Flyball – Excitement for dogs!

If you are looking for something that will really wear out your dog, both mentally and physically, then you might want to try flyball! It’s a fast-paced team sport that was first seen at Crufts in 1990. Amber tells us about her experiences of flyball.

Amber and Eska ready to go

Amber says “I love the fast paced atmosphere in the race, but also the whole team involvement. It’s a really social sport.” She was first introduced to the sport at a dog show, where there was a ‘have a go’ session. Amber has been involved with the sport for over 6 years and currently competes with three of her dogs. Her terrier Zuko is now retired.

What is flyball?

The Kennel club defines the sport as follows:

Two teams of four dogs compete at the same time, each using a parallel ‘racing lane’ down which each dog in turn runs, clearing four hurdles in succession before triggering a pedal on the Flyball box.

Jamie has the ball

A tennis ball is then released which the dog must hold before returning over the hurdles to the start line. The first team to have its fourth dog across the finish line, with any part of the dog’s body, wins the race. Each dog must cross the finish line before the next dog can start, and handlers aim to launch their dog so that it will cross with a returning dog just at the line.

Who’s in charge?

There are two governing bodies, The British Flyball Association (BFA) and the UK Flyball League (UKFL). Amber competes with the BFA.

You will compete in your team, against other teams the same division. The division will be set by your teams seed time, so you will race teams of a similar level. Each team can have up to 6 dogs, but only 4 race at one time in each team. There is no restriction on breeds, apart from at Crufts, where each team must contain a non-collie, otherwise known as ABC – anything but collie!

Hex making a turn

How does it work?

The first dog to race is called the start dog; with a start dog your aim is to have as perfect as a start as possible. Once the judge has signalled that both teams are ready, the lights count down (3 yellow lights and then green) and you want the start dog to be passing through the start line as the light hits green. A perfect start would be 0.00 secs, normally you aim for anything below 0.10 secs.

Zuko eager to get the ball

The dogs have to run over 4 hurdles,  collect a ball by triggering the box and bringing the ball back over the 4 hurdles. The next dog will then pass the first dog to repeat. For the best cross you want the dogs’ noses to be touching (they will pass side to side) at the start/finish line. This is repeated until all four dogs have run.

The jump height is set to the smallest dog that is racing in that team, with the jump height ranging 6″ to 12″.

Eska in the lead!

Winning is everything!

The winner of that leg will be the team who completes a clean run the fastest. You can get a fault if:

  • you have an early start
  • you have an early cross into another dog
  • the ball is dropped before finish line
  • the dog runs out of the jump lane
  • the dog ‘steals’ the ball from the box (so it’s not triggered).
Go Hex go!

There is a box judge and a line judge who can help signal a fault to the overall judge. There is a scribe completing the paperwork and watching the run back. An interference between a dog from one team into another results in the loss of that leg to the team responsible. If it happens twice that dog is removed from the race.

Eyes on the prize

The winner of the race will win 3 legs (so there can be up to 5 legs if it 2:2). There are sanctioned competitions throughout the year, both indoor and outdoor. The ultimate goal is the flyball championships in August, or to run a team at Crufts, in March.

Equipment needed

You need a flyball box, 4 flyball jumps, and then other aids like props to help learn pacing and box turns. Balls of course, lots and lots of tennis balls! Your dog must absolutely LOVE tennis balls and playing fetch.

Jamie making a turn on the box

You normally need a training chute used before dogs learn the flyball box. You usually start with some netting to help the dogs run down the lanes.

Training needed

Flyball is not particularly difficult to train, although it can take time and commitment to train a safe and fast box turn, and for dogs to learn to race with other dogs without being distracted from the main job at hand. Dogs wear carpal pad protectors to prevent injury to their pads.

Pure power

Amber says “We have Sunday flyball training with out club.  But I also do work at home with my dogs on my own flyball chute to keep a good box turn technique. I’ll do drive work sprints  to keep the sprint fitness.” 

How to get started

Get in touch with one of the two governing bodies: The British Flyball Association (BFA) or the UK Flyball League (UKFL). They may be able to help find a club local to you. Your dog will need to be at least a year old and fully mature. You will need a good recall and a strong drive to run after a ball. Your dog will also need to be relaxed around other dogs. As with other dog activities, a good level of basic obedience is essential.

Happy dog, having fun

Thanks to Amber for the fantastic insight into this dog sport. Photo credits: Hannah Rose Baker and Helene Burningham.

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the Dog Doc blog for more help with training issues.

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