Flyball is a relay race with 4 dogs on a team. The course consists of a starting line, 4 hurdles spaced 10 feet apart and a box. The hurdle height is dependent on the height of the dogs in the team -- 5" below the shoulder height of the shortest dog. 7" is the minimum height and 14" is the maximum height. The first hurdle is 6 feet from the start line and the box is 15 feet from the last hurdle making for a 51 foot overall length. The dogs jump the hurdles and step on a spring-loaded box that releases a tennis ball. The dog catches the tennis ball and then runs back over the 4 hurdles. When the dog crosses the starting line the next dog goes. Teams race against each other at the same time and the first team to have all 4 dogs run without faults wins the heat.
Tournaments in the UK are organised on a round robin format, each race is usually best of 5 legs and the first team to win 3 heats receives 1 point towards their standing in the tournament; the final placings within the division are decided by the total number of points each team achieves. In the event of a 2-way tie the placing is decided by which team won the race between the two, in a 3-way tie you can sometimes get a run-off or sometimes it is decided on the fastest times each team has run that day.
Run times and 'passing' (the next dog may not cross the start/finish line until the previous dog has returned over it) is monitored via electronic sensors and timing devices as is the start which is similar to a formula 1 grand prix style lights countdown...the start dog may not cross the line until the green light has come on but by using the countdown lights handlers can judge when to release the dog to achieve the best start possible, by releasing the dog some 30 or 40 feet from the line it has chance to build momentum before reaching the racing lane, the same is true when subsequent dogs are released to pass...with both dogs running flat out you want them crossing nose to nose within the timing sensors to achieve the best possible time, it is being able to judge this 'passing point' and adjust where necessary that makes a good handler, races are won and lost on 100ths of a second!
If a lead dog gets two consecutive false starts or a following dog crosses the line too soon (before the previous dog has returned over the line) it is considered a fault and that dogs fault light will be switched on by the line judge...handlers must keep an eye out for their dogs fault light (each position 1st to 4th has a different colour) because their dog will have to run again as a '5th dog' as a penalty. Fault lights will also be switched on if the dog does not trigger the box correctly, drops it's ball before crossing the line or misses a hurdle. In the event that a dog runs out of it's racing lane and crosses to the opposition the race is immediately halted by the judge (in the interest of safety) and the leg is automatically awarded to the opposition on the grounds of interference.
The combination of noise, shouting, lights and the speed at which everything is happening makes competition quite daunting for novice handlers...it's not as easy as it looks!
As well as winning rosettes (and sometimes other nice prizes) if you are in the placings at a tournament dogs running in sanctioned competition also earn points towards flyball titles awarded by the BFA. The points are awarded for each leg run and are based on the teams time for that leg:
· less than 30 secs: Each dog receives 5 points
· less than 26 secs: Each dog receives 10 points
· less than 22 secs: Each dog receives 25 points
The awards are as follows…
Flyball Dog 200
Flyball Dog Intermediate 1000
Flyball Dog Advanced 3000
Flyball Dog Graduate 5000
Ice Blue Moon 20000
Chica Chicana 40000
It takes many miles of travelling, many hours of training and many fast and consistent runs to get to those milestone awards!
Flyball in the UK is governed by the British Flyball Association