There are few images as wholesomely iconic as a dog and his owner playing fetch. If you’d like to make that vision your reality, you will have to start by getting the right dog.
So what dogs are the best at Frisbee and fetch? Sporting dog or herding dog breeds, such as Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, are naturally the best at Frisbee and fetch. Additionally, breeds like the Belgian Malinois and the Australian Shepherd also excel at games like Frisbee due to their intellect, work ethic, and desire to please their owners.
What Makes a Dog Good At Frisbee?
You might be thinking that there is no “right dog” for playing fetch or Frisbee. After all, isn’t every dog the right dog for that game? Well, not quite.
Not every breed of dog is cut out for sports, even one as simple as fetch. The American Kennel Club recognizes 193 dog breeds, but there’s even more than that (source). Like humans, not all of them are athletes.
Different Breeds, Different Strengths
Tens of thousands of years ago, humans began to domesticate dogs. What were once wolves eventually became man’s best friend. We then bred different dogs for different purposes (source).
For example, consider the breeds we now consider sporting dogs. Dogs like retrievers and spaniels were bred to accompany humans on hunts. They helped us track and capture our next meal (source).
On the other hand, we have small breed dogs, like rat terriers and Jack Russell terriers (source). These dogs belong to the Working Dog group, which also includes dogs like pinschers, huskies, and pit bulls.
Small dogs like terriers were bred to be small, alert, and fast. Their ancestors took care of rodent infestations for early humans (source). They may even be better at it than cats!
There is also the breed group named Non-Sporting. This group is very diverse, and most were bred for looks or companionship. As the name implies, they were not bred for their athleticism (source).
We can’t forget the stereotypical “lazy” dogs. Consider the pug, which is classified as a Non-Sporting dog. Being referred to as “Lazy” is not an insult to a pug. This breed is absolutely perfect at its job, which is to be our companion (source).
Pugs are pure lap dogs. They’re small and don’t require much exercise. For obvious reasons, you wouldn’t be tossing a Frisbee for a pug. Most people wouldn’t expect a pug to be skilled at Frisbee. But what does make for a good canine fetch partner?
The Traits of an Athletic Dog
In 2018, scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute took a break from human DNA to study man’s best friend. They compared the DNA of 21 sporting dogs and 27 terrier dogs (source).
As it turns out, there are 59 genes that go into creating an athletic dog. These genes are associated with traits such as heart rate, blood flow, and muscle strength.
A good example of this lies with the Whippet breed. Whippets have a mutation in the TRPM3 gene. This gene affects blood vessel contraction, and it most likely improves oxygen delivery during physical activity (source).
Thanks to selective or evolutionary pressure, traditional hunting dogs appear to have a gene mutation in two genes—CDH23 and MSRB3—that allows them to not be startled by loud noises such as gunshots (source).
The study also revealed that sporting dogs with high agility have a mutation in the ROBO1 gene. This gene involves learning ability, implying that agility for dogs may be more mental than physical (source).
In conclusion, we can safely determine that not all dogs are created equal. With that in mind, we can also assume that not every dog can excel at Frisbee, so what dogs can?
What Breeds Are Best at Fetch?
Typically, for the best Frisbee partner, you will want to pick a dog from the Sporting or Herding group. These dogs have the athletic traits mentioned above. Here are the 5 best breeds for fetch.
Border Collies are the epitome of the sheepdog. Straight from the Herding group, this dog is a dedicated worker in a sleek and energetic package (source).
Border Collies tend to dominate in agility competitions. This breed has been clocked going 30 miles per hour. This herding dog was designed to take corners “like fine sports cars” (source).
After generations of keeping an alert eye on its herds, the Border Collie has a sharp eye (source). Combine this with its super speed and high energy, and you have a Frisbee teammate for life.
You may associate the Belgian Malinois with military or police work. Indeed, these dogs are popular in such industries, thanks to their high-level of prey drive. This is a dog that won’t give up until it catches its target (source).
Surprisingly, this beefy dog is quite the jumper. Some have been recorded jumping as high as eight feet in the air (source). Do you think you can throw a disc that high?
