Flyball is one of the more exciting sports for dogs and their owners. Not only is it fast paced, making it perfect for high-energy breeds like the Australian Shepherd, but because it is a team sport it also allows for the opportunity to socialize with other dog owners. For these reasons, and as the thrill of competition increases, it is becoming one of the most popular sports worldwide.
The idea for the sport first came about in Southern California during the late 60's and early 70's. The basic principle was simple: combining scent hurdle racing with ball retrieving. Eventually a gentleman by the name of Herbert Wagner created a tennis-ball launching apparatus that could be triggered by the dogs themselves and this added to the thrill of the race. The craze soon took off and in 1983 the first tournament was held in the United States.
Since that time, flyball has become a global phenomenon with professional associations and tournaments now being held in Australia, Canada and South Africa, as well as across Europe. The European championships are now the largest international competition. They have been held in many locations including the UK, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany and France.
So what exactly is this sport all about? It's not very complicated. The course is run as a team in relay style, with one dog running at a time. The course consists of four hurdles placed 10 feet apart with the first hurdle placed six feet from the starting line and the flyball box 15 feet from the final hurdle. Each dog runs the course as quickly as possible, jumping the hurdles, then hits the box to release a tennis ball. The dog then catches the ball and runs back through the course to the starting line.
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Once one dog has returned to the starting line, the next dog can go. This continues until all four members of the team have run the course. The first team to have all four dogs complete the course without errors wins the heat. Errors occur when the ball is dropped or when the next dog enters the course too quickly. Dogs earn points toward flyball titles based on the teams' time.
Because it is one of the easier sports for a dog to learn and because the hurdles can be adjusted according to the height of the shortest dog, it is a sport that appeals to many breeds and is actually one of the few sports open to mixed breeds. That being said, it is particularly appealing to herding breeds such as the Australian Shepherd, which currently dominate the world standings.
Though the herding breeds have such a stronghold, other breeds have also had quite a bit of success at the sport, including smaller breeds like the Patterdale Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier. In fact, because the hurdles are set based on the shoulder height of the smallest dog, these smaller competitors, called 'height dogs' are actually prized. They may need to step on the flyball box full force to eject the ball but that doesn't hinder them from competing with the bigger breeds.
If you are looking for a fun way to get some exercise for you and your dog while also meeting and working with other dog owners, then this may be just the sport for you. For more information you can check out the website of the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) or any of the other worldwide organizations. Why not give it a try and find out what flyball is all about?