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Xs and Os are large part Reward Placement. How and where you place rewards affects the patterns your dog runs and how he runs them.
If you throw with the intent to challenge your dog to run down the disc, either on purpose or through poor play, you probably have an X dog. If you throw fast, aggressive zig zags, or throw low “safe” throws to your crazy dog X patterns develop.
If you throw to make your dog leap or throw perfect passes to your teammate you will likely to have more O in the game. If you throw to the sides of you or throw multiple discs away from you while the dog is on an arc or line, you will wind up with more round play.
How and where your rewards are placed within your game affects your dog’s style of play.
The criteria that you reinforce has a great deal to do with the kind patterns your dog runs. If you’re all hot on the retrieve and the dog knows you love it, then you’re likely to have a sharp return to the handler which could mean more X in your game. If the game is about getting the object, showcasing linear speed, or working back and forth with passes, overs, and vaults you will most likely create a linear game.
If the game is about Setting the Flank, throwing interceptions for big leaping, and keeping your dog moving slow enough to collect properly, your patterns will become a bit more loose and your O will show.
If the game is a team effort, a dialogue, as is the case in good dog training, the game will take on a more round, O shaped pattern. Your dog has no pressing need to make aggressive moves, cuts or changes in direction because she is waiting on your part of the conversation either the cue or the mark. “I’ll just keep on this arc to see where my human wants me to go…” The handler can then choose to ask the dog to move aggressively or to continue on the line.
If the game is led by a high drive dog and/or a high drive handler then the game is likely to be more linear in nature. The dialogue is liable to be one sided and the high drive athlete talks over everything else. It’s a conversation full of reflexive phrases.
A Dialogue takes understanding, and understanding takes just a bit more time that reflex.
Rate of Reinforcement
If the pace of the game is extremely fast it can cause the dog to rush and/or go over threshold. If your dog goes over threshold you can expect a strong linear, X shaped game… unless you have a border collie with lots of herding instinct or some other strong outrunning kind of dog. Interestingly enough, the opposite can also happen. A low rate of reinforcement that can bring about the same kind of agressive linear or round movements due to frustration.
If your dog expects a really fast pace game they are liable to stay close to the handler, as that’s the easiest place to rustle up some reinforcement and is about the only place that physics allows for rapid reinforcement. The farther the dog gets away, for the most part, the lower the rate of reinforcement.
Your pattern, as a handler, has a lot to do with creating the shapes of your team’s game. “Go around, throw out front, and wait for the retrieve,” is going to create a linear game. Single disc play, like Toss and Fetch can create strong linear patterns. The Criteria stuff mentioned above can and will drastically alter your patterns.
Your dog’s pattern also has a lot to do with the shape of the game, especially if you just throw discs to where they are going to be, or if they believe that their movements make you throw frisbees…
If you are not purposefully moving your dog around the field or if you don’t actively alter your or your dog’s pattern getting away from that pattern, making new ones, or fixing bad ones, is hard. Just like in dog training.