Training & Behavior

Flyball For Border Collies and Other Dogs: History, Benefits, Training & Competing

Flyball is perfect for any dog breed. So whether you have a Border Collie, a Labrador Retriever or whatnot, they’ll definitely enjoy it. Of course, given the fact that your dog is healthy and perfectly fit.

All dogs are competing on the same course. Meaning to say, it doesn’t matter what age and size your dog has, everyone’s welcome to join. As for smaller dogs, the course is slightly modified to accommodate their figure.

What Is Flyball For Dogs?

Simply put, flyball is a relay race against two teams. There are 4 dogs in each team. Each member has certain task to finish and these are:

  • Jump on 4 hurdles
  • Catch the ball by activating the flyball box pedal
  • Return to the 4 hurdles until reaching the finish line

The winning team is determined by who completes the course first with no errors.

History of Flyball for Dogs

In the 1970s, scent hurdle racing and retrieving were combined to create flyball. The flyball box, which releases a tennis ball for a ball-obsessed dog, was invented by Herbert Wagner.

Wagner then received countless positive feedback from his obedience club demonstration. His idea was brought to several cities in the United States such as Detroit and Toronto. After hosting a few small tourneys, they later held the official competition in 1981. Eventually, this led to the creation of the North American Flyball Association which was established three years later.

From that time on, flyball quickly spread across the world. Today, there are over 16k dogs that are registered in flyball across Canada, US, Australia, Europe, UK, and South Africa.

How Does Flyball For Dogs Work?

For the flyball competition to start, two teams are needed to compete against each other. They have to complete a 51ft course lined with 4 jumps. Obviously, the team that completes the course the fastest wins.

The mechanics is, each dog needs to jump, hit the box to release the ball, catch it in their mouth and run back to the starting line. The dog holding the ball has to cross the starting line prior to the next team to take its turn. Every member of the team should complete the course without errors to win.

Judging the competition performed electronically. Timing sensors and lights are used on both start and finish lines. This is strategically positioned to be able to accurately determine the winner.

What Kind Of Dogs Can Play Flyball?

dog breeds for flyball

Any breed is welcome in flyball. Whether you have a Border Collie, Great Dane, Terriers and even mixed breeds, that would not pose a problem. So long as the dog behaves well along with other dogs in the competition it should be fine.

Needless to say, all dogs that are part of the competition must be able to listen to its owner’s command, have strong recall and no aggression problems. As mentioned earlier, all breeds are welcome to join. However, retriever, terrier and herding breeds are the ones that naturally shine in this competition.

Is Flyball Safe For All Dogs?

flyball safety for dogs

First things first, it is imperative to acknowledge that your dog is already an athlete. In their world, flyball is a sport. It’s a “big deal!”. In a single flyball run, dogs are expected to do the following:

  • Turn
  • Jump
  • Sprint
  • Trigger the box
  • Retrieve and hold the ball
  • Do everything again while biting on the ball
  • Changeover with another dog

It is not surprising that dogs love these obstacles. However, it demands several muscle groups to complete everything. To prevent injuries, your dog must be conditioned.

Generally speaking, flyball is a very safe sport for dogs. This is as long as your dogs are fully developed and in great shape. At the very least, your dog ought to have basic fitness to perform all the jumping, sharp turns, running and everything in between.

As with any sport, there are dangers involved. Flyball isn’t an exemption. If your dog is overworked and overwhelmed with all the activities, it isn’t that far for them to suffer from injuries.

Can Smaller Dogs Play Flyball?

small dogs preparing for flyball

Your dog’s size doesn’t really matter. As long as they are physically fit, they’re welcome to play. Flyball does not discriminate. If you think that your dog has what it takes, prepare them for the competition.

For smaller dogs in the competition, there are modifications performed on the course. For instance, a smaller ball might be used than the standard ones used. Also, they might need to train twice as hard to make up with their short legs and keep up with the speed of bigger dogs.

Can Young Dogs Play Flyball Safely?

Just as with any other sports for dogs, yours should have strong bones and muscles. It’s not mandatory but it is recommended to guarantee their safety. Dogs that are 15 months young can already compete in flyball. If you are confident that your little pup can take on the heat, make sure to train them on making turns, jumps and so on.

Which Dogs Should Avoid Playing Flyball?

Flyball is the ultimate sport for dogs. You may ask why? Because in this sport, every dog is welcome! This is regardless of their size, shape and breed. It encompasses the core elements that dogs love like:

  • Catching
  • Jumping
  • Chasing
  • Retrieving
  • Running

Any dogs that have a high level of energy such as Border Collie will truly excel in flyball. But don’t underestimate smaller breeds like Miniature Schnauzers or Chihuahuas. They can actually be as consistent and as fast as their bigger competitors.

Besides, there are multibreed competitions available. This is perfect among dog owners who have crossbreeds.

What Does A Dog Need To Play Flyball?

practicing flyball with tennis ball

Another cool thing about flyball for dogs is there’s not much gear needed to start. Truth is, you can kick it off with some essential items lying around your home. For example, you can turn your home into a mini course with a few obstacles and patterns. Many owners even invest in hurdles to put it in certain areas of their house.

