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Bitten by the Flyball Bug

RRRRREEEEEAAAAADDDDYYYYY!!!! The sound of barking escalates.

SSSSEEEETTTT! Muscles bunch.

GOOOO! The launch from the start line, and they are off.

This is flyball. Some have likened flyball to drag racing. Others think madness has set in with all the contestants. Either way, flyball is a highly entertaining sport for both the spectator and contestant alike.

Started in the late ’60s and early ’70s as an adaption from sent hurdle racing, flyball quickly evolved into the fast-paced fun sport of today. Two teams of four dogs and their human enablers are pitted against each other in the racing lanes for the fattest time. The lanes consist of four jumps spaced 10 feet apart; a flyball box, set 15 feet from the fourth jump; and a start/finish line set 6 feet from the first jump. All in all, the course is 102 feet long (down and back). The matching lane is a mere 12 feet to 15 feet away, separated by only a light tree. The dog must race over the hurdles, launch the flyball, retrieve it, and return to the start line before the next in the relay can go.

The height of the jumps are based on the height of the smallest dog on the team. The measurement is taken from the withers, and 5 inches are subtracted from the total. Any breed of dog is eligible to race in flyball. Purebred dogs and mixed breeds are all welcome. The dogs that seem to excel at flyball are the OCD-type dogs. High-drive and toy-motivated dogs are the backbone of this sport.

Border collies, Australian shepherds, Jack Russell terriers, and border-whippets dominate the top point-earning spots. But, really, this sport gives every breed (and person) an equal chance to excel. Once you find the right motivation for the right dog, it all comes together.

The only true team sport in dog sports, flyball is not for the faint of heart. This is a fast-paced, high-drive, and loud sport relying on fast reflexes and adaptability of both the canine and their human partner. You must always be aware of both lanes of racing. If your team has an early pass or a dropped ball, you must be ready to re-run your dog—mot just any dog but the dog (or more often, the human) that had the mistake.

A racing team is made up of up to six dogs. At tournaments the teams are placed in divisions based on speed. Tournaments are divided into divisions so that teams compete against other teams of equal abilities. So, there is never a situation of a 17.00-second team racing a 23.00-second team. They are further broken down into three divisions; regular, multibreed, and open. A dog may compete in two divisions at the same tournament (example: they may run on a regular team and a multibreed team the same weekend). There are well over 300 tournaments a year sanctioned in the United States and Canada.

Regular teams consist of dogs listed with the same club affiliation. Multibreed teams must have four different breeds, with the same club affiliation, running in the race. Open teams are made up of dogs from different teams, so everyone gets a chance to race.

Each heat of each race has the potential for 25 points that accumulate toward titles in multibreed racing and regular racing. Here’s the way you earn those points: 25 points are earned for every run under 24.00 seconds, 5 points earned when under 28 seconds, and 1 point for a run under 30 seconds. You get no points for anything over 30 seconds (other than experience points).

Titles start with as little as 20 points for your Flyball Dog, or FD, then progress to higher titles; lower titles are awarded certificates, mid-range titles get pins, and higher titles are given plaques.

As those points accumulate, here are the titles earned: 100 points, Flyball Dog Excellent (FDx); 500 points, Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh); 1,000 points, Flyball Dog Champion Silver (FDCh-S); 2,500 points, Flyball Dog Champion Gold (FDCh-G); 5,000 points, Flyball Master (FM); 10,000 points, Flyball Master Excellent (FMx); 15,000 points, Flyball Master Champion (FMCh); 20,000 points, Onyx; 30,000 points, Flyball Grand Champion (FDGCh); 100,000 HOBBS. Multi-breed titles run concurrent but must be earned while racing on a multi-breed team.

The equipment that every team needs to get started is pretty basic: a box, jumps, and balls. Beyond that, there is a wealth of other items that you can choose to put in your tool box: box props, bumps, gates, stride sticks, and a whole carload of other things. Your flyball box is your most important item, and also your most expensive. You can find used boxes from $250 to $500 and new will cost anywhere from $900 to $1,200.

This sport is addictive and fun. It’s a great outlet for the dogs and humans that enjoy running, jumping, and playing with others. Once bitten by the flyball bug, you just can’t get it out of your system.

To find a team near you go to either the North American Flyball Association website, Flyball.org, or the United Flyball League International, U-Fli.com.

Stacey Coleman, who manages Urban Hound Reno, a doggie daycare and boarding facility in Reno, has been playing flyball for 18 years. With horses, burros, and birds in her life, she found her dogs at the time were “pretty drivey and needed a job. I tried agility, but, after knee surgery, it was too painful to run my dog. I was looking for something to do with my Aussies. I started Silver Streaks Flyball in 2000 after a clinic got me hooked. Once I caught the competitive bug, my next dog was my heart dog, Calamity, a border collie mix, saved from the shelter. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to rescue and run some amazing dogs. My current kids are two terrier mixes that keep things interesting.”

Main article photo by: Eagle-of-an-Eye (I wish)-Creative Commons