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Flyball is a team sport. It’s fast, it’s colourful and it’s noisy!
Flyball is a relay race where each team has four dogs that race against another team in another parallel racing lane, over four jumps, retrieve a tennis ball from the box at the end of the lane and then back over the four jumps. The handlers remain behind the start line and they release their dogs in turn and collect them at the end of their run. Each dog must cross the finish line before the next dog can start, so handlers aim to send their dog so that it will cross with a returning dog at the start line. If a run is not completed correctly (for example if the dog drops the ball, misses out a jump or starts too early), the dog can re-run at the end of the line in order to complete that leg of the race. If the dog is not re-run, the team forfeits that leg.
Each team has one person whose job it is to load the box for each dog in the team; these “boxloaders” stand behind the box. They are only allowed to verbally encourage the dogs (no waving of hands, etc)
In the UK there are two types of flyball: Crufts flyball and BFA flyball (British Flyball Association). Dogs are eligible to compete in KC and BFA flyball when they are 18 months old.
There are 2 types of flyball played in the UK:
1 BFA Flyball
BFA races are run with electronic starts, timing and fault lighting, and the jump heights are adjusted between 7 and 14 inches depending on the smallest dog in a team. This encourages all breeds to take part which makes small, fast dogs very sought after as they lower the jumps for the rest of the team.
Each team has a maximum of six dogs, two of which are substitutes that can be changed in for subsequent races, but just four dogs at a time run in each race. Races are the best of five.
BFA flyball tournaments run all year round both indoors and outdoors. They are mainly run in Divisions using seeding times to make the racing competitive (current seed times can be found on
the BFA website). Apart from Open classes, there may also be Starters and Intermediate classes (although these will not form part of the sanctioned tournament), and Multibreed. The other type of
tournament (popular in other European countries and adopted at the European Championships) is the Double Elimination.
Dogs are awarded points when their team races with a recorded time at a sanctioned tournament. If the team races under 22 seconds each dog racing in that heat will receive 25 points towards a title; under 26 seconds - 10 points; under 30 seconds - 5 points. In 2008 a border collie named Chica was the first dog in the UK to be awarded the Topaz Certificate for 80,000 points (3 further dogs have been awarded Topaz since then).
2 Crufts Flyball
Crufts Flyball is a one off annual knockout competition. There are eight qualifying events throughout the country, with the two finalist teams from each event going through to the competition itself which is held at Crufts.
The jumps are fixed at 12 inches regardless of the size of the dogs, and races are the best of three. Judging is done by eye, and the start dog runs from the start line on a whistle blow.
How Flyball Started
Flyball started in America in the early 1970’s when Herbert Wagner first invented a ball launcher for dog obedience demonstrations. He was asked to go on national TV and the sport grew from there. In the early 1980’s the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was formed, and the British Flyball Association (BFA) followed in 1994.
History of Flyball in the UK
Flyball was first demonstrated at Crufts in 1990 with a flat front box. In 1991 the first flyball competitions were set up at agility shows.
In 1993 the Kennel Club (KC) advised the teams that were entered in the Crufts Flyball competition qualifiers, that although they would be able to use the flyball boxes that conformed to the KC guidelines in the qualifiers (i.e. flat fronted boxes), they would not be able to use them in the competition at Crufts, as they (the KC) would be supplying the boxes for the competition. Six weeks prior to the competition, the KC advised the competitors what the new slingshot box would look like. Unfortunately this meant that the dogs had no training on this this very different new type of box prior to the competition.
In 1994 the inauguration meeting of the British Flyball Association (BFA) was held, and the first Flyball Tournaments, including The British Open Flyball Championships, were held by the BFA. The same year, the first BFA Junior Flyball training camp was held at the Spillers Festival of Working Dogs.
In 2010 the KC advised that they would allow flat fronted flyball boxes to be used in the Crufts Flyball competition again.
Flyball has grown to be an International event with British teams regularly competing in the European Championships. There is a world rankings list for team speeds which can be found on the BFA website. The number of dogs competing in flyball continues to grow, and in 2010 there were 271 primary teams competing in BFA Flyball, an increase of 45 on the previous year.
In 2011 a new British record in BFA flyball was set at 16.37 seconds by Live Wires Flyball Team. The current world record is held by a team in the USA, Touch N Go Flyball Team, who ran 14.86 seconds.
Aussies in UK Flyball
The first Aussie to compete in flyball in the UK was Indiana (Winserne Be My American Dream) owned by Catherine Fuller, who competed at Crufts in 1996 as a member of the Kennel Club Junior Organisation Cocktails Flyball Team in the Pedigree Flyball Semi-Finals. This was the first Crufts Flyball team made up of handlers under 18 years old and was the start of the KCJO (now Young Kennel Club).
In 1998 the first Aussies to run in a BFA Open Tournament were Sam (Wolfen Bouncing Boy) and Grundy. (Accra Uncle Bulgaria) owned by Janet Bates earned his BFA Flyball Dog Certificate (200 points) at his first (and only) tournament. Sam went on to compete until 2009, and was the first Aussie be given the BFA Flyball Dog Intermediate and Graduate awards. In 2009 Phoenix (Inoby Phoenix Rising) was the first Aussie to be given the Flyball Dog Advanced award. In the same year she and Nushka (Armatan Aces High) owned by Daniella Mann competed at the European Flyball Championships in Belgium - as far as I am aware they were the first Aussies from the UK to compete at this prestigious tournament.
If you would like to know more about flyball or would like details of your nearest team, please go to http://www.flyball.org.uk