Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Flyball?

By Michelle Martin, CANIDAE Team Member

When you ask the average dog lover what agility is, they can probably give you a general description, but ask them what Flyball is and you usually get a response like “Fly…What??” My goal today is to introduce readers to the wonderful, action packed sport of Flyball! It’s a fast paced dog relay race that sets two teams of four dogs each, to race each other. Flyball is a fun sport that combines agility and an advanced game of fetch.

Flyball is a competitive team sport that was invented in California in the late 70’s. Herbert Wagner was credited for creating the first ever Flyball box when he showed millions of Americans his dogs playing Flyball on the Johnny Carson Show. Soon after, dog trainers were making their own Flyball boxes and in the early 80’s the sport became so popular that the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was formed; they are a know worldwide. Today we have two associates that host Flyball competition, which are NAFA and U-Fli.

Flyball races place two teams of four dogs and handlers each to their own lane, racing side-by-side, over a 51-foot long course. Each dog runs in a relay fashion over a set of four jumps in a straight line, and then they hit the box, which triggers the ball to pop out. The dog then catches the ball (on the “fly”) and returns over the jumps with the ball to their handler. The next dog is released but cannot pass the start/finish line until the previous dog has. The goal here is to have the dogs cross as close as possible to the start/finish line. The first team to have all four dogs finish the course without error is the winner of that race. If you could take a guess how fast this could be done, what would it be… 1 minute…30 seconds? Can you believe the fastest that Flyball has been raced so far was clocked at 14.690 seconds! This is the world record held by a club called Touch n Go during a 2011 competition.

Like I mentioned, a Flyball team consists of 4 dogs running; usually one of those four dogs is a lot smaller than the others. People watching a competition always wonder why there is a small dog on the team. They think we are just being “nice” to let the little dogs play. In actuality the hurdle heights are determined by the smallest dog on the team, which is then called the “height dog.” Dogs and their owners really like having small dogs on the team because it lowers down the jumps, which usually means the big dogs can run faster! So we big dog owners really like having the little dogs play.

The great thing about Flyball is that it’s a sport where ALL dogs can play. Pure breed or mixed breed, big or small…almost every dog can be a Flyball dog! Through flyball I have witnessed many different types of breeds playing the game. I have even witnessed dogs with handicaps having a “ball” racing in the lanes. My favorite still today that I have seen play Flyball is a dog with 3 legs as well as a dog that was blind in one eye. Many dogs I have seen play Flyball were rescue dogs, including all of my own, just more evidence that any dog can be a Flyball dog.

As with most dog activities, there are many books out there to help you get started with Flyball. But Flyball is a team sport, and it’s an opportunity for a group of people and dogs to come together and have fun! Although there are some events where you can race singles, becoming a member of a Flyball club has many benefits. An existing Flyball club will have all the needed equipment and experience to guide you in teaching Flyball to your dog. So if your dog likes to play fetch, check out a Flyball club in your area. Flyball classes just might be the right thing for you and your furry friend.

There are numerous advantages of playing Flyball with your dog. A Flyball club is a place where new friendships are formed out of passion and love of dogs, and watching your dog doing something he loves is priceless. Flyball is also a great outlet for your dog to burn some of that excess energy, and the bond you two will grow learning and playing a sport together is amazing. As your dog masters Flyball and starts to compete, he and his team may earn points toward titles. These titles have awards attached to them, were you can be sent home with certificates, pins and plaques. Also don’t forget the awesome dog toys you and your furry friend may take home for placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd at competitions.

If you think you and your dog may be interested in Flyball, the first step is to perform a quick test to see if your dog shows interest in the tennis ball. You can do this by simply rolling a tennis ball away from your dog to see what their reaction is. If your dog eagerly runs to the ball and picks it up, you have the makings of a Flyball dog and should contact your local Flyball club to see when they are offering classes (if they do not offer classes, they may be able to refer you to someone).

At home, there are things you can do to help your dog to become a Flyball dog.  The best Flyball dogs are arguably the ones who can run down to the box and back the quickest. When your dog comes back to you, this is called a “recall.” One goal is to have the fastest and most reliable recall possible with your dog; one where your dog runs back to you just as fast as when they run to the ball.  You can accomplish this by practicing Restrained Recalls. This exercise requires assistance from another person as well as the reward your dog would be most eager to receive, such as a game of tug, a throw of a ball or a CANIDAE dog treat. You are rewarding your dog for coming to you quickly!

In a safe, open area with room to run, ask a partner to hold your dog. Use the “favorite thing” to tease your dog and then take off running while calling your dog enthusiastically.  Your partner should release the dog as you are running away with the reward. When your dog “catches” you, reward them with their treat and lots of praise.  Make it fun! If your dog doesn't run straight toward you, then you may have to use a different reward that really gets their attention. It is also highly recommended that your dog knows “come” and will come to you in case of any distractions, such as another dog, a cat, or squirrel.  If you are concerned with your dog getting distracted, use a long line on your dog so that you can reel them in should they lose focus on you.

Training tips:
• Practice your recalls only when your dog has the most energy. Avoid practicing recalls when your dog is tired or relaxed. Your goal is to get fast returns.
• Always make training fun and exciting! Have a party! The more enthusiastic you are, the more excited your dog will be in wanting to get to you.
• Finally, stop early. Finish the training session with your dog wanting more, and finish on a positive note! This is the most important advice I can give, and is what people have the most trouble with. Practicing recalls is a lot of fun, so it is easy to say, “just one more!” However, this can set you back if the dog is not as excited, gets distracted or gets tired. The correct saying that applies here is “less is more!”  When it comes to training these fast recalls, stopping while your dog is excited and doing well will only make them more excited during the next training session.

Top photo: Bill Shaner
Middle Photo: RingoCalamity
Bottom photo: Echoxiii 


  1. I have seen this on TV though not in person and it sounds like so much fun. I think the best team I saw was 3 borders and a pom...gotta love those height dogs!!

  2. I love watching flyball when I can find an event on TV. I've never been able to find any live events. You can tell the dogs are enjoying every minute of it.

  3. I didn't know about it until I was introduced to the dog agility world. My friend, Lian's dogs love this game and they are really good at it.

  4. I would to love see that on TV. That looks like such a fun game for the dogs and the people. Take care.

  5. I have only seen Flyball on TV, but it sure looks like fun. Michelle,thanks for such a great article!

  6. I wish you all the best with your superb site about responsible pet ownership.
    I am a big fan of Flyball as everyone involved from the dogs and their handlers to the people who go to tournamnets have such a great time and really enjoy themselves.
    I hope you will not mind me taking this opportunity to tell you about my book The Flyball 5, but it was written to encourage people to be kind to dogs and to spread the word about the great sport of Flyball.
    I also believe the book is entertaining and that the people who visist this site will enjoy reading it.
    The Flyball 5 is available in Amazon's Kindle store.
    I know this is a blatant plug, but it's not spam as I truly believe the book has the potential to increase respect for dogs, which sadly is lower at present than it has been for years.
    My site http://TheFlyball5.net


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