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Can Dogs Know How to Play Flyball?
Is your dog ball-crazy? Do they love running, jumping, and generally being as active as possible? If so, the sport of Flyball could be paw-fect for your furry friend.
This fast and furious canine relay race taps into several of your dog's inbuilt instincts, including running, retrieving, and even competing with other dogs. But while many of the skills of Flyball will come naturally to most pooches, you'll still need to do a little bit of training to help your dog wrap their head around what they need to do.
So, what is Flyball and what do you need to do to help your dog get started? Let's take a closer look.
Signs Your Dog May Like Flyball
Before choosing any canine sport, it's important to consider whether or not it's something your dog will actually enjoy doing. There's no point trying to force your dog to participate in a sport they're bored by or disinterested in, so consider their favorite games and activities before signing up.
The biggest indicator that your dog could fall madly in love with Flyball is a love of tennis balls. If you're constantly wearing out your arm throwing balls at the park for your furry friend to chase and retrieve, this is a good sign that they'll be raring to go when introduced to Flyball.
The second sign that Fido will adore Flyball is if your pooch is energetic and always full of beans. If your furry friend loves nothing more than running, jumping, and generally tackling every day at a million miles an hour, there's a good chance they'll be more than happy to start competing.
If your dog ticks those boxes, why not search for a Flyball club near you? Before going along to give the sport a try, however, it might be worth getting your dog checked out by a veterinarian to make sure they're fit and able to participate in the sport colloquially known as drag racing for dogs.
A Brief History of Flyball
Humans have long known that many of their canine companions have an innate love of tennis balls — catching them, chasing them, retrieving them, and of course, chewing them. As for turning this tennis-ball obsession into a fast and frenetic team sport for canines, well, that didn't happen until the 1970s when Flyball developed organically from the sport of scent discrimination hurdle racing.
The man widely credited with kick-starting the Flyball craze was a Californian by the name of Herbert Wagner. This innovative dog lover developed the first-ever tennis ball launcher for his ball-crazy pet, and started performing demonstrations at his local obedience club. The positive feedback and word of mouth eventually led to Wagner giving a demonstration on The Tonight Show to an audience of millions.
The rest, as they say, is history. The idea for this revolutionary canine sport quickly spread around the nation and soon to other parts of the world, and the first formal competition took place in 1981. The North American Flyball Association was formed in 1984 and the sport has continued going from strength to strength since then.
As an example of this, the first Flyball world records dating from the mid-1980s saw the quickest teams of dogs complete the course in 23 or 24 seconds. The current record is an astonishing 14.43 seconds.
The Science of Dogs Loving Flyball
A team sport for canines, Flyball is a relay race between two teams of four dogs, taking place over a 51-foot course. One at a time, each dog must jump over four hurdles, use their paws to trigger the release of a ball from a Flyball box, then carry that ball back over the four hurdles to the start/finish line. Once all four dogs have successfully completed the course, the team that finishes first is declared the winner.
It's remarkably entertaining for spectators and is over astonishingly quick when you're watching the best teams compete. Dogs absolutely love the thrill of racing and it's common to see canine participants barking, straining at the leash and practically oozing with anticipation as they prepare to take to the course.
But the best thing about Flyball is that there's no discrimination. Any breed of dog can participate, and the height of the hurdles is determined based on the shoulder height of the smallest dog in the team. This level playing field ensures that racing is always entertaining and exciting.
Training Your Dog to Play Flyball
From running and jumping at maximum speed to grabbing a ball and turning on a dime, there are several important skills your pet will need to learn to play Flyball. There are also several theories on the best way to teach your dog how to race, including:
- The Reverse Training Method, which sees you start by teaching your dog to cross the finish line, then to go over the last hurdle and cross the finish line, and eventually to complete the entire course.
- The Focus on the Ball Method, which concentrates on your dog's love of tennis balls and strong retrieving instincts before gradually introducing hurdles and a Flyball box.
- The Break it Down Method, which focuses on teaching each individual skill (jumping hurdles, triggering ball box, retrieving ball etc) before putting them all together.
Whichever option you choose, remember to adopt a consistent approach and stay calm at all times. Last of all, don't forget to enjoy yourself. Flyball is a grrr-eat way for pets and owners to spend some quality time together, so savor every moment with a smile on your face.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 04/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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