Shosta and his disc catching career

Shosta was born May 21, 2007. In September 2007, he moved in to my house in Hidden Valley Lake, CA. I had been trying to get my first dog, Zoya, interested in catching frisbees, but she has no interest in that and almost none in fetch in general. A couple weeks later I was searching the web for advice on training a disc dog, and read this:
and started tossing socks to Shosta. He immediately tried catching them, and did make a catch within a day or so, and I started tossing it a bit further and bought a Aerobie "dogobie" disc and an Aerobie Squidgie Ball, and he started catching those. Now I think that despite the web page I mentioned above, some dogs really are naturals (though they do need practice).
Around he time he was 5 months old in October he was regularly catching the aerobie disc on throws of 5-10 feet, so in early November I got a superflex dog disc and a Hyperflite Jawz disc, and the Hyperflite "Disc Dog Training" DVD. The DVD was mostly common sense stuff and didn't help much, but it did some.

Shosta with Dogobie disk, Nov 14, 2007, a week short of 6 months old.

My main concern around the time he was 6 months old was how to get him to start and keep running even before I throw the disc, so that we can do longer throws. This has been a steady gradual process and now (June 2008) he is usually pretty good at running at least a certain distance (like 30 feet) without my throwing, but then he may stop, so to really complete long (40+ yard) throws regularly we have some improvement to do. I yell "GO GO GO" and do pump-fakes to try to get him started and to keep going. Some of the practice is on a field or wide area where I stay in one place and he retrieves; it is important he knows to bring the disc quickly right back in competition. Other times we play as we go down a road or trail, and then Shosta often just leaves the disc in the road knowing I will catch up to it as we walk. We play disc almost every day; he gets excited when I pick up a disc and he'll jump all over me if I don't start playing. He does get tired of it sometimes.
Practice at Anderson Marsh field Feb 2008

By web searches I found that many champions in the past have been Australian Shepherds, so that was encouraging, and I looked for events to go to, found, and signed up for "Distance and Accuracy" competition at UC Davis April 19, 2008. This was a bit scary because I didn't know how keen the competition would be, or how Shosta would react. I think I have never had so many people watch me do anything in my life (like 600-800 people maybe??). The field was smaller than most competitions, and enclosed in rubber fence. There we 31 human/dog teams, we had one minute rounds, longer throws are for more points (but I had to do some things at the last minute and didn't hear the details of scoring), and the top ten go on to the next round. I thought it quite unlikely we would make it because it was our first time. Shosta was very focused. Perhaps because he was so focused on the disc, it was harder than usual to get him run before the throw. I yelled "GO GO GO" and pump faked but he was just jumping at the disc, so not wanting to waste time I threw short throws to keep within his range. On the first run back to me, he was off-line, but came quickly when I called; I think with all the people and noise he had just lost track of where I was. But he was perfect catching and brought them back quickly, doing so well it seemed he sensed the competition and had his game-face on. I guess it was after 4 throws and catches that I got the disc back with 10 seconds left (to make the last throw, the catch may come after time is up). Then I made a rookie mistake: I thought if I threw short I'd have time for one more throw. But it takes more time than that even on a short one, so I should have taken my time and thrown long. But Shosta caught everything, and we were pleased, and figured we had a good shot at making the next round. We didn't, apparently because my throws were rather short, but it must have been very close.
On May 17, 2008, with Shosta 4 days short of 1 year old, we went to Dixon for our second competition. There were "open" (which includes freesstyle), "novice" and "intermediate" divisions. It was a hot day and we kept wetting our dogs down (Zoya and Mia were there to watch). The rules were: no out of bounds, 1 pt for 10-20 yard catch, 2 for 20-30, 3 for 30-40, 4 for 40+. Also 1 pt for being in a bonus runway right down the middle, and 1/2 pt for dog being fully off ground on catch. The competition seemed easier than at Davis, several dogs went off to poo during their rounds, or gave into other distractions. It may be that the rubber fence at Davis kept the dogs more focused, and that the heat bothered dogs here. Again Shosta seemed to sense that it was time to be serious, he was very focused and good, and caught every throw I made (5 in each of 2 rounds). I footfaulted a time or two as I was hopping forward while faking to get Shosta to run -- I'll watch out for that more in the future. We were not penalized for this; I guess Novices get a bit of slack. IMMEDIATELY at the end of the first round he jogged 50 yards behind me and took a dump. Did he know we were finished or were we just real lucky? We got 16.5 pts first round, 15 second. I think we had 3 bonus zone points, and 1/2 off-ground bonus point, so I figure for the other 28 on 10 catches we probably had 8 30-40 yards and 2 20-30 yards, or maybe 1-6-3. With the 31.5 points Shosta got his first trophy, not only winning the novice division but outscoring everyone in the other (intermediate) division. He was so much better about bring the disc quickly all the way back to me, never stopping to "mark" anything, than he is in practice, I have to wonder: Does he concentrate well here on purpose, or have we just been lucky so far? We were also very lucky about timing; I got throws off in the last second each round. I was trying to throw those last two long, but I hung them up too much and Shosta made good catches to save them.
People were friendly and encouraging, the good time being more important than the competition. But we were proud to get a trophy and dog food as prizes, and look forward to advancing to higher divisions. I brought a video camera (see below). This was partly for me and Shosta, and partly so I could see what the teams that were better than we were we doing better. But it turns out there were none better! (this time anyway). It seems to be universal to try to get the dog to go around you when he brings the disc back, but we are not doing that, and I'm not sold on the idea. Also, many dogs do not watch the throw out of the hand, but find it in the air, but I try to make sure Shosta sees it out of the hand, and he does a good job looking back for it.

Discdogg's result page for Dixon event
Video of first round
Video of second round
Video of award presentation