Dog Flyball is a dog related team sport that was invented in California back in the late 1970's. There is even a legend floating around about it - something about how Herbert Wagner first showed flyball on the Johnny Carson Show to millions of Americans way back when.
Not too long afterwards flyball dog trainers and flyball dog clubs were sprouting up everywhere. Many early enthusiasts even made and used their own flyball boxes in competitions.
In the early 1980's the dog sport of flyball became so popular in fact that the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was created and they are now the worldwide authority for Flyball. For lack of a better description, the dog sport of flyball is a lot like the sport of drag racing. First of all, they both use the cool lights at the beginning of the race, which blink yellow, then green as the racers time their starts.
The sport of dog flyball is a full team sport. There are four dogs participating on each flyball team which run a timed relay race over the course, and the best combined race time wins. The flyball heats are run with two dog teams at a time participating in a head-to-head competition.
Here's what you need to know about the sport of dog flyball: little dogs are a big deal and here’s why - the height of the hurdles for a race is actually determined by the size of the smallest dog on the team. So, because of that fact each flyball dog team will want to recruit a fast, small dog, which is referred to as the "height dog".
There are two main elements to the dog sport of flyball: first the dogs must fly over the hurdles and, second, the dog must successfully catch and bring a tennis ball back. Keep in mind that these are two very different skills for a dog to master. "I think of flyball as a cross between racing and bowling with dogs," says Paul Hanson, a trainer for the X-Fidos who competes with three of his big, furry, fast Briards (a breed of French herding dog).
The precision that is involved in launching and nabbing the tennis ball takes a huge amount of agility and timing - very similar to that of bowling a big fat strike.
It is interesting to note that a dog flyball course and match has very specific, electronic timing, and match or race wins may come in margins of as little as a hundredth of a second. To achieve their maximum speed, the dogs in flyball usually start about 40 feet behind the starting line. As the races progress, it's the handler's job to get the first dog at the start line as close as possible to the moment the green light flashes.
Actually, it's the dogs who must be fast, not the humans, but the humans are in charge of the timing of the dogs - especially the all important releases and passes. This can be a terrific activity for an athletic dog that's owned by a not-so-athletic person. Unlike agility, where people run alongside their dogs, in the dog sport of flyball people simply stay stationary and root for their dogs as they “fly” through the course.