We all know that dogs are fast, agile, and have boundless energy. That’s why sports such as flyball might be an excellent way to keep them healthy and happy.
But if you’ve recently discovered this activity, there are many things you should know before competing. First of all, let’s make sure everyone understands what it’s all about!
What Is Flyball?
Flyball is a sport in which two teams of dogs are racing with each other. Every dog has to run over a line of hurdles, catch a ball released from a box and bring it back to his handler going through the obstacles a second time. All the dogs have to complete the flyball course one after another, and the fastest team wins.
It might seem very simple, but flyball requires a lot of preparation, training, and equipment. Thus, you have quite a bit of work to do before your dog can join a team and start racing. But don’t worry because I’m here to help you out.
Here’s an introduction video to show you what flyball looks like in action!
It can be impressive to see experienced athletes on the course. However, your dog might also be able to participate in flyball events if you take the time to train and prepare him. Now let’s dive into the details.
Is Flyball Safe For Dogs?
Flyball can be an excellent activity for your dog to spend his pent-up energy and stay in good shape. On the other hand, running full speed over hurdles and turning over so quickly can put a lot of strain on his joints and muscles. Consequently, flyball isn’t the safest sport for dogs.
With proper equipment and training, the risks of injury will drastically reduce. But it’s still a high-impact physical activity that can be harmful to fragile dogs. Just make sure that flyball is safe for your dog’s conditions before getting started.
Can All Dogs Play Flyball?
Like most other dog sports, flyball is open to any breed, from Chihuahuas to Border Collies passing by mutts. However, natural runners such as herding or sporting dogs are more common in competitions.
It’s definitely not the best sport for Bulldogs and Basset Hounds, but they are welcome to participate. Your dog’s breed shouldn’t restrict him from getting into flyball as long as he’s suitable to run, jump over hurdles, and carry a ball with his mouth.
At What Age Can Dogs Start Flyball?
To start competing in the sport of flyball, your puppy must be over 15 months old. Before that age, he’s too fragile for such intense physical activity.
That’s why flyball is not safe for dogs that aren’t fully grown. If their growth plates aren’t closed, high-impact sports can be harmful to them.
10 Best Flyball Dog Breeds!
Even if all dogs can participate in flyball, some of them generally perform better than others. To be good at this racing sport, they have to be fast, athletic, powerful, and agile. With that in mind, here are the best dog breeds for flyball!
- Border Collie.
- Australian Shepherd.
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
- Golden Retriever.
- Labrador Retriever.
- Shetland Sheepdog.
- Jack Russell Terrier.
- Belgian Malinois.
- Bonus: Mixed-Breeds.
Other Good Small Dog Breeds For Flyball!
- Miniature Poodle.
- American Cocker Spaniel.
If your dog hasn’t made it up to the list, it’s not a problem. With the right preparation and training, he can still be an excellent candidate for flyball.
As long as he’s in good shape, everything should be fine. That’s why I highly recommend you talk with a vet to make sure it’s an appropriate sport for him.
How Do You Play Flyball With Your Dog?
Once you have figured out it’s safe for your dog to participate in flyball racing, you can introduce him to the sport. If he’s smart, healthy, and energetic, you are probably in the right place. To get started, you must gear up properly and prepare him for such an intense physical activity.
Dog Flyball Equipment!
You can’t start training your dog for flyball racing without any course on which you can practice. Thus, you have to understand the setup and what gear is required right off the bat. A standard flyball course has 4 hurdles and one spring-loaded box that releases the ball.
It’s practically the only equipment you need to get into this sport and slowly improve your dog’s skills. You might also have to invest in a harness, specific balls, and other accessories. But it’s not necessary if you’re just getting started.
Flyball Gear List:
- Hurdles. (4 Per Team)
- Flyball Box. (One Per Team)
- Balls. (One For Each Dog)
- Racing Harness. (Optional)
Related Questions To Dog Flyball Equipment:
How Tall Are Jumps In A Flyball Course?
It depends on the smallest dog of the team. According to the North American Flyball Association (NAFA), the hurdle’s height must be equal to his measurement at the wither subtracting 5 inches.
It’s also important to note that the jumps can’t be over 14 inches or under 7 inches. For more information about the flyball setup course, I highly recommend reading this article on the AKC Blog.
How To Find Dog Flyball Equipment?
If you don’t have any hurdle at home, check out this set of 4 bar jumps. Originally made for agility training, it can also be an excellent investment to build a flyball course directly in your backyard. With these obstacles, you will be all set to teach your dog how to jump over a line of hurdles.
For the flyball box, I have only found one available online on eBay. You can also check out the resources offered by Flyball.org for finding all the equipment you need to get started. Once you join a team or club, people will help you gear up properly.
Flyball Dog Training!
Having the right equipment isn’t sufficient to introduce your dog to a new sport. Even if he’s fast, healthy, and agile, mental preparation is also necessary. That’s why training is an essential part of flyball preparation.
Dogs that aren’t well-trained won’t be suitable to participate in events. They must have the capacity to focus on the course and respond to commands if needed.
Like any other sport, it will take a lot of time to improve your dog’s flyball skills. Thus, here are some things you should start working on as soon as possible to prepare him for competitions.
