You were clicking through channels and stumbled across Animal Planet. You caught a glimpse of fur and then a tennis ball shot out. It was the moment you discovered flyball.
Or maybe, you haven’t discovered it yet.
12 teams in Michigan and Ontario teamed up in 1984 to create a sport that now involves more than 6,000 dogs per year of every shape, size and breed.
If your next thought is, “Oh no, but I have a pit bull (Doberman, Rottweiler, insert other stereotyped breed here)!” – fear not. As long as the competition location doesn’t have local breed restrictions, flyball welcomes any dog that loves running and retrieving.
The basics are this: Four to six dogs in a team each relay across a set of hurdles, launch a ball, catch it, run it back and tags the next dog. The quickest team of two wins. Hurdle height is set based on the shortest dog and there are different types of relays. Even your 11-year-old best friend can play in the “veteran’s” class.
Spring Loaded, a team in Cleveland, Ohio, currently holds the world record in the regular class; the five dogs flew through the course without error in 14.657 seconds.
To find a local team, go to the North American Flyball Association website. If you find out you don’t have a local team, consider rounding up the local dog park gang and starting your own!
When you begin in any dog sport, far before the competition begins, there is a step-by-step learning process. First, the dogs learn a “swimmer’s turn,” basically how to use all four paws to launch the ball, then launch themselves back across the hurdles.
A matter of repetition and muscle memory eventually teaches the dog to go over all four hurdles every time on the way there and the way back. Distractions, herding instincts and ball obsessions can all get in the way of training.
Some dogs aren’t natural flyballers. Others are better suited for agility, rally obedience, nose work or competitive frisbee. The best thing to do is first check in with your vet to be evaluated for any possible medical issues. Once a clean bill of health is given, it’s all a matter of figuring out if your dog loves the sport…after all, it’s supposed to be fun!
Brynley and I visited the Portland Tail Blazers practice in Vancouver, Wash. and saw the work that goes into getting things just right. Even expert dogs mess up sometimes, and the new dogs are goofy in their own right.
Just the introduction boosted us to double our Barkpoint goal. I can’t imagine how far over a full-blown practice would exhaust him.
Flyball certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a high-degree of obedience training and an even higher level of fitness. But, if your furry pal loves to run and the moment he hears the word “ball” he’s out of the room finding one, flyball might be for you.
The first health problem to disappear after jumping on the flyball bandwagon is any anxiety or boredom in your pup. On our way home from the facility, Brynley was clearly happy and tired. He slept the whole drive home.
Strength, flexibility (most teams do stretching through tug-of-war!), and overall cardiovascular health improve the deeper into the sport you get.
The dogs at practice ranged in size and breed; Pixel the Australian shepherd-terrier mix weighs in around 17 pounds. Taser is a full-size pure Aussie. Milo is barely 14 inches tall and fluffy. Darby is a lanky, young border collie just learning the ropes. All of them were fast and focused (O.K., mostly focused).
As Brynley and I immerse ourselves into the team, I’m eager to see his behavior improve in some areas and for his fitness level to be in a higher tier than it is now.