Sunday, June 25, 2006

What is Flyball?

When I tell people I do dog agility, I often don't have to do a lot of explaining about what it is. Many people have seen it at least in passing on TV, and if I say "It's like an obstacle course for dogs" they know what I'm talking about. Not so with flyball--most people need a bit more of an explanation because it doesn't get as much exposure and, well, it is a bit strange, I suppose. A couple of years ago I made up a little web page that explained flyball as simply as I could (with helpful photos!), and I decided to put it up here because I figure it just belongs here in a blog about dogs and dogsports.

flyball border collieFlyball is a four-dog relay race in which each dog must outrun over four hurdles, trigger a spring-loaded box that releases a ball, retrieve the ball and bring it back past the finish line. It was first introduced to the world by Herbert Wagner on the Tonight Show in the early 1970s, and is an offshoot of scent hurdling. There are two separate santioning bodies for flyball competition in the United States and Canada, the North American Flyball Association and United Flyball League International. There are also flyball associations in Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, Finland, and Italy.
flyball yorkieWho can play Flyball?
Any dog breed or mix can play flyball. Dogs of all sizes can compete in flyball, and because the jump height for each team is determined by the size of the smallest dog on the team (referred to as the “height dog”), most clubs try to have at least one small dog in each racing lineup. Dogs must be registered with a sanctioning organization in order to compete in that organizations events. Dogs must be 1 year of age to compete. Dogs deemed by a judge to be aggressive may be banned from competition.

flyball viszlaWhat equipment is needed?
For flyball training, you will need at least 4 jumps (most teams make their own out of plywood or sintra, a strong synthetic material), and a flyball box. In addition, many clubs use a substitute for the box, such as a “chute” or a “target board” to teach safe and fast box turns before the ball is introduced to training. The flyball course is 51 feet long. The first jump is 6 feet beyond the start line, with three more jumps at 10-foot intervals. The box is 15 feet beyond the fourth jump (The NAFA Official Rules of Racing document provides diagrams and exact dimensions for equipment and the course). For competition, each club must provide its own flyball box and balls. The host club provides jumps, matting, ring gating, etc.

flyball judgeHow is flyball scored?
Each race consists of 3-5 heats, depending on the tournament format. To win a heat, a team must post the fastest time in which each dog runs “clean,” or successfully completes the course. To achieve a clean run, each dog must jump all four hurdles on the way to and from the box, trigger the ball-release mechanism on the box, and return over all four hurdles, carrying the ball all the way across the finish line. In addition, dogs may not false start (cross the start line before the timing light turns green) or pass illegally (crossing the start line before a returning dog crosses the finish line). A failure on any of these rules will result in the dog being “flagged” by the judge, in which case the dog must re-run the course after the original lineup has finished. If the team fails to successfully complete the course, they receive a “No Finish” for the heat and the win is credited to the opposing team (provided they successfully complete the course.) Teams receive points for winning heats, and additional points for winning the majority of the heats in a race. These points are then used to determine tournament placement. Complete NAFA rules are availble for download at the NAFA web site. U-FLI rules are available at the U-FLI site.

How do dogs earn titles in flyball?
In NAFA racing, points towards titles are awarded per heat on the basis of a team’s speed. If the team posts a time under 24 seconds, each dog that ran in that particular heat receives 25 points. For a time under 28 seconds, each dog receives 5 points and an under-32-second time earns each dog 1 point. If the team fails to run clean or come in under 32 seconds, no dog receives points for the run.

See the U-FLI site for their title schedule.

flyball teamHow do I get involved in flyball?
Many flyball clubs and dog training facilities offer flyball classes. To compete, it is necessary to be part of a club, which means either joining an existing club or starting your own, A list of clubs can be found at the NAFA website. Starting your own club is a matter of obtaining equipment and practice space and registering your club with NAFA (or with U-FLI--clubs may register with both organizations). There are no rules regarding how your club must be structured or how decisions must be made. You and/or your members can decide that. Other area clubs are usually very happy to offer advice and assistance to new clubs.

North American Flyball Association
Flyball League International

Unofficial “Flyball home page”

Jump plans

Target board plans

Norm Glover boxes
Key Products boxes
Willoughby Workshop boxes
Patriot Flyball boxes
Premier Flyball boxes

North Carolina Flyball links
Pet Behavior Help (flyball classes in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina)
DogGoneFast Flyball Club
Go Dog Go Flyball Club
Blockade Runners Flyball Club

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