Intro to Flyball
Written by Marie Aymard on March 3, 2021
Flyball is fondly referred to as drag racing for dogs. Upon seeing your first tournament, the noise, chaos, and excitement can be overwhelming. However, the finesse and training that goes into this sport is something to be admired. Flyball is one of the few sports that requires the partnership of a team, and each team is comprised of four dogs of all sizes and breeds. Two teams line up in a ring, and they relay race each other in an incredible display of speed, focus and control.
The dogs need to be neutral and task oriented, and the handlers need to have a fine tuned eye for their timing. This is a team sport through and through, and the bond that it helps to create between racing teams is extremely unique. Generally, it takes about a year to train a race ready flyball dog. Clubs vary in their techniques for training, but many tend to separate the tasks of the race and teach them individually before putting them together.
To begin the race, all four dogs line up at their respective markers to rev up for their turn to go. The start dogs are lined up with their handlers, who then watch a series of timed lights to cue when they will let their dog take off. As the first dog takes off, they aim themselves down a lane of four jumps towards a spring loaded box. As the dogs approach the box, they do a very coordinated swimmers-type turn to trigger the box to release the ball. The dog is trained to time and catch the ball, and then flip back around to race back down the lane towards their handler. As that first dog returns down the lane, the second dog is ready to take off, and sent to complete the same task. The goal is that the dogs pass, nose to nose, at a line marked five feet away from the first jump to achieve a “perfect pass”, and this is repeated until all four dogs have relayed themselves down the lane and back to their handler. A successful race requires each dog to complete the jumps, retrieval of the ball, and the return without any error.
Points and titles are accumulated when all four dogs on the team run clean, or without any error. Each organization differs a bit in how they tally points and titles. In NAFA for example, a team that runs under 24.00 seconds accumulates 25 points for each dog on the team that successfully completed the run. This sport is extremely supportive of new handlers as the first few titles can be accumulated in a weekend, and as the dog gets more advanced, they require many more points to be earned over many tournaments to obtain the titles.
Flyball is one of the most face paced, exciting sports for dogs. The North American Flyball Association (NAFA) and the United Flyball League International (U-FLI) are the two most popular organizations to offer this sport in the United States. There are clubs spread across the country to help offer training and guidance for flyball newbies to learn how to race and share the love of the sport. If this is a sport you are interested in learning to play with your dog, I highly recommend checking out a few clubs in your area to see who is the best fit for you and your dog.