Flyball would not be complete without a tennis ball. If you are training a puppy though, a smaller ball can be used as a substitute. The next step is, from your dog, put the ball at the opposite side with the hurdle in the middle. Command your canine to get the ball by jumping over the hurdle. Keep on adding hurdles as they successfully complete the task.

Be Sociable

Socialization among dogs, regardless of the breed, is important. Especially if you are preparing them for a flyball for dogs.

Unsocialized dogs easily become fearful and anxious. Aside from that, they are likely to become antisocial both to people and animals. If your dog lacks socialization, training and competing in flyball will definitely be a challenge.

In comparison to a dog that is sociable, they are more confident in any situation that comes. Confident dogs are ready to take on any challenge. Almost always, they have a positive outlook on everything.

Be Fit & Healthy

healthy dog jumping on hurdle

While flyball welcomes all dog breeds, owners should be aware that the activities involved are physically demanding. In this case, dogs should be given constant training on their physique, coordination and flexibility. A few of the physical attributes these dogs must develop include but are not limited to quick reaction time, good muscle tone, turning power, speed, and body awareness.

Further, creating a warm-up strategy prevents injury while improving the dog’s overall performance. As a responsible owner, you have to pay attention to your dog’s major joints beginning with the toes and their feet.

These two are crucial in absorbing impact at the box and transferring the energy to their shoulder. Mind you, injuries related to soft tissue shoulders are extra hard to diagnose and treat. If you want a strong warm-up program, it’s best to perform thorough research. Better yet, seek help from the pros.

Have Good Recall

When prepping your dog for recall, it’s best to start it by calling your dog to return to you. It can be done whether with or without a ball. Get a partner who can hold your dog and can accompany you in the training.

A “reliable recall” simply means having assurance that your dog will come to you 99% of the time. After all, dogs are not programmed to do what you asked. You can never guarantee that they’ll instantly listen to your commands. But with them learning the “recall” skill, it gives confidence that they’ll come back to you as soon as you call them.

What Are the Benefits of Flyball for Dogs?

There are several benefits of flyball for dogs with the most obvious is the exercise that they get from it. But there are less obvious things that could truly turn your dog into a well-rounded canine.

  • Stronger heart – all the running that your dog does strengthens their cardiovascular health. This is because their heart is used to pump more blood as they engaged in rigorous activities.
  • Enhanced mental stimulation – during the flyball race, dogs are doing multiple things at once in just a short period of time. In essence, this forces them to activate more of their brain muscles.
  • Better joints and muscles – much like with any other exercises, regular exercise involving walking, running as well as playing benefits your dog’s joints and muscles. As a result, it reduces odds of them catching health problems or suffering from injuries.

Flyball Dog Training

flyball dog training


Many dog owners fail to recognize an effective and successful training on flyball for dogs. Majority actually concentrate on the box turn mechanics. Whereas they must be also focusing on developing their dog’s body awareness, coordination and strength.

This is the exact reason why training needs perseverance, patience and commitment. While this is time consuming and could drain your energy, all the efforts are totally worth it as you see your dog complete every obstacle.

Focus on the Ball Method

There are 6 steps to succeed in this approach and these are the following:

  1. Play Fetch – train your canine to play fetch using a tennis ball and hold onto it until reaching you. Keep the sessions for at least 20 minutes until they understand the task.
  2. Use Hurdle – the next step is by adding a hurdle in front of your dog before throwing the ball. If your dog jumps over it, make sure to reward them for it.
  3. Increase the distance – from this point, it’ll rinse and repeat. After your dog jumped over the hurdle, increase the distance from the initial location. Command them to jump on the hurdle and then call them to bring back the ball to you.
  4. Add more Hurdles – once they are used to the single hurdle, add more hurdles along the way.
  5. Introduce a ball box – your dog will be curious about the box. Encourage them to press on it until it triggers to release a ball.
  6. Combine ball box and hurdles – when your dog knows what the box does, start from square one. Release your pet and run along with them over each hurdle to the box. Encourage them to pick the ball and return. Make sure to run right next to your dog as they reach the finish line.

Reverse Training Method

If you are more interested in using this approach, then be ready to prepare a full, flyball course. Next thing to do is to ask your handler to hold your dog. Make sure they’re facing away from the ball box. You on the other hand should stand on the opposite side with your dog’s favorite toy.

From this point on, call your dog. Your handler must release them on that cue. When they run towards you, give them their toy and play. This is only the first part of the process. Next steps are going to be critical in your success:

  • Last Jump First – make sure your dog is facing away from the ball box as you move them behind the first jump. As you reached the finish line, release them so they’ll jump over the hurdles and cross the finish line where your handler is waiting.
  • Add Hurdles – redo the process by introducing one item at a time. Do this until such time that your dog becomes comfortable and confident.
  • Start from the Ball Box – when all the jumps are completed and reach the finish line, ask your handler to put the hind legs of your pet inside the box. This time though, they should be looking at the finish line. Call your pet so they’d learn to launch the ball from the box.
  • Teach them the Ball Box Trigger – here, put your dog facing the ball box. Have your handler hold them. With your assistant, ask them to load the tennis ball and train your dog to press the button onto the box. Do this until they learn that pressing the button means releasing the ball. Once done, command them to pick the ball then call them to return to you jumping over the hurdles and crossing the finish line while still holding the ball.
  • Add more Hurdles – in this step, begin with your dog facing the ball box. The catch though is, they should be next on the hurdle right to the box. Let your handler release your dog. This way, they can jump across every hurdle. Then, they’ll run to the box and trigger it to launch a ball. This time, it’s now programmed to them to pick up the ball before returning to you.

