Flyball is one of the most exciting and competitive of all dog sports. Unlike agility trials, which are competed in by individual dogs, this sport involves teams of dogs racing against each other.
The course is raced as a relay with one dog starting when the previous one finishes. The course involves each dog navigating a set of hurdles until they reach a mechanical machine. They must then hit or jump on the machine in order to release a ball that is then returned to the starting line so the next competitor can go.
The genesis of the sport occurred in Southern California in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Herbert Wagner is credited with revolutionizing the sport by creating the first tennis ball launching apparatus, which was christened the “flyball box”. This particular innovation allowed for even quicker turnarounds and course completion times began to shrink as records were set.
The idea is the same as with any dog sport; it is a way to combine obedience training and athletic ability in order to both have fun and get your dog some much-needed exercise. The fact that the sport is played in teams also makes it a very good venue for socializing. In fact, many owners participate in teams more for the socialization aspect than the competition, as it’s a great way to interact with other dog owners.
melounix / stock.adobe.com
melounix / stock.adobe.com
Of course, social benefits aside, this is still a sport and as such a serious competitive environment has sprung up around the world. There are many professional organizations dedicated to presenting and governing competition. In the U.S. the main organizations are the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) and United Flyball League International (U-FLI). The NAFA is the first flyball organization ever formed. It was created in order to develop formal rules for competition and to promote the sport.
One of the biggest attractions of the sport is that it is open to all breeds, including mixed breeds. Teams can be made up of a variety of breeds, with competition jumps being set according to the height of the smallest dog on the team. Often teams will purposely include a smaller dog in order to gain an advantage in setting the jumps. This is referred to as a "height dog." The only accommodation necessary for smaller dogs is that they may have to make full body contact with the flyball box in order to release the ball.
Because it combines the skill sets of dog, handler and coach, it has quickly become one of the more popular sports. It enables handler and dog to develop a deeper bond as they work to improve their communication skills. Coaches bring sets of dogs and handlers together to form a cohesive team, with competitors who complement each other in order to form a strong unit. In competition, prizes are awarded for the speed in which the course is completed and teams compete in divisions with other teams of similar speed.
If you and your dog excel at agility training and want to try your hand at something a little different, then the exciting world of flyball may just be for you. Check your area and see if there are any local clubs that you might be able to join. From there you can move on to competition where you can put your time to the test against the very best in the sport.