Dog Sports 101: Flyball

Flyball Dog
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Got a ball-crazy dog who’s smart and fast? Looking for a way to burn some of his energy and meet some people? Then we've got a sport for you!  

Flyball is a canine relay race in which teams of dogs take turns jumping hurdles and retrieving a tennis ball. But there's a twist: To get the tennis ball, each dog must pounce on a spring-loaded box that ejects the ball — and once he has the ball, he has to return to his team before the next dog can start the course.

Sound like fun? We think so!

Flyball teams consist of a minimum of four dogs, with a handler for each dog, plus a box loader. Teams may also have line coaches who help bring out the best in the dogs as they navigate the course.

The best thing about flyball is that any dog can play (as long as his veterinarian finds him healthy enough to run and leap). Herding breeds and retrievers tend to excel at the sport, but Bulldogs, Basset Hounds and Chihuahuas may also enjoy participating. In fact, little dogs are often MVPs because a team's jump height — which ranges from 7 to 14 inches — is determined by the height of that team’s smallest dog, known as the height dog. A short dog is an asset to a team because the larger dogs benefit from the lower hurdles.

How It Works 

Two teams race each other over a 51-foot course lined with four jumps. Each dog navigates the jumps, hits the box to eject the ball, catches it in his mouth and races back to the start. The dog with the ball must cross the starting line before the next dog on his team can go. Each dog on the team must successfully complete the course, and the first team to finish without any errors wins.

Judging is done electronically; lights and infrared timing sensors track starts, passes, finishes and individual dogs’ times to the thousandth of a second. Dogs earn points toward flyball titles based on a team’s time. Dogs whose teams complete a heat in less than 24 seconds receive 25 points toward a flyball title; less than 28 seconds, 5 points; and less than 32 seconds, 1 point.

A dog must earn 20 points to achieve the title Flyball Dog (FD), 100 points for Flyball Dog Excellent (FDX) and 500 points for Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh). Flyball Dog Champions can progress to Silver (1,000 points) and Gold (2,500 points) levels. From there, dogs can move up to Flyball Master (FM, 5,000 points), Flyball Master Excellent (FMX, 10,000 points) and Flyball Master Champion (FMCh, 15,000 points). The Onyx Award, named for the Doberman Pinscher who was its first recipient, is achieved with 20,000 points. A dog with 30,000 points is named a Flyball Grand Champion (FDGCh). Above that level, there are commemorative pins, plaques and plates — and plenty of treats — to mark the dog's success.

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