Recently, I found myself with too many dogs who needed exercise, and not enough time to put in the miles that could have worked off all that excess energy. I rooted through the dog-toy baskets in my office, looking for things I could throw for the pack to fetch. I used to have a Chuckit! tennis ball launcher, but some puppy or other chewed up the part that holds the tennis ball, so I threw it away and hadn’t yet replaced it. Then I remembered that I had bought a very similar device that is used for launching small rubber discs for dogs to chase: the Winga.
The Winga is made by Kurgo, a company that I’m more familiar with as the maker and seller of travel-related products for dog owners. I wasn’t aware they had branched out into toys until I saw the Winga in a pet supply store and thought I would give it a try. The device had been sitting on my kitchen table for weeks; I hadn’t yet been inspired to take it to the large open space that I imagined was required to properly use it.
Sitting next to the Winga on my table was a product my husband had dug out of a trunk in the closet: a hand-held clay pigeon thrower. When he had seen the Winga, he commented that it looked similar to a device he used ages ago to throw clay pigeons into the air for trap shooting. (Please note that clay “pigeons” are small discs made out of clay.)
My husband has a good memory; the clay pigeon thrower was remarkably similar to the Winga – and the discs included with the Winga were near replicas (except for being made out of a rubbery material, rather than clay) of his old targets. It appears that someone at Kurgo had the idea that the clay pigeon thrower could be repurposed with very few design changes, and used to throw toys a long way for dogs to chase.
Flinging the Winga
I was a tad skeptical that the rubber discs could be flung out of the Winga with as much speed and distance as the clay pigeons; I was certain that the rubbery texture of the discs wouldn’t allow them to fly out of the thrower as cleanly or quickly as hard clay discs. I was especially skeptical after loading one of the discs into the Winga; they fit very snugly.
On the other hand, I have problems with my shoulder that prevent me from throwing a ball or disc very far, so I grabbed the Winga and the two discs it came with, and headed with the dogs to an open grass playing field.
My first throw or two seemed to confirm my suspicions that the rubbery discs wouldn’t be able to leave the thrower cleanly enough to make its use worthwhile. I said to the dogs, “Ready?” and I used a gesture similar to the one I’d used with the Chuckit!. The disc barely flew 10 feet. My dogs said, “Seriously? That’s it?”
I looked at the package for hints. Included in the directions (which of course I hadn’t read first) was this: “Swing your arm as if you were swinging a tennis racket . . .” Despite the fact that there are a lot of ways to swing a tennis racket (forehand, backhand, overhead . . . ), something finally did light up in my brain. I realized that I should be swinging my arm sideways, in a swing like a tennis player’s forehand. And it only makes sense, because if you think of the disc as a Frisbee, you would want to throw it from a position in which the disc was parallel to the ground, so it flies flat and fast. When you do it like that – Winga! – the little discs really fly far.
We’ve written about worrisome materials in dog toys before (see “Why Vinyl Stinks,” WDJ April 2008), so I called Kurgo to find out what the discs are made of (the package says only that they are “nontoxic”). A representative told me that the material is a BPA-free thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) – a safe rubber-like material. I looked for information suggesting that this sort of material is actually unsafe, and couldn’t find anything credible. But, as with any plastic or rubber toy that your dog will have in his mouth, I’d warn dog owners to use these discs just for games of fetch; don’t allow your dog to chew or consume pieces of the disc.
If you happen to have one of those old clay pigeon throwers laying around, buy some discs from Kurgo and use the thrower you have. If you don’t, buy a Winga with its two discs – and maybe some spares; they are small enough that they can be hard to find if your dog doesn’t see where they landed. Then, head out for a big, open field with your fetchaholic dog, and have a blast!