Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Noobs Guide to Flyball: Chapter 2: Box Loading Where Right is Left and Left is Right.... Right? A Guest Blog By Matty

Welcome to our second installment of a Noob's Guide to Flyball. Boxloading is probably the most important and least talked about aspect of flyball. After all, you can't play flyball without a boxloader. It takes a lot of guts to be the boxloader, I mean, would you like to face this coming down the lane at you

(and Trophy is my most mild running dog!) Here to tell you all about it from the perspective of "hey, you've been to one practice and we need you to boxload this tournament... here you go!" Take it away, Matty! 

Ok so this time I’m going to talk about box loading. Oh the joys of box loading, its kind of a scary and daunting task when you think about it. I mean you have to realize that the dogs are trained to turn off one side of the box. So you must know which way the dog will turn so you can put the ball on the correct side of the box. And if you screw this up or totally forget to even put the ball in the box, then congratulations! you have probably given that heat of the race to the other team. Both of which I have done, and cursed myself out in my head for. 

Now the prime example of me doing comes from the most recent tournament, Lex was starting with Pan and in the second heat Lex nailed a perfect start! She also did this squeee thing she does when she gets excited. And I, being the curious turd I am, directed my eyes at the clock. 0.000, and in the moment that it took to complete that I had completely missed reloading the box and Trophy had come and hit the empty box. Since I had forgotten to load the box, Trophy didn't have a ball and we took a no finish for the heat and the perfect start didn't count. And if you are on a team like mine that is about running clean heats and less about being the fastest then it might not be the end of the world but let’s be honest, we all have that little bit of competitive spark that flares up sometimes. (Mucho props to Lex for not killing me on the spot, there will be many white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies from me in your future!)

Now from my understanding the dogs turn either left or right (as the box we use only has two positions, one on either side to retrieve the ball from). What that means is that the ball either goes on the right or left. So the dog either turns right or left, feel free to say “duh”. What needs to be explained after saying the dogs turn right or left is that if you are box loading that you need to reverse the right’s and left’s because you are facing the dog. What that means is that when the dog is running toward you and he or she turns to the left, it means that he/she is actually turning to your right. WOMP WOMP!  

[Lexi's note: Pretty clear as mud, right? Basically you have to think of things in terms of DOG'S left or right and BOXLOADER left and right - they are opposite. If the dog turns left it means BOXLOADER right. Still clear as mud? Welcome to boxloading :)] 

 So how does anyone keep all this info straight? I personally keep a list on my phone that I copied from Lex of the dogs and which way they turn (from the dog’s point of view). It can be confusing if you don’t know the point of view. But once you have the left’s and right’s down you should probably think about having a few extra balls.I personally like to carry two extra of every ball for each dog. Everyone bust out your calculators and do the math, that’s eight balls in whatever holding place you happen to find on your person. I personally like me some comfy cargo shorts, the pockets hold my extra balls pretty well. But to each their own, I have seen fanny packs, back pockets, front pockets, hoodies, and even seen tennis balls held in the small of the loaders back. So your results may very.

What do you do if the dog in your lane bobbles the ball and pretty much has no chance of finding it, but will not return to the handler because it's a dog on a mission and will not be deterred? As i found out this past weekend, you can just drop a ball for that dog to find so that he/she can get it and just get out of there before they run off or steal the other teams ball, which could lead to even more problems. 

Another good thing to remember is that you DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POSITION UNTIL THE HEAT IS OVER. And since I sometimes can’t hear the judge due to barking or even see who’s who down at the other end of the lane because the light outside could rival the sun itself, I usually look for the other box loader to step off and then follow suit, or if they don’t move and I can actually differentiate people on the other side I will look to see if anyone is running their dog or doing anything resembling what happens during the heat. 

My last point is going to be about calling the dog from the box. Since I am paranoid as all get out I usually keep my mouth shut unless I’m told to say something. And with that, it’s story time. During the tournament over Memorial Day weekend one of my team mates asked me to call her dog, and I just immediately blurted out the dogs name. Which would have been a fantastic thing, if we had been running the heat. Alas, we were in between heats and the dogs were lining up. So I yelled, “Dodger!” and Lex comes back with a, “When he’s running”. Dodger was third in the line up. Big duh on my part, but that’s what I get. Sometimes I get wrapped up in my head when I’m trying to make sure I have the lineup for the heat correct. 

[Lexi's note: we have run into this twice with Demo. He will NOT come back if his ball gets lost. Twice he has technically crossed over, once causing a very clear interference, and the judge did not whistle the heat dead, Demo then jumped over the back boards to hunt down his ball - there are props and spare tubs of balls and god only knows WHAT back there, not to mention the wires for the lights.... so it was a really dangerous situation and I was pissed SO PISSED at the judge for not calling the heat. That is when we found out if the boxloader just "accidentally" drops a ball for the dog it's just a re-run for the dog and hopefully the next time it happens we can avoid Demo trying to kill himself!"]

 Next time: Trusting your dog and letting him fly!


  1. Love the description of how flyball works...I've watched it on video but have never been to a competition since we don't have any of that up here. Maybe one day I'll have a ball crazy dog and we'll give it a go. Sounds like a blast!

    1. It is so much fun! I hope you get a chance to try it some day! The team work is the best part... and trusting your dog to execute all the training you put into it perfectly since it's a totally independent behavior chain.