It’s a crisp Sunday morning at Alder Park in Simpsonville, and Lucas Croft is throwing a flying disc to his dog, Sailor, a Belgian Malinois. With just a flick of his wrist, Croft effortlessly sails the disc 20, 30, 40 yards down the field with pinpoint accuracy, and Sailor, usually at a full sprint, keeps making catch after catch, demonstrating her impressive agility with the occasional leaping grab.
But Croft and Sailor aren’t just an owner and dog playing a midmorning game of fetch. They’re both seasoned competitors in the world of disc dog, a class of sport in which dogs and their handlers participate in various disc events. These include distance throwing and catching, known as Toss & Fetch, and Freestyle, which involves coordinated routines of a dog completing tricks and making acrobatic disc catches.
Sailor and Croft recently traveled to Cartersville, Ga., to compete in the United States Disc Dog Nationals (USDDN) World Finals, where the duo placed first in Division II Freestyle and 18th in Super Pro Toss & Fetch.
And to think it was only two years ago that Croft first became involved in disc dog competition.
The Toss & Fetch field is a trapezoid shape with five zones ranging from 10 to 50 yards that award a possible one, two, three, and five points. The aim is to score as many points as possible within the scoring zones during a timed one-minute round.
Back then, he and his dog Belle, a 70-pound mixed breed, went to a USDDN event in Macon, Ga., and placed first in the Toss & Fetch novice division. Since then, Croft and his dogs have competed regularly in Toss & Fetch and Freestyle.
“It’s really a true team effort between you and your dog,” Croft says. “You can have the best dog in the world, but if you can’t throw a disc well, you’re not going to do well. There’s nonverbal and verbal communication the whole time.”
The popularity of disc dog is scattered throughout the country, but there’s a high concentration of competitors in the Southeast, as the Atlanta area was an initial “hub city” to grow the sport, Croft says.
Toss & Fetch currently lacks a strong presence in South Carolina, and Croft is doing his part to try to change that. Since last summer, he has captained a local K9 Frisbee Toss & Fetch club. Mark Vitullo, of Ohio, who is a friend of Croft’s, founded K9 Frisbee Toss & Fetch, an international league that currently fields 54 clubs in 10 different countries.
“I’ve gotten far enough into it that I have the ability to share some knowledge with people and help them get started. The more players we have in the sport, the better it is,” Croft says.
Although Croft practices with Belle and Sailor a few days each week (he’s also training his young Border Collie, Flynn, for competition), it’s the Greenville Toss & Fetch club that has brought him to Alder Park on this particular Sunday.
But before fall league play officially begins, Croft has been leading practices for handlers and their four-legged teammates. Participants are a mix of veterans and newcomers.
Stephanie and John Reagle, of Simpsonville, and their 1-year-old Beagle, Freddie, are Toss & Fetch beginners. The couple says Freddie will fetch a ball “for hours on end,” so they signed up for the league to give him a new “hobby” and increase bonding.
Christy Lovorn, of Anderson, and her German shepherd, Molly, are also novices. Lovorn heard about the league through her local doggie day care and thought it’d be a perfect fit for Molly. “We just play Frisbee in the yard, and she loves it,” she says.
“Any dog that can chase a toy can catch a Frisbee. Any human with an arm can learn to throw them. Some people are intimidated by the sport, but it’s not as intimidating as people want to think.” –Lucas Croft
K9 Frisbee Toss & Fetch includes winter, spring, summer, and fall sessions that last five consecutive weeks. The Toss & Fetch field is a trapezoid shape with five zones ranging from 10 to 50 yards that award a possible one, two, three, and five points. The aim is to score as many points as possible within the scoring zones during a timed one-minute round.
On competition days, each handler/dog duo plays two rounds of Toss & Fetch. Scores are tallied both as individual and team totals. At the end of five weeks, the club with the most points wins.
Croft emphasizes that the Greenville Toss & Fetch club is open to everyone, even those who have no experience.
“Any dog that can chase a toy can catch a Frisbee. Any human with an arm can learn to throw them,” he says. “Some people are intimidated by the sport, but it’s not as intimidating as people want to think. If you judge skill level between 0 and 100, you can go from 0 to 70 real quick.”
K9 Frisbee Toss & Fetch league play for the fall session began Nov. 5 and runs through Dec. 3, but there will be opportunities for newcomers to participate in the winter session. For more information, visit Greenville Disc Dog Club or Mutts and Monsters via Facebook.