Pets become speed demons in this rock n' roll team sport.
Fetch on Steroids
I was invited to the Dog Training Club of Saint Petersburg, Florida to see the Flyball event hosted by Chris Sells and the Terminal Velocity Flyball Team recently. The club has one of the largest C. Florida indoor facilities with two large areas inside. With the block walls, high metal ceilings and excited pups it was anything but a quiet entrance. The energy in anticipation of the weekend’s races filled the rooms and soon enough the first race was on.
Two teams assembled at the start of the parallel tracks with four jumps and an odd-looking box with a tennis ball sticking out at the end. As the judge stood with hands raised, the starting light went from red, to green and the first dogs launched like rockets down the lines. It is a relay race, as one dog returns, the next in the four dog team releases. They pass inches apart at speed and somehow jump those hurdles, retrieve the ball, vault backwards and hurdle back. It looks quite mad, but it is definitely fun for all.
Flyball has come a long way baby
Flyball is credited to have its origins in the USA some time in the late 1960s. The real turning point came after Herbert Wagner appeared on “The Tonight Show” in the early 70’s to demonstrate the sport and the “Ball-Box” he had invented. It is that box that has had the greatest influence on the direction this game took in the decades since.
This relay race involves teams of four dogs that sprint down a fifty-one-foot track, over four hurdles (called “Jumps” in Flyball), retrieve a ball from the ball-box and return. The next dog in the team releases as a returning dog passes the finish line. The hurdle height is decided by the shortest dog in the team. The dogs are measured at the “withers”, and these small dogs are often desired in a balanced or mixed team for that reason.
The time and finish lines are critical to the final score, and teamwork is key to success. Both between each dog and handler, but the overall team. It can be intense. The speed is not only on the track, but the pace in which this event ran. Each pair of competing teams quickly rotated for each round, set their teams ball box, lines up and began their races at a striking momentum.
NAFA and the AKC
The rules for this weekend’s Flyball event were dictated by the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) and recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). These rules are decided by the governing agency at NAFA and there are regional and national oversight. NAFA started back in 1984 with twelve U.S. and Canadian clubs, but today there are over 700 hundred of clubs and thousands of dogs and owners playing across N. America and far more internationally.
“NAFA is recognized as the world's leading authority on flyball and the sport's top sanctioning organization” – North American Flyball Assoc.
Like all dog sports, the evolution since it’s early days has resulted in faster and safer games, but that speed has also resulted in the need for technology to help with time and tracking as the dogs move so fast and pass one another so close, the human eye can not untangle what you just saw. With race track style starting lights, hi-speed cameras and state of the art timing becoming more and more part of the setup, large events need resources to host and the community is always in need of more locations that can accommodate it. However, it continues to grow, and those logistical hurdles have not slowed it down.
The competitions finale comes at the year CanAm Finals, held every October in Indianapolis, Indiana. The three-day event is the largest Flyball tournament in the world and brings teams from nearly every continent, though I don’t think there is an Antarctic team yet.
Training is modular
Flyball is basically retrieve the ball with a twist. Each element, from “ball dive” to the jumps and using the ball-box are individual training steps that are eventually shaped to the final combination and then working with the many distractions. Local clubs are all over Florida and the very best way to get started.
It is about teamwork
The teams come prepared and bright colors and names distinguish Flyball as a team sport with a lot of character with names like Terminal Velocity, Celtic Mayhem and Barkaholics.
Chris Sells from Terminal Velocity found her way into Flyball after her very vocal Sheltie voiced their opinion at an obedience class. After the instructor voiced their own opinion, Chris and her Bad Azz Dog found a Flyball club practicing next door and they were both immediately hooked.
This weekend’s host was Terminal Velocity. The team takes on the role of organization and logistics for the weekend and wrangling the many dogs and handlers through the constant fast paced rotation of races. Watching this is a little dizzying, but there is method to the madness.
“Terminal Velocity Flyball is not only a club, but a family! We have fun as a team no matter where we are, from our home state in Florida to Missouri to Indiana! We also compete and support each other in other dog sports like Disc, Agility, Dock Diving, Whippet Racing, PSA, Herding, and Lure Course. Terminal Velocity believes every dog can play flyball, no matter the breed, size or skill level. Our goals are happy healthy fit dogs and having fun! " - Terminal Velocity
Is it right for you?
I cover all types of events for Bad Azz Dogz and each has their unique style or “feel”. Flyball strikes me as best suited to those desiring strong team work and who may thrive on the high paced explosive action in the game. The clubs are extremely driven to bring out the best in every member. Both dog and bi-ped. Unlike many in Florida, this game is not impacted by the harsh Summer temperatures as it is mostly played indoors, so as a year-round activity, you’ll always have something to add to the calendar.
“Flyball is the rockin' and roll of dog sports. It's an adrenaline rush, we are loud and proud.” – Chris Sells
Special Note for Disabilities
Flyball requires the dog to go through a series of training steps, and you to cleanly release and fetch them. You do not have to move much, and if mobility is a limiting factor for you, this game requires a minimal. Though some reflexes are still key, I understand that most leagues and clubs are happy to accommodate any special circumstances. If you compete currently and are a disabled veteran or 1st responder, please let me know your experience by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d call Flyball the fetch game on steroids. Everything is bright, brash and noisy. The excitement is intense, and the dogs remarkably focused despite the intense stimulation around them. An untrained dog in this environment might be a disaster, but despite its simple fetch the ball premise the actual result is incredibly impressive and fun.
It is a far more competitive game than some others, but that is the attraction and perfect for many. The sense of team and accomplishment in shaving off another second, or even a “clean run” results in hoots and hollers and cheers from all. A stronger bond with your dog and playing a game both have passion makes one feel you won something big together, and that is biggest reward of all.
NAFA Flyball Dog Training Club of St. Petersburg, FL
The rock n' roll sport of human dog teams
16-17 Feb 2019
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