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MARCH 10, 2003

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Top Dog
Border Collie Wins Trophy In Frisbee-Catching Contest

By Val Van Meter
The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — “She kicked butt!”

That’s how Jane Diven describes Marie’s Amateur division win in last month’s Ashley Whippet Canine Frisbee Disc World Championships in La Mirada, Calif.

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Jane Diven and her border collie, Marie, demonstrate a trick in which Marie runs through Diven’s legs to catch the Frisbee.
(Photo by Ginger Perry)

Marie is a 3-year-old white border collie, a great athlete, and a huge football fan.

The Clarke County residents traded 30 inches of snow for California sunshine in February, mainly to get a break from winter.

Diven went online “looking for something to do to get out of the cold” and came across the Frisbee disc competition.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to take a vacation,” Diven said.

Marie was eligible to compete in the invitational tournament because she had already won some contests with her home club, The National Capital Air Canines.

Catching Frisbees may seem like a back yard or beach game, but, thanks to Alex Stein, a whippet owner, it has become an international sport.

Open to all breeds of dogs, the contests have divisions for both Open and Amateur dogs and a separate contest for beginners and youth.

Since Marie is just beginning her contest career, she was in the Amateur division.

Diven explained that the contest called for her to throw a Frisbee in a field marked off in 10-yard increments. Contestants have only 60 seconds to make as many throws as they can. The dogs are rated on a system that gives points for the distance of the throw, and the catch, with midair catches rating extra points.

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Marie catches a Frisbee in midair. She won in the Amateur division in last month’s Ashley Whippet Canine Frisbee Disc World Championships in La Mirada, Calif.
(Photo by Ginger Perry)

“I’m not a very good thrower,” Diven said, “I can’t throw it that far.”

A 30- to 40-yard throw is her limit, she said, but Marie’s speed won them the division championship by 81/2 points.

“She comes back to me so quickly and drops it right in my hand,” allowing Diven to get off five or six throws in 60 seconds.

“She set a record in our club in Toss and Fetch last October,” Diven said, adding, “She’s as serious as any herding dog. She knows when she does well. She struts.”

Marie faced 37 dogs in her division, most from California, Diven said, but there was one challenger each from Georgia, Oregon, and Colorado, and an

entire contingent from Japan.

“We did two rounds on Saturday,” Diven said, and the top 20 dogs from the first round moved into the second. The second round selected 12 dogs to go on to the championship on Sunday.

“She knows when she’s competing,” Diven said. “She puts her game face on and she shakes until it’s her turn.”

Marie demonstrates that behavior as Diven puts a videotape on the big-screen television.

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Marie watches a canine Frisbee competition on television. She also likes to watch football games.
(Photo by Ginger Perry)

It’s a national newscast that featured a preview of the La Mirada event, and Marie herself is on it.

Marie sits at the edge of the screen, watching intently. As another dog appears, chasing a Frisbee, she leaps at the screen and Diven has to pull her away and hold her. Marie’s eyes never leave the screen and her whole body quivers as she follows the throws and the catches.

Marie can get just as intense with football, Diven said.

“She gets way too excited. She follows the plays better than I do.”

Diven got Marie as a puppy mainly for a companion. Frisbee throwing began as a game, but Marie immediately got the idea that she was to chase it, catch it, and bring it back.

“She’ll play Frisbee with anyone,” Diven said.

Marie has bright orange Frisbees for outdoors and soft cloth ones for inside.

“I buy 50 at a time,” Diven said.

Above the Amateur division, Frisbee disc competitions have another phase, called Free Style.

The competition is done to music and features an almost dance-like routine, where the handler throws the Frisbee, and the dog catches it while doing many different maneuvers.

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Jane Diven and Marie took home a trophy in a Frisbee-catching competition.
(Photo Ginger Perry)

The handler uses several Frisbees to keep the movement going, and the dogs may jump over an extended leg or leap onto the handler’s back and launch after the Frisbee. The dogs definitely show agility with their leaps and mid-air catches.

“You are judged on presentation, how crowd pleasing your routine is, the difficulty of the catches, and the number of catches made.”

The routines are judged on the difficulty of the various throws and catches and the smoothness of the routine, rather like gymnastics competitions in the Olympics, Diven said.

Diven and Marie have just begun developing a routine to use in this phase of the competition, performed to the “Beer Barrel Polka.”

Of course, border collies are best known for their sheep herding instincts and Clarke County has its own contest each year to test those abilities.

True to her breed, Marie qualified last December as a junior herding dog, but, she’s not as intense about herding as she is about Frisbee games.

“Sometimes, she’s just not interested in sheep,” Diven said.

While some people say dogs can’t be good in more than one sport, Diven thinks that’s not quite true.

“The dogs don’t care. It’s usually the people who can’t handle more than one sport.”

At the moment, Diven has another decision to make. Marie’s performance not only won a trophy and a television spot but also an all-expense paid trip to Japan to compete in an international contest.

“They took the two top open dogs and the top amateur,” Diven said.

Diven was the only woman winner, she added.

The invitation is an honor, Diven said, but the logistics may make the trip impossible. The plane ride alone would be very hard on her dog, she said.

For now, Marie is resting up from a sprained paw, injured after the La Mirada event when she and Diven relaxed on the beach and Marie found a new pastime, chasing sea gulls.

And in April, the National Capital Air Canines will open its season of contests and demonstrations, including events at White’s Ferry and Bentonville.


Anyone who would like to learn more about the club and its contests can go online at For those who want to try the sport, there are training videos on the Web site and plenty of events for beginners and juniors.

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