Thursday, June 27, 2013

So You Want To Do Flyball...

When I was applying for my first Border Collie back in 2007, I did some research on local training facilities and dog sport options. I had a couple online friends who competed in Flyball and it looked like a lot of fun. There was a nearby team and I vowed to check it out when I brought my dog home.

Well, then Qwill was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, Shiner a broken pelvis, and Trophy was only 4 months old when I moved back to Ohio.

Trophy was 3 (well 2 years 9 months) when we finally made the jump and attended our first Flyball practice. There is so much I wish I had known back then that I know now, so if you've ever thought about trying out Flyball this is the post for you!

1. Terminology

  • a Flyball tournament is made up of head to head RACEs between two teams.
  • Races are made up of 3 to 5 matches called HEATS.
  • The order your dogs will run in is called THE LINE UP.
  • The first dog in the line up is called the START DOG.
  • The last dog is called the ANCHOR DOG
  • The middle area of the Flyball course where the dogs run is called the LANE.
  • The area behind the start line where your team lines up is called the RUN BACK.
  • If the dog coming onto the course crosses the start line before the dog completing the course has crossed the start line it is a BAD PASS.
  • If a dog or owner makes a mistake such as running around jumps, not picking up the ball, dropping the ball before crossing the finish line, owners hand or toy crosses any part of the finish line, bad passes, etc, it is called a FLAG and the dog is said to HAVE FLAGGED.
  • When a dog flags they must rerun the course after the rest of the dogs on the team complete on order to finish the race and get a time. If more than one dog flags both must rerun in the correct order or you get a NO FINISH and no points.

View of the RUNBACK of our START DOG running down the LANE. :)

2. Most Likely You Are Going To Become Addicted
For me this meant that after being in the sport less than three years I would go from 1 competing dog to 3 competing dogs and a puppy in training, get no less than 2 of my friends helplessly addicted (one if whom doesn't even have a dog-he runs Demo for me), own my team and run my own beginners classes. Your millage may vary. You should, however, be prepared to bond with your team, your dog, and find yourself wishing it was a Flyball weekend at the very lowest end of the "Flyball addiction" spectrum.

Trophy and I hanging out between races at his first tournament. Back when I knew so little and I'm lucky I remembered to bring him a water bowl...

3. There Is Lots Of Homework
If you go into a Flyball class expecting to not have to work your dog at home you will be able to eventually compete, but it is going to take exponentially longer. Trophy took 5 months to train, Pan 6, Demo 10. With all of them I took props and boards home to practice. If you do no work at home plan on it taking over a year to get your dog at competition level.

Demo would have not made his debut at CanAm2012 without lots of practice reps in our hallway.

4. Find A Team You Mesh With
There are lots of reasons why people play Flyball. The two most popular being for points and to be the fastest.

Teams that run to be fast are often going for regional championships, out they are running for the accolades of being the fastest ranked team, and still others run to set world records. They have a truly competitive spirit and are always pushing for speed, pushing passes to be as tight as possible, and occasionally you will find the team that puts winning before sportsmanship and their dogs safety.

Hanging out at Base Camp during lunch break. Photograph by Kandice Nadeau.
Our team runs for points and therefore titles as we accumulate points. This means we can accommodate some slower dogs as we put together teams with the sole purpose of running together under 24 seconds. We don't push passes to try to get the fastest time, we would rather run clean and watch the points rack up. This does not mean we are anti competitive, but rather that we will switch out slower dogs for faster dogs to try and gain a speed advantage or we make sure we run clean when our opponents are pushing passes so they flag and we complete the race.

Getting on a team whose philosophies don't line up with yours can cause heartache down the road, especially if your dog isn't living up to your expectations... or the teams.  But Expectations are a whole 'nuther ball o' problems that I'll touch on in a later post.
Recharging.  My favorite picture from CanAm2011.

5. There Is More Equipment Needed Than You Think
While as a regular team member you don't have to worry about buying a Flyball box or jumps, there is a lot more equipment you will find yourself needing/wanting.

Can't live without this stuff.

From outfitting your dog: special Flyball collar or harness, skid boots, vet wrap, tug toys, cooling jackets, therapeutic jackets with ceramic or magnetic therapy (for when you get truly over-the-top addicted) etc.

To camping gear: tent, cot, sleeping bag or RV if you are fancy-schmancy... x-pens (and the stakes and top cover) or extra travel kennels, water buckets, pop up for shade, sun foils and shade tarps, crate fans, crate blankets, mats to cover the floor, cooler, folding chair, extension cords, etc.

Cool Coat!

Or, if camping isn't your thing, hotel swag: travel kennel, dog blankets for the bed, etc.

And above all else, an insane amount of poop bags!

Also, there are the visits with the Chiropractor... but not for you, for your dogs!

Packing List.... Dogs? CHECK!

6. What To Expect When You're Expecting To Compete In Your First Tournament
This depends on if you are debuting in NAFA or UFLI Flyball.

UFLI has several options for green dogs. The new "preflight" class that (as of last check of the rule book) gives your dog 7 minutes of ring time for training in the tournament environment. This can be an incredibly valuable tool to help proof dogs to their job in a highly distracting environment. You are welcome to have any dog on your team run with your dog to practice passing or against your dog to work on that aspect of competition. I started Demo in preflight before he had a boxturn- just picking the ball up off the floor - to work the pattern in the environment. If your dog is a little father along and you want to try racing a stranger or passing and racing strangers then you can enter singles or pairs racing. Singles is your dog running head to head with another dog for time, pairs is you and a partner running had to head with another pairs team (also helpful for practicing your starts)!
Trophy's swag from CanAm2011

For NAFA or UFLI team debuts, your team may have a different policy, but our team functions like this:

You will be placed on a team with 4 veteran dogs and perhaps one other green dog. Teams have 6 dogs on them, 4 dogs run each heat from the listed 6, so if any green dogs have some green dog issues we have enough experienced dogs to complete the run.

Demo with his FDCh Title Ribbon.  You don't always get ribbons, but when you do it's AWESOME!

You are given the majority of the warm up time to do a few close up box turns, a run out (where someone holds your dog by the box and you call them down the lane. This helps proof the dog on which lane they are running in) and do a few practice runs.

If your dog handled the practice runs well we will put him in the race. We like to start green dogs either first or last so they only have to worry about running past one dog, not sandwiched between two dogs.
Sleeping between races, or before racing began, since they still have their coats on.

If your dog flags for dropping or missing a ball or missing jumps we have the dog rerun to see if he makes the same mistake out if he fixes the mistake. Then we will make a decision to let him run another heat or put in a veteran dog. If, for example, a green dog drops his ball when running head to head with another dog but completes correctly with no dog in the other lane, we will let him try again in the next heat. If he again can't hold his ball racing against another dog we will pull him so he doesn't start to pattern "I can run twice if in don't bring my ball the first time" or it may indicate we need to do more head to head practice in training. We will give the dog the next warm up to try again.

So, that's flyball for beginners in a nutshell. :)

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