It's all about flyball....
Flyball is a team sport for dogs that was invented in California in the late 1970's. It is noisy, rowdy, and lots of fun for the dogs, handlers, judges, and spectators alike. Dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds participate in this rapidly growing sport. The first great flyball dog, the legendary Onyx, was a Doberman Pinscher but the highest ranked dog in flyball currently is a mix. The second ranked dog is a sheltie!
The course and races
The course consists of a starting line, 4 hurdles spaced 10 feet apart and a box. The first hurdle is 6 feet from the start line and the box is 15 feet from the last hurdle, for a 51 foot overall length. At tournaments, the start line is outfitted with a line of red, yellow, and green lights, similar to what you would see at a drag race. There is also a start/finish line sensor connected to the light system to capture individual dog and team times. A large space behind the course to allow the teams to line up and give the dogs a running start.
A tennis ball is loaded into one of the holes in the front of the box. After jumping the hurdles, the dog hits a pressure plate on the front of the box, which causes the ball to shoot out. The dog catches the ball and jumps back over the hurdles with the ball. When the dog crosses the starting line the next dog goes. The first team to have all 4 dogs run without errors wins the heat.
The height of the hurdles is set at four inches below the height of the shortest dog on the team, with the minimum jump height being 7 inches and a maximum being 14 inches. Teams have a "height dog" that determines the jump height so that the rest of the team can run even faster. The teams consist of the four dogs in the lineup plus two alternates, for a total of six. The four dogs that run can change after each heat as long as they are from the same six-dog group.
Tournaments are organized so that clubs can meet and race their teams, which are put into divisions based on seed times submitted prior to the tournament. The format of the tournament determines the number of heats in a race, usually three to five. Tournaments give flyball dogs and handlers the opportunity to earn tournament points towards winning the division as well as individual title points.
Titles and Points
Like other dog sports, flyball offers a variety of titles for owners to attach to their dogs' names. Title points are awarded to dogs running on teams where the heats are run without errors, whether they win or lose.
Points are awarded to the four dogs that run for each heat, based on the total time of the heat:
• Less than 32 seconds: Each dog receives 1 point
• Less than 28 seconds: Each dog receives 5 points
• Less than 24 seconds: Each dog receives 25 points
After accumulating a certain number of points, the dog is eligible for titles:
• Flyball Dog (FD) – 20 points
• Flyball Dog Excellent (FDX) – 100 points
• Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh) – 500 points
• Flyball Master (FM) – 5,000 points
• Flyball Master Excellent (FMX) – 10,000 points
• Flyball Master Champion – 15,000 points
• Onyx – 20,000 points
• Flyball Grand Champion (FGDCh) – 30,000 points
• Hobbes Award – 100,000 points
In addition to title points, teams running in tournaments earn tournament points. Tournament points count towards winning the division at a tournament only, and they do not count towards title points. Tournament points are awarded for the number of heats won in each race.
In North America, flyball is governed by the North American Flyball Association (NAFA). Teams from both the US and from Canada fall under NAFA rules, and tournaments are sanctioned by NAFA. According to NAFA's current database statistics there are 1,234 teams from 497 clubs in Canada and the US alone. Other governing bodies for flyball include the British Flyball association, the Belgian Flyball Federation, and the Australian Flyball Association. Worldwide there are teams in Austria, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Poland, New Zealand and South America as well.
As in other dog sports, flyball requires extensive training, cooperation and communication between dogs and their handlers. The dogs are trained to prevent injury and maximize speed. The dogs undergo training on each of the pieces of the flyball course, and eventually put the pieces together to run the full course. The handlers must also be “trained” as to when to release their dogs, how closely to pass at the starting line, what the rules are, when to rerun, and what order to run the dogs for that race.