Growing up, our first family dog was a mixed breed who loved to play ball. He seemed to know when Dad was coming home from work and would sit by the window, rubber ball in his mouth, and wait for him. When he got home, the two would go outside and the game of "ball" was on.
Dad throwing, the dog running as fast he could to get it, bringing the ball back and putting it in Dad's outstretched hand. So the game went.
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Dad smiling as the dog ran back to him with the ball, and the dog running with a look of pure enjoyment on his face. The two of them played almost every day.
Whether retrieving one, squishing a soft one in their mouth or tossing one on the floor themselves and jumping around it, dogs do seem to love playing with a ball.
One of the organized ways of playing ball with our dogs is an activity known as flyball, an international team relay racing sport for dogs that was invented in the 1970s in California.
Diane Blackman (dogplay.com) and Kathryn Hogg (flyballdogs.com) describe the history and details of this sport:
It consists of four dogs on a team, with two teams competing against each other. The race requires negotiating a series of hurdles off lead, set in a straight line, snatching an object from a target box at the end and racing back to the start.
The dog not only has to clear the hurdles but keep a smooth approach and landing to clear the maximum distance in a minimum amount of time. A lot of training effort goes into teaching the dog how to turn at the box, because this maneuver can mean the difference between winning or losing the "run."
The course consists of a starting line, a series of four jumps spaced 10 feet apart, and the target box. Each dog races over the hurdles, hits the flyball trigger (stepping on a spring loaded box) to release a ball, retrieves the ball, then races back over the hurdles carrying the ball.
The dog must stay within his own team's racing lane. The next dog on the team must wait until the returning dog has crossed the starting line. Completing the course without errors is a "clean run."
Errors include dropped balls or releasing the next dog early. When this happens, the dog reruns to attempt a clean run after his teammates have run. If the team can't complete its runs after a number of attempts, the judge may call the heat "dead" or "no finish."
Teams of similar speed and ability are paired to race against each other at the same time, with a big part of the challenge being for each dog to focus on staying in his own lane and not interfering with other teams.
Each flyball team has, in addition to the four dogs, dog handlers, a person who keeps the balls loaded in the flyball box and sometimes assists to retrieve loose balls. The team usually competes with its own balls and flyball box.
Diane Blackman notes any dog can participate and compete successfully in flyball, regardless of pedigree, mixed breed, short or tall or even fast or slow, because teams are paired by like ability. She reports higher ranking teams may run all four dogs in under 20 seconds, with the record time being about 15 seconds.
Based on NAFA (North American Flyball Association) records, the top finishing breeds include: Staffordshire bull terrier, border collie, Jack Russell terrier, Belgian Malinois, Australian cattle dog, mixed breed, Australian shepherd, Shetland sheepdog, American cocker spaniel, Labrador retriever and golden retriever.
For more information on the fast-moving sport of flyball, go to flyballdogs.com.
Bowling for Buddy
We have lots of ways of spending fun time with our dogs, and playing ball with them is one of the best.
If you enjoy playing ball, The Buddy Foundations invites you to its Bowling for Buddy event from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Arlington Lanes, 3435 N. Kennicott Ave., Arlington Heights.
Cost is $30 for adults, $35 at the door; $15 for kids ages 12 and younger, which includes two games of bowling, shoes, pizza, salad, dessert and soda. Join us for prizes, raffles, and games.
Wear a retro '70s costume and win a prize. Get your pledge sheet -- raise the most money -- and your name will be placed on a Buddy brick in front of The Buddy Foundation shelter.
If you can't bowl, join us and sponsor a lane. To register and for details, call (847) 290-5806.
• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights; or online at thebuddyfoundation.org.