What is Flyball for Dogs?
Flyball is a popular team and individual canine sport formed in the 70s-80s of the 20th century. Its idea is for the dog to overcome obstacle line up to the flybox, catch the ball flying out of it and return through the same barriers to the trainer. An interesting feature is that the pet must push the flybox pedal on its own to get the ball. For the last 5 years this fun and exciting sport is gaining more and more fans, so it makes sense to tell about it in detail.
Like many other canine sports, flyball for dogs was born out of fun. It owes its origin to Herbert O. Wagner from California, who in 1969 developed a ball feeder for his dog. The “highlight” of his invention was that his pet could launch a tennis ball by pressing a special pad with his paw.
As time went by, the invention began to gain popularity among dog owners because of its convenience. In the early 1970s well-known dog trainers spotted Wagener’s device, and simple pastime began to be transformed into a sport. In addition to the ball device itself, the game began to include 4 barriers that the dog had to overcome both on the way to the flybox and on its way back to the finish line and the trainer.
In the beginning the competitions were more like a show and were held mainly at exhibitions. The Canadian city of Toronto became the center of flyball’s development, but the first official sporting event took place only in 1981 in the USA. Two years later the North American Flyball Association was established which is currently the most influential in the sport.
Video from the Сompetitions
Qualities for a Flyball Dog
There are no restrictions for flyball dogs. The sport is open to any dog regardless of size or breed (even mixed-breed dogs). As a rule, the vast majority of pets find the game of flyball fun. Of course, all dogs are different and some are better in the sport, some not. We can highlight the following qualities that a pet should have for practicing flyball:
- Mobility – ball games require a dog to be able to jump high and run fast, so he must be in great physical shape;
- Fast reaction – the ball goes out of the machine at high speed, so the dog must be able to react on time;
- Accuracy – to jump on the pedal correctly, to catch the ball on the fly – all this is quite difficult, in connection with which excellent coordination and the ability to accurately calculate the trajectory of their movements are required of the dog.
The best flyball results come from dogs who are agile and easy to train. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shelties and other breeds with similar constitution and temperament are ideal for the sport. This does not mean that large or, conversely, very small dogs can not participate in such competitions. Yes, they can. But due to their physiological characteristics, it is more difficult for them to perform the necessary actions.
Rules of Flyball Competitions
General requirements. All dogs of any size and breed (including mixed-breeds) except pregnant or bitches in hot period, as well as sick and aggressive pets are allowed in Flyball competitions. Only flat collars, half-martingale collars and harnesses may be used by the handler, other types of collars are prohibited and their use will result in disqualification. Any display of violence or aggression towards dogs or other competitors, staff or judges will also be punishable by disqualification from the competition.
Ring requirements. The flyball competition area is a rectangle with dimensions of 9x27m. Two parallel racetracks are marked out in the ring at a distance of 5 metres from each other. To enable the dog to cross the start line without slowing down, a track of 8.5 m is marked in front of it. Behind the fly boxes, a 1.5-metre-long section shall be marked out for helpers.
Equipment requirements. The following mechanisms and equipment shall be used in flyball competitions:
- Fly-boxes. Today’s competitions feature predominantly horizontal throwing mechanisms with an angled and curved front panel to aid in pushing the dog backwards and to prevent injury to the dog. The unit itself shall not exceed 60 cm in width, 50 cm in height and 75 cm in length, the components (levers, fasteners, etc) may extend no more than 12 cm beyond the specified limits.
- Ball The competition and training ball should be comfortable for the dog, spherical in shape, and with a good elasticity. The best option is to use tennis balls or similar products from other materials. Each participant should have 2 sets of balls – for competition and training.
- Cover The organisers of the competition must ensure that the start line, the running track and the sloping part of the flybox are covered with a non-slip material. For example, rubber, wood, plastic materials, etc.
