What is flyball?
Flyball is a relay race with teams of 4 dogs which race over 4 jumps or hurdles to a ‘box’ which holds a tennis ball. When the dog steps on the spring-loaded box it releases the tennis ball, the dog catches the ball and runs back over the hurdles. Usually two teams race side by side – the team where all 4 dogs manage to get over the jumps and back without a fault (such as dropping the ball) in the quickest time wins.
There are five people in a flyball team, comprising four handlers and a ‘box loader’. It is the box loaders job to ensure the tennis ball is in the correct hole for each dog. Each box has two holes, with right-handed or right-pawed dogs usually prefering to get the ball from the right hole and others prefer the left. The box loader must also be good at shouting as calling the dogs towards them is an important part of the job.
Each row of hurdles has a start/finish line. Ideally as the previous dog is returning over this line the next dog should be crossing the line to fetch the next ball. Timing is essential. If you release your dog too late you risk losing precious seconds and the other team may win. However, if you misjudge the time and release your dog too early so he has crossed the start line before the previous dog is back you will get a fault. If you get a fault you will need to run your dog again after all four dogs have run and this costs the team time.
Levels of competition
For novice dogs there are ‘starter’ competitions where the lanes of hurdles are enclosed in netting or surrounded by wooden wings. This stops the dogs ‘running out’ – many dogs prefer to get the ball and run back alongside the hurdles rather than over them as this is quicker! Starter hurdles are also lower with a minimum height of 7 inches. Experienced dogs jump over hurdles of a maximum of 14 inches, but this depends on the height of the shortest dog in the team. The jump height is set at 5″ below the shoulder height of the smallest dog, known as the ‘height dog’.
The British Flyball Association website has more information and a useful video about Flyball.