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What is Flyball?

By Michelle Martin, CANIDAE Team Member

When you ask the average dog lover what agility is, they can probably give you a general description, but ask them what Flyball is and you usually get a response like “Fly…What??” My goal today is to introduce readers to the wonderful, action packed sport of Flyball! It’s a fast paced dog relay race that sets two teams of four dogs each, to race each other. Flyball is a fun sport that combines agility and an advanced game of fetch.

Flyball is a competitive team sport that was invented in California in the late 70’s. Herbert Wagner was credited for creating the first ever Flyball box when he showed millions of Americans his dogs playing Flyball on the Johnny Carson Show. Soon after, dog trainers were making their own Flyball boxes and in the early 80’s the sport became so popular that the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was formed; they are a know worldwide. Today we have two associates that host Flyball competition, which are NAFA and U-Fli.

Flyball races place two teams of four dogs and handlers each to their own lane, racing side-by-side, over a 51-foot long course. Each dog runs in a relay fashion over a set of four jumps in a straight line, and then they hit the box, which triggers the ball to pop out. The dog then catches the ball (on the “fly”) and returns over the jumps with the ball to their handler. The next dog is released but cannot pass the start/finish line until the previous dog has. The goal here is to have the dogs cross as close as possible to the start/finish line. The first team to have all four dogs finish the course without error is the winner of that race. If you could take a guess how fast this could be done, what would it be… 1 minute…30 seconds? Can you believe the fastest that Flyball has been raced so far was clocked at 14.690 seconds! This is the world record held by a club called Touch n Go during a 2011 competition.

Like I mentioned, a Flyball team consists of 4 dogs running; usually one of those four dogs is a lot smaller than the others. People watching a competition always wonder why there is a small dog on the team. They think we are just being “nice” to let the little dogs play. In actuality the hurdle heights are determined by the smallest dog on the team, which is then called the “height dog.” Dogs and their owners really like having small dogs on the team because it lowers down the jumps, which usually means the big dogs can run faster! So we big dog owners really like having the little dogs play.

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