If your dog loves balls, Flyball may be the sport for him

  • Cedar is a 1-year-old, female Boxer mix that weighs in at 47 pounds. She is new to Buddy, so much of her personality is still being understood. So far, Cedar seems to love interactions with people and gets along with the other dogs.

    Cedar is a 1-year-old, female Boxer mix that weighs in at 47 pounds. She is new to Buddy, so much of her personality is still being understood. So far, Cedar seems to love interactions with people and gets along with the other dogs. Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Dozer, an energetic, male Shepherd puppy of 8 months, is waiting for someone to take him home and teach him what it takes to be great. He does have an injured front leg and is being looked after by Buddy's vets.

    Dozer, an energetic, male Shepherd puppy of 8 months, is waiting for someone to take him home and teach him what it takes to be great. He does have an injured front leg and is being looked after by Buddy's vets. Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

 
By Ellaine Kiriluk
The Buddy Beat
Posted10/14/2021 9:59 AM

Growing up, Happy, our first family dog, was a mixed breed who loved to play ball. When my father got home from work, the two of them would go outside and the game of "Ball" was on.

Happy would run as fast he could to retrieve the thrown ball, then bring it back, put it in my father's outstretched hand and stand absolutely still in anticipation of the next throw. So the game went, the two playing almost every day.

 

Whether it's 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.

If your dog really loves it, then maybe an activity known as Flyball is right up his alley. Flyball is 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, say Flyball is a relay race sport consisting of four dogs on a team, with two teams competing against each other.

The race requires negotiating a series of hurdles set in a straight line, off lead. The dog snatches an object from a target box at the end and races 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.

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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 and then races back over the hurdles while carrying the ball.

The dog must stay within his own team's racing lane, and 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 team mates have taken their turn. 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.

A big part of this challenge is for each dog to focus on staying in his own lane and not interfering with other teams Each team has four dogs, the dogs' handlers and a person who keeps the balls loaded in the flyball box and assists to retrieve loose balls. The team usually competes with its own balls and box.

Blackman notes any dog can participate and compete successfully in Flyball, regardless of pedigree, mixed breed, short or tall, or even fast or slow since teams are paired by ability.

She says higher ranking teams may run all four dogs in under 20 seconds, with the record time being about 15 seconds.

Based on NAFA 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 information on the fast moving sport of Flyball, go to flyball dogs.com.

• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. Call (847) 290-5806 or visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org.

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