Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to race flyball

Flyball, if you haven’t heard about it, is a fast-paced relay race for four dogs and four handlers.  The dogs are trained to run on their own down a 50 foot lane, pick up a tennis ball from the flyball box and bring it back up the lane to the handler.  As soon as the first dog is over the start/finish line the next dog goes.  It’s crazy but the dogs love it and because there’s competition, so do the people.
So just in case you’re ever asked to run a dog in a flyball race, here the lowdown on what to do.
1.     Check the race numbers and keep track of them.  Usually we race between six and ten races, each consisting of between three and five heats.  Make sure you know which lane you’re racing in (right or left).
2.     When it’s close to racing time, take your dog out for a pee and maybe a little play.

3.     Find your teammates and take your dogs inside the barn.  Take with you your tug or other motivator (sometimes food) to get your dog to run back faster.

4.     Make sure you have a ball shagger to pick up the bouncing tennis balls the dogs bring back.

5.     Wait until your race number comes up on the display.

6.     Take your dog down to the box for a warm-up run if required.  Seasoned dogs don’t always need this, as they know their jobs very well.
7.     Make sure you know your running order so you know which dog you’ll be passing. Find your line (that is the measurement that you’re going to start your dog from).

8.     Get your dog’s attention.

9.     Watch for the judge’s signals that the race is on.

10. When the dog before you in the race goes, get your dog into the racing lane and let it go at the right time.
11. Move up to the start-finish line as your dog runs down to the flyball box and gets the ball.
12. Run like hell, calling your dog so he’ll come back at full speed, play with him with your tug.

13. Wait to see which team won the race.
14. Shake hands with your opponents and then bring your dog out of the barn and give it a big drink of water, a well-deserved treat and cool-down walk around.
15.  Talk over the race with your friends.

I’ve actually left out a few things like false starts, bad passes, reruns, interference, lineups, and perhaps more.  But I’m sure your team mates can fill you in.
I wasn't able to get action photos of the dogs racing in the barn because of the low light levels, so you'll have to use your imagination for that aspect.
We raced flyball today in Kearney, Nebraska and had a great day. The dogs ran well, the sun shone, and everyone was having fun. Tomorrow we have another day of racing.  I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. hi joanna, my kids and i have watched this on television many times. i had no idea what it was called and that there were so many details to it. i was always curious about how the dogs stayed on course mentally and physically and especially, how they managed to get along in-between races as i would think they'd be pretty wound up. cool post!!!! steven

  2. Whew! That was exhausting. I feel like I've done it now. I am in awe of you folks who run with your dogs like that. It does look like a lot of fun - not work at all. I know the dogs appreciate being able to use their minds as well as their bodies. And I hope that your human competitiveness was rewarded, too.

  3. Hey Steven, flyball is a pretty exciting sport. It's the only sport I've ever been involved in. You're right that the dogs can get pretty wound up, but we only race the ones that can handle it. My dog Maggie is so focused on the game that she doesn't notice anything else. Geordie on the other hand has the actions down pat but could never race because he's too distracted by other dogs. Still he likes to come to practice and play and it's great exercise and socialization for them.

    Stephanie, we like to win at racing but most fun of all is running against a team that offers real competition so our human skills of timing come into play. The only thing we handlers really do (aside from training the dogs) is to manage the split second timing of letting them go so they'll have a tight pass and make good time. We had a blast but my knee is feeling the effects of running up and down the racing lane.


I really appreciate your comments.