A Quick Guide to Flyball Dog Sports
In flyball, dogs race against one another from a starting line to a series of hurdles, steps, or platforms. At the end of the hurdle track is a flyball box that shoots out a tennis ball when stepped on by the dog. The dog catches the ball in its mouth and then runs back over the hurdles to return the ball to his handler.
Flyball is a fast-paced sport that can be enjoyed at a local, regional, or even national level by handlers and dogs of all breeds. However, if your goal is to compete vigorously, there are certain breeds that have the characteristics needed to be successful in flyball. Teamwork between dog and handler is highly prized in flyball, and a great deal of emphasis is placed on training both the dog and the handler to work together.
Typically, a team of four dogs will compete at one time in a flyball race. There are often four hurdles placed along the track about 10 feet apart. The first hurdle is usually about 6 feet from the starting line and the last hurdle is 15 feet from the flyball box. Therefore the entire track typically measures about 51 feet from beginning to end, and 102 feet round-trip. The first dog is released, completes the first trip, gets the tennis ball, then returns to the start line where another dog is released as soon as the preceding dog returns.
The height of the hurdles is determined by measuring the ulna length or shoulder height of the smallest dog in the competition. However, some governing organizations have their own standards and methods for measuring the dog, so it is important to be mindful of variations.
Judges will deduct points from teams if the dog drops the ball or one dog jumps the start line during the relay. Because the dogs move at such high speeds, sometimes it is difficult for handlers to avoid releasing the next dog early. Therefore, some competitions use high-speed cameras at the starting line. The first team to get all four dogs to cross the finish line without any errors is the winner of the heat.
Types of Flyball Races
Flyball began as a dog sport in the late 1960s, with the first tournament taking place in 1983. Since then, flyball has grown in popularity around the world. There are competitions in Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Austria, Canada, South Africa, and many more countries. Some European countries have both national-level competitions as well as joint championships.
Typically, competitors start with local flyball clubs that are under a national governing organization. Some local clubs are devoted to just flyball sports, while others may also include other types of dog sports. Each local club will have judges who are licensed by the national sanctioning body.
While the rules and procedures for competitions may vary depending on the organization, typically, teams are divided into groups of dogs that have similar speeds and abilities. This allows not only for a closer match of skills to promote fairness but also makes the competition more exciting since races are much tighter. If a team has a break-out of one second or more from their match division, it will result in a loss. This rule is designed to encourage teams to accurately seed themselves.
Flyball Governing Bodies
The first and foremost flyball governing body is the North American Flyball Association (NAFA). This organization was formed in 1985 and has grown to include a large membership. The NAFA covers all of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Additionally, the United Flyball League International (U-FLI) was formed in 2004 to promote diversity and international competition.
How to Get Started with Flyball Dog Sport
Flyball is a very fast-paced sport. The dogs can look like blurs as they speed their way across the track. The best way to learn about flyball is to attend a local competition or club event. Talk with the handlers and ask them lots of questions. They will be able to tell you all about the sport, help you find a good dog breed for flyball, and give advice on how to handle your dog during competitions.
After you've made the decision that the sport is right for you and your dogs, the next step is training. Flyball training regimens have evolved over the years to include very specific training methods. One of the most important aspects of training for this sport is to really understand your dog's prey drive, for it is that instinct that will govern how well your dog can perform in flyball.
Also, keep in mind that not every breed is suited to flyball training or competitions. Even though sanctioning organizations encourage dogs of all breeds to participate, dogs that are not particularly fast or motivated are typically not good candidates for this sport in a competitive capacity. Breed-specific rescue organizations frequently have lists of dogs available for adoption that make great candidates for flyball training and competition.
Although this sport is very popular and can be a lot of fun, it does require a considerable amount of commitment from the owners. Flyball dogs must always be provided with lots of attention and ongoing training that will keep their skills sharp, particularly if there are no scheduled competitions for an extended period of time.
Flyball Training Tips
While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to flyball training, these tips can help you better understand the commitment needed to train your dog for this sport.
1) Find the Right Breed - People often ask "What are good breeds for flyball?" The answer is any dog can be a great candidate, but typically breeds with high prey drives, lots of energy, and enthusiasm are best suited to flyball training and competitions.
2) Consistency - In flyball, consistency is key. This means you have to train your dog at least four times a week. Your dog must be able to successfully complete the course each and every time. Consistent training will help build a strong bond between you and your dog as well as ensure that they understand their role in this sport.
3) Enthusiasm - One of the biggest mistakes people make when training dogs for flyball is a lack of enthusiasm on their part. The dogs will pick up on your attitude and if they sense you are not enthusiastic about the sport, chances are good that they will not be enthusiastic either. You have to show them from the moment you start training that flyball is a lot of fun.
4) Patience - This is the number one reason dogs do not make it in this sport. Flyball can be very frustrating for both handler and dog when either party gets easily frustrated during training or competitions. If your dog does not complete a course successfully, don't get angry. Instead, take a break and try again later.
5) Flyball Gear & Practice - In flyball there are only three pieces of equipment that make up the start box/gate, hurdle jumps, and the dog box. If you have the resources, you can create your own course to practice with. However, if that is not an option for you, then most local flyball organizations have loaner equipment that can be checked out or purchased inexpensively by members of the club.