- Barriers. Two sets of 50cm wide wooden obstacles (not including sides) are used for the competition. The height of the barriers should be selected individually for each team and should be 13 cm below the height of the lowest dog, not exceeding 35 cm. The distance from the starting line to the first obstacle should be 1.8 metres, between the barriers themselves – 3 metres, and from the last of them to the installation – 4.5 metres.
Refereeing requirements. During the competition, there are 5 referees in the ring – one at the starting line and near the setup on each track, as well as the head referee in the center between the tracks. Their tasks include registering teams, tracking violations of competition rules, recording the start and finish of each dog, calculating time, penalty points, disqualification of offenders, etc.
Rules of Competition. The Flyball Competition shall be conducted in accordance with the following regulations:
- Before the competition the teams are given time to warm up to tone up the dogs;
- Only judges, contestants and support staff must be in the ring during the competition, spectators are seated behind the fence on the bleachers;
- Only two teams, each with four dogs (two more as spare), can compete at the same time;
- The first dog in each team begins to run only at the signal of the chief judge, and the start can be made with a hold or in motion;
- Each subsequent dog starts when the previous dog has crossed the starting line with at least a part of his body;
- Each dog must overcome the four barriers, run to the fly box, press the pedal, catch the ball and bring it to the handler, having overcome all obstacles again;
- The handler must remain behind the starting line for the entire contest.
The winning team is the one whose dogs successfully complete all trials and return first. If both competing parties have shown the same time, the one who has made the least number of errors, which include:
- missing or knocking down an obstacle by the dog;
- missing the pad on the flybox;
- lost ball in motion
- stopping on the track;
- assistance from handler, staff or referee.
How to Train a Dog to Flyball
Many dog owners try to get into the sport because it’s a way for their dog to release energy and generally improve the bond a dog and his pet parent. So how to get started?
Plot. As a place to practice, you should choose a flat, cleaт area, with no rocks, sharp objects, branches, etc. The size of the training area is determined by your ultimate goal:
- If you wish to prepare your dog for professional competition, then the area must be equipped according to the dimensions of this ring specified in the previous section.
- In the event that you’re preparing your pooch for a show or just for your dog’s entertainment, you can use the area of any size.
Equipment and accessories. It is easy to buy the feeder, and make a track. It is also possible to build a flybox yourself – its design is simple, and materials for making it can be found at any hardware store or ordered online. Barriers are also widely available on the market and are easy to make yourself from plywood, wood or plastic using a standard set of mounting tools. Tennis balls have proven to be excellent.
Training Flyball. In order for your dog to master the sport, you have to teach him a number of special skills. Flyball s above all should be fun and joy for your dog. This is what professional trainers use as the cornerstone of the whole flying-ball training strategy.
Sessions are best started when the dog is 8 months old. After four months, the dog will be eligible for competition and this is plenty of time to prepare him. Flyball training includes the following key points:
- Raising speed motivation. In order to cover the entire distance as quickly as possible, the dog must be interested in doing so. A toy in the hands of a running away trainer encourages the dog to run after him without slowing down, hoping for a bit of fun. Gradually add hurdles, balls and other items of flyball, you will reinforce this urge in conditions close to competitive.
- Training to overcome barriers. To jump the barriers, the dog should be motivated with a toy or treat. Usually the dog is placed close to the barrier and the trainer goes around the barrier from the other side and calls the dog. Eventually, the pet has no choice but to jump over the barrier. It will also be helpful to practice running smoothly through gradually tapering incomplete barriers. At this point, you should practice landing points and setting the correct stride.
- Training the turn on the flybox. Properly getting your dog on the flybox ensures that he is guaranteed to throw the ball, as well as saving precious fractions of seconds. One method is to teach your dog to turn around with a slalom stick placed in front of the box. The second option is to have your dog leap onto the flybox with all four paws and sharply push back in the opposite direction with minimal time wasted.
In your dog’s training for flyball, remember – it’s just a game to him. He wants to do it for as long as he enjoys it. Keenly incorporate play into the process, keep your dog engaged and you’ll see results in a short time.