Important Advice: While training your dog for flyball, he will certainly fail. It’s normal, and you shouldn’t be upset about it. Just take a step back and adjust the level of difficulty to where he used to perform well. Then, you can stop the session and retry later!
First of all, you must be able to have control over your dog. Training him can be extremely difficult and discouraging if he’s not obedient right off the bat.
It’s simply not fun to teach new things to someone that can’t focus and doesn’t listen to what you say. Therefore, I highly recommend you to master basic obedience and commands before getting into flyball training.
Teach Your Dog How To Jump Over Hurdles.
Jumping over a relatively low obstacle isn’t too difficult for your dog. The real challenge is to “fly” over a line of hurdles as fast as possible. That’s why it might be the best lesson to start with.
For introducing your dog to this part of the flyball course, one hurdle is sufficient. Apart from the obstacle, you will also need something he loves. It can be his favorite toy as well as treats.
Start by putting the bar of the jump on the ground and make your dog pass/jump over it. If he doesn’t want to do it without motivation, you can use a reward to lure or encourage him.
Then, you can slowly increase the height of the hurdle to improve his confidence and skills. Once you reach the ideal jump for flyball according to his size, you can add up to 4 obstacles and start working on his speed.
Master The Game Of Fetch.
After going over a line of hurdles, your dog will have to get the ball from the box and retrieve it back to you. That’s why playing fetch might help him understand the concept of flyball more quickly.
It’s also an excellent game to build a high ball drive. Without any interest in this type of toy, it can be tricky to train your dog for flyball. If he has fun retrieving balls in the park, it shouldn’t be different on the course.
Start The Transition To Flyball.
After some practice, your buddy should have the skills to step up his game of fetch. Thus, you can try to add some jumps into the mix. But make sure he’s ready for this challenge.
Start by putting one hurdle (very low or on the ground) and throw the ball over it. Your dog should be able to follow the ball quite easily. Then, you can gradually increase the height of the jump or even add more hurdles.
In a flyball competition, you won’t throw any ball at the other end of the course. It will already be in the box, ready for your dog to catch it and bring it back to you. Therefore, you have to train him to retrieve something that’s already placed far away from you.
In the beginning, you can put the ball not too far in front of your dog. Make him excited about the object to retrieve, release him, and call him back as soon as he has the ball in his mouth.
If it’s a success, you can put the ball farther and redo the same process. After some training, your dog should be ready to add the hurdles. Once again, I highly recommend starting with the jump bars as low as possible to make it easy for your dog.
Introduce Your Dog To The Flyball Box.
Once your dog can jump over a line of hurdles, take a ball on the ground and bring it back, it’s time to add the flyball box. Before anything else, you should let him explore this new piece of equipment.
You can encourage your dog to press on the box to make him understand it will release the ball. I highly recommend you give him treats or play with his favorite toy during the introduction to help him associate the flyball box with positive emotions.
Now it’s time to train your dog to catch the ball with the proper equipment. In the beginning, you should probably avoid distractions such as hurdles, speed, distance, and retrieving. Just make sure he can grab the ball on the box first.
If he doesn’t jump on the spring-loaded pad at the start, it’s normal. Putting something at the box’s base will encourage him to leap over the obstacle and gain precious seconds.
Then, you will have to work on his turning technique. Each dog will have a side that’s more natural for him to turn on the flyball box. Place the ball at easy reach, which means on the same side that he turns.
Put It All Together!
After a lot of practice, your dog should master every skill necessary to perform well on the flyball course. If you take one step at a time, he should be able to jump hurdles, grab the ball from the box, and retrieve it back to you.
At this point, it’s time to put everything your dog has learned together. You can start training him on the complete flyball setup and start working on more technical aspects. Improving his speed should not be your focus until he masters every step of the course.
Join A Flyball Team/Club!
Once your dog is ready to compete, you still need to find his teammates. Flyball is not an individual sport, so he can’t participate alone. He needs other athletes to run with him during this relay race.
Now the real question is: Where can you find other dog owners to build or join a team? There are over 375 active clubs across the US and Canada registered with the North American Flyball Association. (NAFA)
Thus, it shouldn’t be too complicated to find one that’s open for new members. Check out the Flyball Locator to browse clubs in your state/province. This resource will also give you access to the contact information or website of each association you can join.
If you know some people that have dogs and are interested in flyball, you can also put together your own team. After contacting the NAFA to register your new club, you will be ready to participate in their competitions!
How To Compete In Flyball Events?
By joining a club or team, other people in your association will help you get started. To find upcoming flyball events, you can always take a look at the NAFA Tournaments Page. Then, you only have to pay your entry and show up ready for your first competition.
Know The Flyball Rules!
Before participating in NAFA events, you must understand the regulations. That’s why I highly recommend you read their rulebook to know everything you need for competing in flyball. You shouldn’t have problems if you’re aware of the rules concerning this dog sport.
Last Thoughts About Flyball!
With all the information and resources in this article, you are all set to get started. It’s finally time to go out there and train your dog for flyball racing. All the time and energy you must put into this sport is worth the fun you will have together on the course.
With the proper equipment, preparation, and training, almost any dog can participate in flyball. The real question is: Are you committed enough to do all the necessary work? If you have read this far, I’m sure you have everything you need to make it happen.
On Your Mark, Get Set… Have Fun!