Fetch has a whole new thrilling meaning with flyball – Charlotte Gunn investigates this fantastic sport to see is it all about the ball?
Dogs have long been described as man’s best friend but who (or what) is a dog’s second best friend?! It must be a ball!
To a dog this deliciously round thing can provide hours of fun – chewing, hiding, burying and not to forget the throwing. Oh, the throwing, some dogs could spend all day chancing a tennis ball. If this is your dog then may I suggest you consider flyball. It’s a game you will not be unhappy you get involved with as it’s likely you’ll be just as hyped up as the dogs are to get going with the competitive sport.
The simple fact with this sport is that if you are not a dog lover then flyball is 100% not for you. It’s a dog sport – a competitive, fast paced, loud, dog sport. It’s fetch but in relay! Unlike the normal agility and training, dogs in flyball compete together racing in teams – jumping and running with all their might for the goal of bringing you back a ball. The team who wins is the one who manages to do it all the fastest. They can’t miss any hurdles and all 4 dogs must run.
The humans have to be on ball too! They play vital parts throughout the race. It’s about skill, technique and training; lots and lots of training.
The sport suits breeds that are energetic; those that love to run, fetch and work for their owners. However, unlike other sports with stricter rules on breed requirements dictating the entry of dogs this sport welcomes both non-pedigree and pedigree. Many different breeds can have a go, just like humans though it’s not going to be for everyone. Its fast pasted and they need to be in top physical condition as the twist turns and jumps can wear on a body that’s not well maintained. Certain breeds like mine – Daschound’s are not ideal for a sport like this as their elongated bodies don’t manage the hurdles. However, mix breeds of many types have competed successfully within the sport. There are certain breeds that excel at training and performance of this manner; such as Border Collies, Papilions, Shetland Sheepdogs, Poodles and Rat Terriers just to name a small variety.
Flyball originated in the late 1960s/early 1970s, according to the North American Flyball Association. It started in Southern California where dog trainers combined scent hurdle racing with bringing back a tennis ball. Tennis ball launching equipment (the flyball box) was added to the sport after this and the sport now known as flyball was born!
The course itself consists of a start line, 4 hurdles and a box. As with all sports, precision recording is vital to the highly competitive. Equipment is used to aid this, making it as accurately recorded as possible. This includes a light tree, optical gates and high precision digital watches. Some teams even use technology developed for other supports to record the flyball passes in the most accurate way; including high speed cameras that were originally were intended for use in golf. In smaller teams that are less competitive you might find the competitions are run manually with stop watches and line judges watching every move the dogs make. No matter what equipment is used it’s a full on sport with lots of action.
In the UK there are currently around 300 teams with a British Flyball Association. This does increase during the summer months as outdoor racing is popular. There has been a move towards all year competition with the trend towards more indoor racing.
Banbury Cross Flyball Club were formed in July 2014, with 5 members all with a passion for their dogs. Fast forward to 2017 and the club now has 30 humans and 40 canine members, all who are barking mad for the sport!
2016 saw the club compete at both the European and British Flyball Championships. They gained a divisional win and a third place at The British Championships, and two third place finishes at The European Championships. In other British Flyball Association sanctioned competitions the club also managed to gain another 6 divisional wins and also a divisional win in a starters competition.
You may have been lucky enough to see member of this group at local events in Oxfordshire. Last year they were at The Banbury and District Show, and The Dassett Country Show. They actively encouraged interested people to come along and have a go with their dog. The competition often heats up as they get the dogs and owners involved in competing to be the fastest on the day.
If you’re interested in knowing more about this sport you can contact Gordan Boffin or his wife Lisa who would be more than happy to talk to you, providing advice and guidance. Likewise, if you see them at a local event this year, go over and say hello… but better yet, get involved!
One thing you will very quickly learn from talking to one of the members of the Banbury Cross Flyball Club (especially Gordon Boffin) is how much they love their dogs! It’s not just the competition, it’s the time they get to spend with their, and I quote, “fur babies”! Enjoying this fun and exciting chance to let off some steam.
Watch a little closer and you can easily see the brilliant connection between man and dog… proving it’s not all about the ball!