Exceptional Canine: Off The Leash
Team up With Your Dog for Flyball Fun
By Jennifer Viegas for Exceptional Canine
It’s the equivalent of drag racing — but for dogs — so no wonder the action-packed team sport of flyball is gaining plenty of new players and fans.
“Flyball is the extreme sport of the canine world, requiring skill, athleticism, balance and plain old guts on the part of both dog and handler,” says Glenn Hamilton of Some Ruff Competition in Ontario. It’s Hamilton who refers to the activity as drag racing for dogs.
Are you and your dog up to the challenge? Be aware: Flyball is highly addictive; once you and your dog participate, you’ll never look back.
What Is Flyball?
Flyball is among the fastest-growing dog sports in North America, according to Brett Williams of The United Flyball League International. This canine relay race features teams of four dogs and four handlers competing head-to-head with other teams to complete the flyball course in as little time as possible, says Williams.
“Each dog covers a total distance of 102 feet on the course and has to negotiate eight hurdles,” explains Williams. “After jumping the first four hurdles, the dog must trigger, release and catch a ball from a spring-loaded box. The dog must then carry the ball back over the four original hurdles.” After the first dog completes the course, the other dogs take their turns. Check out the video to see a competition in action.
Lead dogs have been clocked at up to an incredible 20 miles per hour. The canine players are so fast that an electronic sensor system is usually used to start the dogs and to judge their passes. Some dogs can complete the course in just 3.7 seconds, with entire teams zipping through at just more than 15 seconds.
Flyball Training and Strategy
Leerie Jenkins, chair of the board of directors of the North American Flyball Association, first became involved in the sport in the late 1990s. “I joined a dog club, looking for activities I could do with my first dog, a Border Collie named Bella,” he says. “That dog club was mainly a disc dog club, and we decided to try this sport called flyball. So we bought a book on training flyball and never looked back.”
He adds, “It’s addictive and a lot of fun. The dogs absolutely go crazy over flyball.”
Training consists of going to classes, team practices, and/or training at home. Seminars are also available. “You need to build a good working relationship with your dog and also have them love to work for you,” says Jenkins. “They need to learn how to come to you when called, even when there are distractions.”
Dogs need to be speedy, but not too eager. If a dog takes its turn too soon, the dog is fouled and must rerun, most likely spoiling the team’s chance for a win.
Who Can Participate?
“Flyball is a very inclusive dog sport,” says Jenkins. Here are the requirements:
- Flyball dogs must be at least 1 year old.
- Your dog must be physically able to safely compete. Have your pet checked out by a veterinarian first.
- Your dog should get along well with other dogs.
- Border Collies and Jack Russell Terriers tend to ace flyball — but all breeds and breed mixes are welcome!
- Small dogs are part of the game’s strategy. Hamilton explains that since each team’s hurdle heights are dependent on the height of their shortest racer, teams usually include a smaller dog to reduce the hurdle height.
- Senior dogs can play too. Jenkins explains that a veterans’ class for dogs over the age of 7 has “less strenuous requirements, so the older dogs can enjoy playing too.”
- Keep in mind that human participants must be in good shape, given flyball’s fast-paced action.
Check out a flyball competition first to see what you think. Guests are always welcome. Jenkins suggests that you “talk to people, observe, and sign up for a class or practices.”
Check out the NAFA Flyball Locator Board online to find a club near you.