Redo the process until such time that your dog is used to it.

Break It Down Method

In a break it down method, the steps you must do are as follows:

  • Train Hurdles – make sure to train your dog’s agility by jumping on hurdles.
  • Teach them Fetch train your canine to fetch the ball after throwing it out. While training, make sure they bring the ball back without dropping it.
  • Retrieve Ball – your dog should know how to retrieve the ball that is lying on the other end of the course.
  • Trigger Ball Box – train your dog on how they can launch a ball from the flyball box by pressing the panel with their feet. In this step, a clicker can be used in reinforcing this behavior. You may also lure your canine to the box and manipulate them to press it using a treat. Do this until the time your dog learns they need to put pressure onto the panel and launch a ball.
  • Teach them Turn – in front of the box, you can put a pole in it. Train your canine to run around each pole and go back to you.
  • Combine Everything – all the newfound skills your dog learned should now be put into used. Do this by having them complete the entire course without errors.

Flyball For Dogs: Competition

Tournaments on flyball for dogs come in several categories. Two of which are the open and multibreed tournaments.

  1. Open Tournaments – in this competition, all dogs should race along with the primary team they’re registered to. When partaking in this competition, any breed with any mix can join the team.
  2. Multibreed Tournaments – here, the team should have 4 different dog breeds. All crossbreeds are counted as one breed. Then after, one dog of every breed will be able to race in the team.

Flyball Rules

In any flyball competitions, there are basic rules followed and these are:

  • Dropped balls and missed jumps require the participant to do a rerun of the full course. This is until all members are finished.
  • If the first participant crossed the start line before the green light, it’s deemed as a foul.
  • The next dog can start its run only when the first dog’s nose crosses the finish line. If the next dog has an early start, it’s an automatic foul.

Getting a Flyball Team Together

Flyball for dogs is indeed a unique sport. To join, you need four well-trained and physically fit dogs as well as handlers. You can have two extra dogs in your team as substitutes which brings the total to six. Aside from the handlers and the dogs, there has to be one person who is positioned in the ball box, AKA Boxloader.

Depending on the captain’s decision, more people can be added to the team for collecting loose balls and for calling passes at the start and finish line. In a nutshell, the following are what consists of a flyball team:

  • 4 dogs
  • 2 substitute dogs
  • 4 handlers
  • 1 Boxloader

Height of Jumps in Flyball for Dogs

The jump height of the team will be verified by the height of the smallest member. It starts from their withers which is deducted by five inches. This is otherwise called as the “Height Dog”. Every team’s height dog will be measured prior the start of tournament. Only the Head Judge has the authority to do this.

Setup of Flyball Course

Every team must provide a flyball box of their own along with the balls in it. Any colored balls are approved. However, balls should roll and bounce on any hard surface. Balls with noisemakers are prohibited. On the other hand, the committee will be supplying the timing and lighting system that’ll be used for the tournament.

Playing Flyball

Generally speaking, there are 3 basic steps in which flyball can be played and they are as follows:

  1. First dog has to jump over all hurdles. They should trigger the flyball box. After that, catch the ball and bring it back to their starting point. Of course, they must jump over all the hurdles.
  2. Next dog will be released after the first dog is done. Second dog is released from a certain distance behind the starting line. At such time, dogs 1 and 2 passes on each other’s nose. Second dog then repeats everything that dog one does.
  3. Last is simply repeating steps 1 and 2 by the remainder of the team.

Winning Flyball for Dogs

Winning team in a flyball competition is determined by the first team completing the obstacle course with all dogs not committing errors in the course. The team that secured the most heats is declared the winner. Normally, this is a best of 5 match.

How To Get Started in Flyball for Dogs?

If you are intrigued to join your dog in flyball, the best way to do it is by finding a flyball club near you. These clubs are offering classes where you could train with other members. Keep in mind that flyball is a sport that consists of teams.

Therefore, it is vital to find a team that you and your dog are compatible with. If you’re lucky, some clubs even offer online classes and hosting seminars.

Conclusion: Should My Dog Train And Play Flyball?

training your dog for flyball

The decision of whether or not training your dog for flyball solely relies on two factors.

  1. First is your determination and commitment to train with them. Do you have what it takes to develop your dog’s skills, improve its physical fitness and body awareness, flexibility and everything in between to complete the obstacles in flyball competition?
  2. Second will depend on the athletes themselves. Your dog must be physically, mentally and emotionally ready for the competition. Otherwise, all efforts are lost.

Flyball for dogs is not a one-man game. It’s a team effort that can only be achieved if you and your dog synergized.

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