These dogs are known for their strong bonds with their owners. They thrive on companionship and purpose. The Belgian Malinois would love nothing more than to hang out with you and play some fetch (source).
Labrador Retrievers are a beloved breed in America. In fact, the breed is the most popular in the entire country (source).
If you’d like to join the legions of Lab owners, you can certainly expect a good Frisbee partner out of it. The boundless energy of this dog will keep the game interesting.
Labs are ridiculously friendly, but don’t let the agreeable demeanor fool you. These dogs are high-energy. Without proper exercise, this breed tends to get destructive (source).
What counts as proper exercise for a Labrador Retriever? Frisbee and fetch definitely top the list.
Australian Shepherd Dog
The Australian Shepherd Dog (ASD) was bred to be a helping hand on ranches and farms. This pedigree makes this dog work-oriented. Basically, an Australian Shepherd loves to have a job to do.
This breed is known for its intelligence too. It’s not unheard of for an ASD to outsmart its owner (source).
An overly smart dog may sound like bad news, but it’s the opposite. This brainy overachiever will take to Frisbee like a fish to water.
German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointers (GSP) is a gun dog, or a dog bred to accompany hunters and retrieve game. Royalty often chose to have GSPs next to them during hunts (source).
Generations of bird-dog training have made GSPs eager to please. This makes them fantastic candidates for the process of learning to fetch and catch a Frisbee.
GSP requires a lot of exercises. The American Kennel Club recommends allowing this dog time for physical activity twice a day (source). This means your pal will be ready for Frisbee practice daily!
How To Teach Your Dog to Play Frisbee
You’ve done everything right. You now have a dog that is an ideal breed for fetching. You’re sitting in your house, staring at the dog—now what?
Now you have to actually teach the dog how to play Frisbee. Luckily, it’s not typically difficult. The game is ingrained in a lot of dogs naturally.
Check this Frisbee training video below:
Choosing Your Frisbee
Before you can teach a dog a new trick, you will need the right equipment. If you don’t already own a Frisbee, it’s time to go shopping. While you’re browsing Frisbees, keep in mind that color is more important than you may think.
Despite the myths, dogs are not color blind. They cannot see the same full-spectrum as humans, but they do see some colors. Their vision is similar to a human with red-green color blindness (source).
Studies have found that dogs see shades of yellow, blue, and gray. They are unable to see red and green. These two colors show up as gray instead (source).
For the best game of fetch, purchase a flying disc in a shade of blue or yellow. These two colors will be the most vibrant and eye-catching for a canine. They won’t be able to miss it.
With the color out of the way, you can pick the style of your disc. Frisbees come in a variety of styles, like a ring or floppy. Discs for competitions tend to be of the solid variety (source). Your dog may prefer a floppy Frisbee though.
If you don’t have a specific need for one type of disc, consider purchasing both and experimenting to see which your dog prefers. A dog plays best with the equipment he likes.
Starting with Fetch
It’s time for Frisbee! Well, almost. Stash away the disc for a bit—we’ll come back to it.
It’s best to start from scratch. For Frisbee, the beginning is the basic game of fetch. The dog should have to fetch mastered before attempting a game of Frisbee.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A couple of fetch objects: balls or toys, especially a squeaky one.
- Treats, both low-level and high-level.
Step 1: Start out as simple as can be. Throw a toy and observe your dog’s actions. Does he chase after the object, or does he just stare at it with mild interest?
Step 2: If you toss a toy and your dog automatically runs after it, congratulations! You can skip ahead.
Step 3: For those not as fortunate, it’s time to encourage some chasing. Run after the toy yourself, or go to the toy and point to it. Once your dog approaches the object, reward him with a treat or praise.
Step 4: Once you have witnessed your dog reliably going after the ball, the next step is retrieving the object.
After he chases after the thrown object, lure him back with a second toy or ball. This is where a squeaky toy comes in handy. Attract the dog’s attention with this second object. Here’s where that patience comes in.
Does the dog return to you without the first object? Give a low-level treat like a milk bone. If he returns with the first try, go for the high-level treat, like a cheese cube or similar.
