Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

by Steve Corona

Flyball…the rock and roll of dog sports!

At first glance, Flyball is quite the contrast to the more traditional obedience based events. Loud with barking dogs and their handlers getting them amped up, it’s like attending a rock concert versus a symphony. But don’t let the apparent chaos fool you, these dogs are amazing athletes and spend many hours in training and practice.

The first United States Flyball tournament was held in 1983 and participation has since soared with more than 16,000 registered dogs and clubs located throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and many other countries. While there are several governing organizations, the largest is the North American Flyball Association (NAFA®).

Flyball matches two teams of four dogs each, racing in side-by-side lanes over a 51-foot long course. Each dog runs in relay fashion over a set of jumps, leaps onto and triggers a spring-loaded Flyball box, which releases a tennis ball. The dog retrieves the ball, and returns back over the jumps. The next dog is released to run the course but cannot cross the start/finish line until the previous dog returns with the ball. The first team to have all 4 dogs finish the course without error wins the heat.

Tournaments are comprised of different classes of racing such as Regular (all dogs from the same club), Open (dogs can be from a combination of clubs), Multi-breed (all 4 dogs must be of a different breed) and Veterans (all dogs must be 7 years of age or older).

The Flyball year culminates in an international tournament held every October at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, Indiana – the “CanAm Classic”. This competition brings together dogs and handlers of every ability in a massive 7-ring tournament with over 400 teams in attendance. CanAm ends with the championship races – a thrilling exhibition of the fastest elite teams. The 3-day event is live streamed, has been on local and national news, and in 2010 was awarded a Guinness World Record as the largest Flyball tournament with 810 dogs entered. In June 2016, the NAFA World Record in the Regular Division was set by a team from Ontario, Canada called Border Patrol. The record time was 14.433 seconds – an average of an amazing 3.6 seconds per each of the 4 dogs to run the 102 foot course!

Flyball is open to every breed, speed, and size of dog. From Border Collies to Chihuahuas, blind dogs, and even a few tripods – the dogs have a great time! For their safety, a dog must be at least one year old to play, but there are many drills that can be worked on during puppyhood such as tug drive, recalls, and socialization skills.  As the dog matures, training develops into learning the pattern, working on catching the ball out of the box and the box turn, passing another dog near the start/finish line, and increasing speed. Many handlers and their dogs have been together for years and spend a lot of time together traveling to tournaments, in hotel rooms or RV’s, and form an inseparable bond.

For the humans, bragging rights is the prize, but the dogs can earn titles based on the recorded time of each heat. For races 24 seconds and under, each dog in that heat earns 25 points; under 28 seconds earns 5 points;  and under 32 seconds earns 1 point. Earned at just 20 points, the first title, Flyball Dog (FD) is often the sweetest to many handlers. It is the reward of all the effort that has gone into getting a dog ready to race. At the other end of the scale is the Hobbes Award. This title, named after the first dog to earn the recognition, is given to a dog that accumulates 100,000 points over its racing career.  NAFA® also recognizes those dogs and their handlers that have earned points in 10 consecutive years of racing with the Iron Dog award.

Flyball encourages everyone to participate and teams are made up of all ages – little ones and seniors included. NAFA® includes a Junior Handler program that encourages young children, under adult supervision, to participate in racing and judging. These youth learn skills such as participating in a team sport, respect for their canine companions, and the importance of physical activity for both humans and dogs. With time spent racing and hanging out with dogs and friends, Flyball teams tend to become like an extended family.

To find out more about the exciting sport of Flyball and to locate a club or tournament near you, please visit flyball.org.

Steve Corona is currently Chairman of the Board and a Supervising Judge for the North American Flyball Association (NAFA®). He is also the owner of Doggy Day Out Kennel & Daycare in P7lugerville, TX. Steve competes with his Border Collie Cayenne and is in training with his Whippet named Zambonee.

Photo via the author.

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