Dog Sports 101: Flyball

Who Can Play — And How to Get Started

If your dog can retrieve a tennis ball and learn to jump a hurdle, he can play flyball. It helps if he’s fast and accurate — top performers tend to be Border Collies, American Staffordshire Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers and Whippets — but there are different classes for different teams, including a veteran’s class for dogs older than 7 and a combination breed class in which each dog on the team must be a different breed, with a mix counting as a single breed.

What’s most important, though, is attitude. Spectators cheer on the Bassets, the Bulldogs and the little dogs because they admire their effort and heart.

Flyball is different from agility and obedience because the team consists of multiple dogs and humans. To be successful, they must all work well together. It’s complex, challenging and fun. One player describes it as “a three-dimensional chess game going at 25 mph.”

Flyball is perfect for dogs of all sizes and abilities — and for humans of all ages and experience as well, from kids to seniors. Each team needs handlers who can win while still playing safely and box loaders and line coaches who can maximize the performance of dogs and handlers, but those aren't the only jobs. Every team needs people who can pick up balls, record statistics, film tournaments and manage the dogs who aren’t racing. Besides simply doing something fun with their dogs, the camaraderie of other dog owners is often appealing for the human team members.

Want to give flyball a try? To get started, ask your veterinarian to examine your dog to make sure he doesn't have any underlying conditions that might prevent him from competing. Then, all you really need is a dog who will chase a tennis ball and bring it back to you. Flyball training builds off that simple desire and ability to retrieve. If you and your dog want to do more, you can easily find a club near you with compatible people and dogs where you can both build your skills.

The most important secrets to flyball success? Let your dog set the pace — and have fun!


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