Flyball provides an entertaining and active way to interact with one's dog and other dog enthusiasts in an environment that is fun while allowing the dogs exercise and enjoyment. It is an especially effective way to burn off the energy of dogs with a high drive to work, such as Border Collies and Terriers.
A large part of flyball's popularity stems from the fact that it is one of the competition activities available to mixed-breed dogs, allowing rescued mutts and non-pedigree dogs to shine alongside their purebred canine counterparts. Though herding dogs currently dominate the courses, many champion teams have mutts on them. Dogs earn titles and awards based on points earned by their team in racing.
Flyball is not limited to the size of the breed, as smaller dogs such as Jack Russell Terriers and Whippets, even miniature poodles, often compete with great success in mixed-breed teams (teams consisting of dogs of various sizes and breeds). Smaller dogs are often prized as the hurdle height is based on the height of the smallest dog in the team, commonly known as a height dog. Their only limitation is whether they can trigger the release pad, and small dogs often have to fully jump on it to do so.
Flyball is one of the non-hunting dog sports in which dogs and people work as a team. Many casual pet owners use their flyball time more as a way to relax and socialize with other dog owners than as a competition, and many champion flyball dogs are essentially pet dogs with a hobby, rather than dedicated sporting or working dogs.
How it works...
Flyball races match two teams of four dogs each, racing side-by-side over a 51 foot long course. Each dog must run in relay fashion down the jumps, trigger a flyball box, releasing the ball, retrieve the ball, and return over the jumps. The next dog is released to run the course but can't cross the start/finish line until the previous dog has returned over all 4 jumps and reached the start/finish line. The first team to have all 4 dogs finish the course without error wins the heat.
Jump height is determined by the smallest dog on the team â€“ this dog, called the "height dog", is measured at the withers, then that number is rounded down to the nearest inch and another 5" is subtracted to get the jump height (with the minimum jump height being 7"). So a 13 1/4" dog would round down to 13", minus 5", would jump 8". Maximum jump height is 14".
In the early days of flyball, there were no start lights and no passing lights. All of the starts and passes were called by the line judges, who also used hand-held stopwatches to time the races. The race was started by the head judge; the judge would do a basic "ready, set, go" and blow the whistle on the "go". Minimum jump heights were 10", and were determined by measuring the smallest dog on the team at the withers and rounding up or down to the nearest inch (so a 13 1/2" dog would jump 13", while a 13 3/4" dog would jump 14").