Photo by Irene Cotter
If your dog loves to run fast and play with a tennis ball, flyball might be the sport to channel their energy!
How does the sport of flyball work?
Flyball is a team dog sport involving a relay-style race. Each team is comprised of four dogs. Dogs race head to head to jump four hurdles over a 51-foot straight track, trigger a spring-loaded box holding a tennis ball, and carry the tennis ball back over the four hurdles. At that point, the next dog is released. The first team to have all dogs complete the course without errors wins!
The height of the hurdles is determined by the size of the smallest dog on the team (called the ‘Height Dog’), so every club appreciates their pint-sized members just as much as their longer-legged teammates.
Eligible breeds for flyball
The governing body of flyball in North America is the North American Flyball Association (NAFA). NAFA encourages dogs of all breeds and mixed breeds to play flyball. In fact, there is a racing division called the multi-breed division where each dog on the team must be a different breed or mixed breed! AKC has a relationship with NAFA and recognizes NAFA titles for AKC registered dogs.
Getting started with flyball
If you’re interested in playing flyball with your dog, use the club locator on the NAFA website to find a flyball club in your area. Most clubs welcome visitors to their practices, and tournaments welcome spectators! Visiting a flyball tournament can be a very loud experience. Flyball dogs get really excited for their favorite sport and let it be known by barking! It can feel pretty wild and out of control, but flyball dogs actually have remarkable self-control – performing high precision movements at high speeds in a very distracting environment.
Training a flyball dog
One of the most important things to teach a flyball dog is a recall. Flyball dogs race back to their handler for their favorite reward; whether that is a prized toy, tasty treats, or lots of praise!
Another aspect to learning flyball is the box turn. Flyball dogs perform a swimmer’s style turn off the box while catching their ball, this enables them to maintain a great deal of speed through the turn rather than coming to a complete stop. It’s also safer for their bodies long-term.
Lastly, the hurdles. The height of the hurdles ranges from 6 to 14 inches tall, depending on the height of the smallest dog on the team. Dogs learn to jump while carrying a ball and racing head to head with another dog in the competing lane.
Equipment for flyball
Flyball requires a special box, hurdles, and of course, a tennis ball! Actually, NAFA also allows small and mini balls for smaller dogs. While training, many handlers use small obstacles in front of the flyball box, called props, to encourage proper foot placement on the box for a more efficient turn.
Titles and recognition
Flyball dogs earn 25 points for every clean heat they complete under 24 seconds, and five points for every clean heat under 30 seconds. Titles are awarded based on points accumulated. The AKC recognizes four titles:
Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh) – 500 points
Flyball Master (FM) – 5000 points
ONYX – 20,000 points
Flyball Grand Dog Champion (FGDCH) – 30,000 points
At a tournament, teams are also awarded placements within their division. NAFA awards regional and national placements at the annual championship: the NAFA CanAm Classic. The event is usually held annually in Indianapolis, IN, but has been canceled for 2020.
For more information on the AKC Title Recognition Program: https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/flyball/
For more information on NAFA flyball: www.flyball.org
Breanne Long is a dog trainer and a member of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline team. The Helpline provides seven-day-a-week training and behavioral advice to its clients. Professional dog trainers man the line. The service is good for the life of your dog, and there is no limit to calls or questions. For more information: https://www.akc.org/products-services/akc-gooddog-helpline/