Flyball was invented in California in the late 70s. According to Kathryn Hogg, Flyball home page administrator, "Legend has it that Herbert Wagner first showed it on the Johnny Carson Show. Soon afterwards, dog trainers and dog clubs were making and using Flyball Boxes. In the early 80s, the sport became so popular that the North American Flyball Association (NAFA®) was formed." There are now associations and competitions for flyball in North America, the UK, Europe and Australia.
Flyball is basically a dog relay race where two teams of any breed (or mixed breeds) race each other and the clock to jump over four hurdles, retrieve a ball from the flyball box, and return over the four hurdles to cross the finish line. The team whose dogs have the fastest time without errors wins the "heat", and goes on to compete against other teams until the fastest team wins. The flyball box consists of a spring loaded box that shoots a tennis ball out when the dog jumps on the surface.
In addition to team competition, each dog competes for individual titles based on their individual times. Flyball is rewarding because a reasonably fast dog can win a title in a single weekend.
If you continue to compete, there are eight levels of titles. A point is gained for each run under 32 seconds. Five points are gained for each run under 28 seconds (the fastest time recorded so far is 16.93 seconds). The titles and points needed for them are as follows:
- 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 (FME) - 10,000 points
- Flyball Master Champion (FMCh) - 15,000 points
- ONYX (ONYX Award) - 20,000 points
- Flyball Grand Champion (FDGCh) - 30,000 points
The dogs who are best at flyball are: 1) fast, 2) competitive, and 3) crazy about tennis balls. Many of the fastest teams in the world are made up of Border Collies. However, the jumps for all four dogs on the team are set to the height of the smallest dog, with an 8" minimum height and a 16" maximum height. For many teams, this means that the lead dog will often be a small terrier or other competitive small breed. For this reason, there are an increasing number of Westies in Flyball competition.
Flyball is very exciting to watch. It is like watching horse racing from close range. The dogs get so keyed up about running that most of them bark constantly, so this is definitely not the sport for you or your dog if either of you are sound-sensitive!
If you think your dog might like flyball but you need to know more, you can get instructions on how to build a flyball box from NAFA through the mail or from the flyball home page on the Internet. Since this is a new sport, you will need to find a team to practice with. Flyball groups are still a little hard to find, but if you contact NAFA, they will tell you where to find teams or clubs that offer flyball, or where you can go to see a flyball tournament.
Sources of Information:
The NAFA® website provides information about flyball, names of teams in North America, official rules, and national and international standings.