Flyball is a relatively new canine sport to the UK and is a fast, fun, furious and addictive team sport which both you and your dog will enjoy. After its UK debut at Crufts in 1990, Flyball clubs quickly sprang up over the UK and a regular following ensued, making it one of the most popular canine sports in the UK today.
Essentially, it is based on a team knockout style competition, where two teams of four dogs run against each other and the clock down parallel racing lanes, in which each dog in each team takes a turn to race down the line over a series of 4 hurdles, before hitting a pedal on the ball loaded flyball box. A tennis ball is then released, which the dog must catch and hold in its mouth as it makes its way back down the line and hurdles to the start line, before the next dog is the team is realised by its handler. This series of events takes place for each dog in the team until all 4 have run, with the clock stopping at the moment the last dog crosses the line. If one dog does not complete the run successfully, for instance running out over the hurdles instead of jumping them, then they must run again at the end of their team. Usually, the best out of 3 or 5 runs decided which team makes it through to the next round and so on until there is one winning team left.
The team itself consist of 4 dogs, 4 handlers and a 'box loader' who places the tennis balls in flyball box each dog triggers. There is usually a reserve dog and handler also. The area needed to run a flyball lane is typically very long as dogs can accelerate to very fast speeds over quite a short distance. There must also be a run off area over the start/finish line and a longer distance between the flyball box and the subsequent hurdle to give the dog room to catch the ball, turn and pick up speed for the return leg.
Equipment needed is minimal, but must of a safe standard, especially if it is to be used in competitions. The flyball box can be any flat fronted commercially made box, and all dogs must have received training in order to trigger the box as safely as possible. The 4 hurdles are usually around 12 inches in height although this can vary slightly if you have a smaller dog as a team member. They are painted white and for the dogs health and safety, they must have padded or flexible tops. Tennis balls are used and the team must have copious amounts of them! They need to be un-punctured to ensure they fly out of the box correctly. Many flyball teams have deals with their local tennis clubs to collect used balls when they no longer have the bounce needed for the game, so they have enough to use during in training.
Many dog breeds compete at flyball but dogs such as Border Collies tend to have the speed, obsession and drive to make the top competition grades. That said, Flyballers tend to be a friendly bunch who will welcome any dogs and owners to their clubs and teams. It is a case of the more the merrier in many cases! It is a great family friendly sport, as well as being excellent exercise for your dog, so what's not to like! Interested? Your local Flyball team will certainly hope so. Most areas have local teams, whose contact details and website can be found online.
For futher information, see the british flyball association website by clicking here.