Flyball is a canine team sport which is founded on the activities that dogs love to do – run, jump, fetch, and retrieve. It consists of a relay race between two teams of four dogs. Each dog must jump over four hurdles, retrieve a ball by triggering a flyball box and then return over the hurdles to the start/finish line. The team that has the fastest time with the least amount of errors wins that race.
Origins of the sport
Flyball started as a dog sport in the early 1970s, in Southern California. Some dog trainers combined scent hurdle racing with the dogs bringing back a tennis ball to the finish line. Then a tennis ball-launching apparatus was added and the first flyball box was born. Herbert Wagner is credited with making the first real flyball box. The first flyball tournament was held in 1983 in the United States. Flyball has now expanded into many countries including Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Europe.
What dogs are suitable?
Almost any dog can participate in Flyball, regardless of their size, speed, or breed. Due to the nature of the team sport, the Norwest Thunderdogs will make an assessment on whether your dog is behaviourally or physically suited to compete with our club during our introductory course.
It can take on average, up to 12 months to train a dog to competition level. This training includes ensuring your dog does not cross lanes or interferes with other dogs competing. Dogs who are deemed dangerous or menacing can be ‘carded’ during competition.
Flyball competitions (race meets) are run in performance-based divisions. The fastest dogs compete in the top division, and slower dogs are placed in lower divisions. This ensures fairness among the teams and enables slower dogs to be competitive. There are penalties in place for teams who do not comply with the appropriate placing of dogs or deliberately attempt to manipulate their team’s time by leaving large gaps (sandbagging).
What does a Flyball competition look like?
Flyball is known as ‘drag racing for dogs’, this is because of how the Flyball ring is set up. Events are usually run on grass but can also be run on rubber matting – often used for indoor arenas.
Two racing lanes are set up side-by-side, and between the lanes is a set of drag lights waiting to count down each race heat. There are also timing gates at the start/finish line to record the team times during the race and ensure no early passes are done during the heat.
Each lane is 51 feet (15.54m) in length and consists of 4 hurdles; the first being 6 feet (1.84m) from the start/finish line and the rest at 10 foot (3.05m) intervals.
At the end of the lane is the flyball box with a tennis ball in it. The flyball box is 15 feet from the last hurdle and requires the dog to trigger the box to release the ball. The dog then performs a swimmer’s turn onto the box, catches the ball, and continues back to the start/finish line.