Give your dog plenty of praise and encouragement when he shows interest in the disc.
Step 2: Grabbing the Frisbee
The most important lesson for your dog to learn is how to catch the disc safely. It is best for the dog to catch the disc horizontally in the air. To teach him the grab, hold the disc horizontal to the ground at mouth height and encourage him to grab it. Let him grab it in his mouth, move it around to get his attention. When he does, let him hold it for a few seconds and then use your chosen “leave-it” or “drop” command. When he gets it right, treat him and praise him.
Related: If you’d like to save yourself a lot of time and frustration during this part of the process, you’ll want to check out our article, “8 Basic Commands Every Labrador Should Know,” where we teach in detail each of the 8 most important commands for any Labrador.
Step 3: Teaching Jumping & Grabbing
The concept of Frisbee is that the dog catches the disc while it is flying through the air. Your Labrador will need to be able to jump and grab the disc correctly with paws off the ground. Standing up in front of your Labrador, hold the disc above his head so that he has to jump slightly to grab it.
When he jumps and grabs the disc, reward him with a treat and verbally praise him. Repeat this step a number of times until you are comfortable that he understands the concept. Now you can try releasing the disc just before he grabs it, so that he no longer relies on you to hold the disc steady for grabbing. This will teach him to position himself correctly and react quickly to a moving disc in the air. Again, you will need to go through this exercise with him quite a few times before he perfects it.
Step 4: The First Throw
You shouldn’t jump straight into a full-blown game of Frisbee with your pet. Most Labradors will want to run and leap around to be involved in the fun, but that’s a good way to incur an injury.
Make the first few throws of the disc very low to the ground. You may also try rolling the disc on its side at first. This is just to get your Lab interested in chasing and retrieving the disc. At this point there’s no jumping or high energy needed just yet.
Step 5: Take It Up a Notch
Now that your dog is associating the Frisbee with fun and rewards, you can take it to the next level. Take the Frisbee into a wide-open space, like your yard or the park, and practice throwing it a little higher. Try for chest-height or slightly higher. At this point, you can expect your Lab to let the Frisbee fall before fetching it. You can use treats as a lure for your pet to bring the disc back to you.
Some people struggle with this phase as the dog typically runs away with the disc. You can use your treats as a bargaining chip. Once the dog has caught the disc, approach him and drop a treat at his feet. When he drops the Frisbee, praise him with “good dog” or similar and pick up the disc, ready to repeat the exercise.
You will have to repeat this step a number of times before your dog figures it out, but once he realizes that returning the disc results in a treat, he will have learned something valuable about the game. Don’t worry – you won’t have to treat forever. The more your dog learns and gets used to the game, the less frequently you will need to “lure and reward” with dog treats.
Make sure that you throw the disc gently to your Lab and not actually at his head. The first throws may result in the disc hitting your pet in the face, so try to avoid this. If your dog is learning to retrieve the disc and bring it back to you, you are onto a good thing.
Step 6: Higher Throws
When you are comfortable with the way your Labrador is catching the disc at low levels and he is effectively returning it to you, it is time to take the game to the next level. Try throwing the Frisbee a little higher and further and keep increasing the pace, height, and distance the more comfortable he gets with each height change. Now that your Labrador knows all of the steps and techniques involved in Frisbee, you should notice skills in this sport improving over time.
Best Frisbees for Labradors
You will find a variety of flying discs on the market. The trick is to choose a disc that flies nicely and can be retrieved and brought back without any injury to your Lab’s mouth, teeth, or jaw. And in the event of the Frisbee hitting your Lab in the face, you want to avoid injury, so don’t choose a throwing disc that is too hard.
If you have a Labrador puppy, you need to start with a soft and floppy throwing disc. The disc can also double as a tugging toy. For young dogs with teeth and jaws strong enough for a harder disc, you will find many soft rubbery discs on the market. While these are ideal for safety, they often don’t fly very far and a game of Frisbee can become unrewarding for both owner and pet.
A lightweight, rigid disc is ideal for a dog to learn Frisbee with. Be careful with these, however, as they can become damaged by sharp teeth and the resulting rough punctures may end up hurting your dog. The best Frisbee for a Labrador is a rigid rubberized disc that is puncture resistant. Since it is made of rubber, the potential for injury is minimal and the fact that it is somewhat weighty and solid means that it flies relatively well when thrown.
It’s safe to say that Labradors can and should play Frisbee if the correct Frisbee disc is used and sufficient training is provided in the sport.
Header Photo by Laura LaRose. CC License 2.0