Flyball - wheeee - what a lot of fun these dogs have. Flyball is a race where the dogs spring over a series of jumps (usually 4), run to a box, snatch up an object (ball, beanbag ...) and race back to the start. It is both simple and complex. To do its best the dog has to not merely clear the hurdle, but keep a smooth approach and landing so as to clear the maximum distance in a minimum of time. The turn at the box can mean the difference between a win and a loss so a lot of effort goes into teaching the dog to do it well. This event is just pure fun for many dogs, and it is open to all dogs - mixed breed and purebred alike.
Flyball is team relay racing dog sport. In flyball two teams race against each other. Typically the race requires negotiating a series of four hurdles set in a straight line with a target box at the end. Each dog races over the hurdles, hits the flyball trigger to the release of a ball, retrieves the ball, then races back over the hurdles carrying the ball. The dog must stay within its own team's racing lane. The next dog to run must wait until the returning dog has crossed the start line. Skilled teams may allow the dog to start moving toward the start line as long as the dog does not actually cross the line before the returning dog. Completing a course without errors is a "clean run."
A flyball team is usually four dogs, sometimes with up to two reserve dogs. The human part of the team includes people who are "handler" of the dogs, a person who keeps the balls loaded in the flyball box, and sometimes assistants to retrieve loose balls etc. Usually the team competes with its own balls and flyball box, while the hosting club provides the hurdles, matting and other equipment.
Teams of similar ability and speed are paired to race against each other at the same time. This matching keeps the sport both fun and competitive. Part of the challenge is for each dog to focus on staying in its own lane and not interfere with other teams.
Competitions consist of various divisions. Teams within each division race against each other. A team's speed determines its division and thus which other teams it will compete against. Winning a heat earns the team points. Winning a majority of heats in a race earns additional points. In "round robin" style competition each team in a division takes turns to run against another a set number of times.
The judge will call infractions against errors such as dropped balls or if the next dog is released early. When this happens the dog re-runs to attempt a clean run after its team mates have run. If the team can't complete its runs after a number of attempts the judge may call the heat "dead" or "no finish."
A race consists of three to five "heats." A team wins its heat by finishing in the fastest time with clean runs. To receive points the team must finish in under a specified time and each dog must have run clean. To win the race the team must win a majority of its heats.
The shortest dog on the team sets the jump height for the entire team, thus the term "height dog." The jump height is calculated by a formula that begins with measuring the dog its withers, the bony points of the shoulders on the back of the dog.
Flyball organizations offer variations on the general theme such as changing the number of dogs on a team or the breed make-up. Typically teams must be formed in advance but at least one organization (U-FLI) allows teams to formed just prior to the start of racing.
Some organizations offer titles to be earned based on a dog's performance over a series of competitions. Each dog accumulates its own points depending upon the team's finishing times. So if the dog is on a team that finishes under, say 32 seconds, it may earn one point toward its title. The number of points awarded to a team varies depending upon the finishing time.
This is a very exciting and fun sport for many dogs. Any dog can participate, regardless of pedigree. It does not matter whether your dog is mixed breed or purebred, short or tall, or even fast or slow. Remember teams are paired by like ability. Herding and sporting breeds and their mixes tend to be among the most successful but all kinds of dogs compete successfully. The lighter weight of smaller dogs means they may have to work harder to trigger the release of the ball. On the other hand small dogs are often desirable for teams because the lower jump height benefits the entire team. Because runs are off leash and very intense undue aggression cannot be tolerated.
Participants vary in their motivations and intensity of competition. For many the sport is just a fun way to play with their dogs, while others also focus on the competitive spirit. For many people the social aspects of working together is part of the fun of the sport of flyball. Most flyball dogs are pet first and competitors second. There is room for all in the sport. However, people who work on week-end days may have difficulty competing since competitions tend to be week-end events.
The sport of flyball can help dogs keep their homes because the training and interaction strengthens the bonds and results in a dog that is easier to live with. It does take training to participate. It can take a lot of training because the dog has to stay focused on its task. Typical time from beginning to train to first competition is about a year. The process of training a dog to play in flyball can teach the person a lot about training in general. Training concepts such as breaking down a task, how and when to introduce rewards, distinguishing between rewards, lures and bribes, creating motivation and more are all part of learning to play in flyball.
The higher ranking teams may run all four dogs in under 20 seconds. The record time is about 15 seconds.
Flyball equipment and rules are similar but not identical around the world. Sometimes these differences can cause confusion to teams entering international tournaments. Flyball organizations are active in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland.
Based on NAFA record the top finishing breeds include:
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Jack Russell Terrier / Parson Russell Terrier
Australian Cattle Dog
American Cocker Spaniel
While their numbers are lower in terms of population some breeds have better than average rates of than some more numerous breeds. These include:
Curly Coated Retriever
German Hunting Terrier/Jagdterrier
Danish/Swedish Farm Dog
Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael)
Fox Terrier (Wire)
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
Miniature Australian Shepherd / North American Shepherd
German Shorthaired Pointer
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Flyball Home Page
This site is very comprehensive. If there is a flyball link on the web you should be able to find it here (including the ones listed below). Designed for the Flyball enthusiast, it has contacts, flyball box plans, everything you can imagine related to Flyball. Maintained by K. Hogg This site loads at a decent speed unlike many of the other sites.
This is a very comprehensive but slow loading site. Any link or information you could want on Flyball is likely to be here. I found several sites to be very slow loading and picked this one as the least slow of the big flyball resource sites other than Flyball.com (above) which loads quite nicely.
This nice simple page provides good information on the sport and getting started. Everything from basic getting started information to training diaries and discussion forums. Although it loads quickly the home page is rather sluggish because of all the "cool stuff" like animation.
This is a good information page by Keith Yockey
Home page of the UFLI this site is of most interest to those all ready involved in the sport. Chat forums, results posting and more.
The largest of the flyball organizations in North America this site includes resources for finding teams and clubs in your area to get you started.
The South African Flyball Dog Association (SAFDA) is affiliated with the South African Working Dogs Association (SAWDA). This page covers rules, how to join and other basic information about Flyball in South Africa.
This site is presented in the Flemish (Belgian Dutch) language. Google can translate. This organization includes competitors from many countries including Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands.
Covers the sport of Flyball in Australia
Covers the sport of Flyball in Germany
Covers the sport of Flyball in Netherlands
Covers the sport of Flyball in France
Covers the sport of Flyball in Austria. Also see Carinthian Flyball Team
Covers the sport of Flyball in Switzerland.
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Copyright © 1997-2003, Diane Blackman Created: September 28, 1997 Updated August 31, 2008