In February I met Trey Corum, a Realtor, at a Business Networking International breakfast. When I told him that I’m an artist and paint pet portraits, he lit up and told me that he has several dogs who compete in Flyball. I’ve heard of Dock Dogs (canine aquatics competitions) and Disc Dogs (canine flying disc competitions), but what the heck is Flyball? Flyball is a type of relay race for dogs. Two teams, consisting of 4 dogs each, race down a track one at a time to collect a ball from a box and return with it to the starting line for the next dog to run. The team who completes the relay the fastest wins. Typically under 20 seconds for all four dogs. Interesting. Other than hunting and dog-sledding, I hadn’t heard of a dog team sport and couldn’t imagine what it looked like. Trey connected me with his wife Kate who runs training sessions for the Chattanooga Chomp Flyball Club so I could visit and see for myself.
First impression: it’s craziness! With four dogs per team and several teams per club, there are a lot a lot of dogs and it gets very loud. There was no fighting, but the dogs who aren’t racing are preparing to race (and barking excitedly) or are crated until their turn (and barking excitedly). I was surprised by the variety of dogs that compete – daschunds, German shepherds, border collies, whippets, etc. Any dog that can run, jump and retrieve is a candidate. And the dogs absolutely LOVE it! They can’t wait to run and don’t need encouragement from their owners (who yell excitedly anyway).
While simple in concept – run over jumps, get ball, return X 4 – there is actually a lot to know about competing in Flyball. Flyball competitors are true athletes. Like any athlete they need to be protected from joint injuries with wraps. Some dogs are so fast that their paw pads need to wrapped to avoid floor burns. The height of the jumps is determined by the smallest member of the team. This can be a competitive advantage if there is one small dog on a team with three larger dogs who can simply run over the short jump. Dogs can start to run at any point behind the start/finish line to build up speed, but can’t cross until the previous dog has returned over it. The flyball box has holes on the left and right to hold balls and it is up to the dog owner and box person to know which way each dog will turn after taking the ball so the correct side can be loaded. And the ball must remain in the dog’s mouth until it crosses the start/finish line. While the speed is calculated electronically, there is a head judge and several line judges along the sides of the tracks to make sure there are no faults such as dropped balls, skipped jumps or dogs starting before the previous dog has finished. Teams can belong to the North American Flyball Association and/or the United Flyball League International, both of which hold tournaments across the United Staes and Canada.
Flyball is a really fun sport whether you are participating or just an observer. The best part is that the dogs enjoy themselves and especially the interaction with their owners who obviously love them very much. Stop by an event sometime or better yet, find a club in your area and get involved. Your dog will thank you!