Flyball is essentially a relay race between 2 teams of 4 dogs, racing against each other in separate lanes. Each dog on the team must jump 4 hurdles, retrieve a tennis ball from a spring-loaded device called a "box", and return back over the hurdles again with the ball. As soon as the first dog returns, the second dog is released. The dogs should pass each other as close as possible on the start line, this is referred to as a "changeover", "cross" or "pass". The winning team is the first one to get all four dogs over the course and back again with no faults or early changeovers.
Although a giant breed, leonbergers love to "work" and to "socialize" which makes flyball a possibility for interested owners.
Havoc does Flyball; he has FMX and is a member of the Flash Point Flyball club.
Havoc, Anchor Creek's Anarchy on Thunder Hill, owned and handled by Mary Kline.
Two leonbergers have obtained recognition in the Activity of Flyball
Anchor Creek's Anarchy on Thunder Hill FMX
Flyball Dog Master Excellent (2009)
Jedi Knight von Alpensee, owned by Ira Dierolf
Flyball Dog Champion (FD)
For the long-term health of the dogs, they must be 18 months old before they can compete in Open Flyball tournaments, and 12 months before they can compete in Starters. Dogs are trained to turn in a certain way on the box (known as a swimmer's turn) to minimize impact on the joints.
Preparing for Flyball
Many people recommend teaching Flyball by using the backward chaining techniques from Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot the Dog". As such it is best to think of Flyball as the following chain of events:
- 1 - Release the dog
- 2 - Jump over first hurdle
- 3 - Jump over second hurdle
- 4 - Jump over third hurdle
- 5 - Jump over fourth hurdle
- 6 - Approach box
- 7 - Hit box to release tennis ball
- 8 - Catch tennis ball
- 9 - Turn
- 10 - Return over fourth hurdle
- 11 - Return over third hurdle
- 12 - Return over second hurdle
- 13 - Return over first hurdle
- 14 - Cross finish line
Start with step 14 and work your way backwards. Whenever you are adding a new jump, start with the dog real close to it. When the dog is consistently going over the jump, move him back a little. If he cuts a jump, move back in until he is consistent again. Slowly work backwards until the dog is being released from where the box is. If you get to the point where you are releasing the dog from the box position and it is running 45 feet over a single hurdle, you are well on your way to having a reliable dog.
There is no recipe for learning Flyball, just keep track of your progress and do what works best for you and your dog.
image on right courtesy of Julie Westwood.