You always want to reward your dog for completing the task, but the high-level treat helps solidify the exact result you want to see.
Step 5: The last step of fetch is returning the object to you directly. A stubborn dog won’t give up the goods easily.
When the dog approaches you with the toy, instruct him to “drop it.” If he does not, offer a treat. Most likely, he’d rather have that treat and will drop the toy (source).
Graduating to Frisbee
Once your dog grasps the idea of fetch, you can get airborne. Airborne, of course, means it’s time for the Frisbee to come out.
This method will help teach your dog to leap into the air. Hopefully, you aren’t currently taking measures to curb your dog’s jumping!
Here’s what you’ll need.
- A Frisbee (or two)
- Even more patience
Frisbee will take more time than fetch. All good things come to those who work for it.
Step 1: Before you ever toss a Frisbee, give the disc value. A normal squeaky toy is inherently valuable to a dog. They just love the squeak.
A Frisbee, though, means nothing to a dog at first. Associate things your dog likes with the Frisbee (source).
Go ahead and reward your dog just for touching the disc. You can use the Frisbee as a dog bowl and serve his meals in it. You can even make the Frisbee itself a treat by slathering the edges in peanut butter (source).
Step 2: You’ll be tempted to send that Frisbee sailing through the air as soon as possible, but don’t. At first, everything should be kept at ground level. Try rolling the Frisbee like a bowling ball and allowing him to retrieve it.
Step 3: Once the dog is comfortable fetching the disc, add some height. Start low, throwing the Frisbee at the general height of the dog.
At first, he may just watch it curiously or he’ll chase it on foot. Keep throwing the disc. Eventually, impatience will win out, and he’ll jump for that disc.
Step 4: As soon as you get that first jump, reward the dog heavily. Bring out the high-level treats and enthusiastic praise. You want to impress upon him that you want a repeat of the behavior.
Step 5: With jumping down, you can gradually increase the distance and height of your throws. Here is where you learn why we recommended you adopt a high-energy dog!
This process will take a lot of time and patience. Try to always remember that this is supposed to be a fun activity for both you and your dog. Dogs love to be put to work but don’t burn them out.
Keeping it Safe
Besides possible doggy burn out, it’s hard to imagine any dangers with this game. Unfortunately, there is some risk with fetch.
What’s the first image your mind creates when you hear the word “fetch”? If it’s a dog chasing a stick, you’re not alone. Playing fetch with a stick is a pretty common practice.
However, it’s time for us all to put the sticks down. As it turns out, they are not safe for dogs to play with.
Sticks can injure dogs. In fact, one vet charity reports that they see 51 stick-related incidents a week in its hospitals (source).
Dogs tend to bite down on sticks, possibly splintering it. These small pieces can impale soft tissue of the mouth or can become trapped in the throat.
One particular case hit headlines in 2016. Maya, a Border Collie, went through emergency surgery after a stick punctured her tongue and displaced her voice box (source).
When you take your dog out for a game of fetch, be sure to only use an appropriate flying disc or ball.
What If Your Dog Isn’t Interested?
Try as you might, your dog just might not be a fan of Frisbee. Why might a dog resist playing fetch?
- The dog wants to fetch a different toy – Your dog may not be a fan of your Frisbee. Try a different style of Disc. You might even have to try a ball or other toy.
- There’s a health issue – If your dog has pain issues, like hip dysplasia or arthritis, Frisbee will be the last thing on his mind.
- It’s boring to him – Fetch might not be your dog’s cup of tea, even if he’s an athletic dog.
If your dog never catches the Frisbee fever, don’t worry. There are plenty of other activities you and your dog can do to stay active. A simple day at a dog park is a great alternative. You can also try some agility courses.
Clearly, not every dog is a born fetcher. No one should adopt a tiny Chihuahua, for example, and expect him to become a Frisbee champion.
If you’re looking for a new Frisbee partner, you will want to stick with dogs known for their athleticism and high energy. Dogs from the herding and sporting breed groups, like Retrievers and Border Collies, are the most likely to love catching a Frisbee.