Dog days in Breck – disc contest returns to Carter Park
BRECKENRIDGE – Mark Brisse launches the long toss first, then lets the short one go. His pup, Gabby, takes off after the short and catches the Frisbee in stride on her way to the second disc, still floating downfield.
Gabby drops the first disc and hits full speed, reaching and catching the second disc just before it hits ground.
The move is called the salt and pepper, and it was the most astounding trick on display Saturday at the Colorado Disc Dogs competition at Carter Park in Breckenridge.
It’s a team sport, say disc dog practitioners – a bonding of man and man’s best friend with the goal of athletic excellence.
“Everyone out here, they work with what their dog is good at,” Brisse said. “They’re not going to try to figure out a trick and try to teach their dog that. Sometimes their dog will teach them how to develop a trick. You read off your dog.”
Carter Park is renowned statewide as a dog park, and Colorado Disc Dogs has been holding competitions there since 1999. They attract just a handful of locals – Breckenridge residents and their dogs, who use the park daily.
On Saturday, Todd Gourley (and Flurry), Pete Gallup (and Kickstand) and Craig Forster (and Oscar) were the lone townies among the close to 60-team field.
The events are freestyle – a two-minute routine set to music that features moves like the salt and pepper, the leg vault and the behind-the-back grab. Points are awarded for ingenuity, showmanship, catch ratio and dog athleticism.
The border collies and Australian shepherds that dominate the sport are known to fly 10 to 15 feet through the air.
The other event is called mini-distance. This is what normally goes on at Carter Park. Owners throw the Frisbee to their dogs with points awarded in four distance zones. The team gets an extra half-point if the dog catches the disc in the air.
Forster, who lives within a quarter-mile of the park on High Street, placed fifth in the intermediate division with his 4-year-old border collie, Oscar, which he got from the Summit County Animal Shelter in Frisco three years ago.
Oscar is a natural sprinter, jumper and catcher, and it took some time for Forster’s throws to get up to snuff.
“You just have to give him a decent head start and a straight, level throw,” he said. “It’s more up to the thrower than the dog.
“We started with tennis balls just to get him used to retrieving, and as soon as I threw him a Frisbee, he was all over it.”
Practice for the throwing event takes the form of day-to-day play for most owners of energetic, athletic breeds. Forster, Gourley and Gallop are at Carter Park nearly every day tossing the disc.
“They have a natural instinct for this sort of thing,” Gourley said. “It didn’t take much. Just throw it over her head a few times, then she’ll be mad that it’s going over her head, and she’ll start catching up to it.”
The freestyle routines, on the other hand, take dedication, practice and patience.
“For a lot of these people, their dog is a substitute for kids,” said Brisse, who won the event in Breck last year and was fifth on Saturday. “It’s their life, playing with their dog.”
“I practice three times a day,” said Sierra Lyman, who travelled from Salt Lake City to compete. “It shows when you’ve been out there, and the dog knows the routine.”
Gourley placed third in the Novice Division, while Gallop missed the cut after preliminaries. Christi Goodman, the defending Colorado state champion, won the Open Division.
This was the fifth of seven stops on the Colorado Disc Dogs tour, which holds the rest of its events on the Front Range. Colorado is one of a few states – California, Texas and Georgia included – that are hotbeds of disc dog competition.
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Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at email@example.com.
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