Our Molly loves tennis balls more than anything else in the whole wide world (even more than her Asa). So when we first came across dog flyball we thought it would be just up her street. But first…
What is dog flyball?
Flyball is a (very) competitive team sport that runs on a knockout basis (usually the best of three runs continues the game). Two teams, each consisting of four dogs, compete against each other. Each dog takes a turn to run down a parallel racing lane. The dog must jump over four hurdles before jumping on a special Flyball box that releases tennis ball that the dog must catch and return with back to the starting line.
The first team to have the fourth dog cross the finish line wins the race... as long as there are no penalties. If the run is not completed correctly the dog must run again, e.g. if the dog starts too early, misses a hurdle or drops the ball.
This video demonstrates what dog flyball is all about.
As you can see, flyball can be great fun for dogs and their owners alike.
Flyball is though not for every dog or every dog owner. The dog needs to be fast but also accurate and both the dog and the owner have to be fully committed because flyball is competitive team sport. It is not fair to other team members if the dog, or the owner, is not fully committed.
So how did Molly and Tess do at flyball?
We tried flyball because Molly absolutely loves fetching balls. There is no question that to her fetching ball is her main passion and purpose in life. And she is fast and she has collie in her, but vast majority of flyball dogs are border collies. So we expected her to be fully committed and good at flyball.
Molly loved it in the beginning. What not to love, there were yellow tennis balls all over the place. However, she soon lost interest. She didn't see the point in fetching the ball, giving it back... and have to wait... and wait for it to be thrown again. She preferred the classic throw ball, fetch it, throw ball again… and repeat until the cows come home!
However, her daughter Tess, that usually is not that interested in fetching balls, more interested in carrying them around, turned out to love flyball.
Through our dog agility, we had realizes that Tess is actually very competitive. She loves a good race and racing is what dog flyball is all about.
We did make into a starters team and we did couple of competitions (mother and daughter in the same team). We are proud to say that our team ended up in the first place on both occasions.
Then Molly went on a strike. During practice runs, she started to fetch the ball but instead of running back, she tried to escape the course. It was obvious that she didn't want to do this anymore and we were not going to force her.
Tess still loved it but as dog flyball requires full commitment from everyone involved, we decided this was not for us. We still enjoy doing flyball on a "fun basis" and we enjoy watching it, but it is not fair to be part of a flyball team unless you and your dog are fully committed to the team.
But for the right dog, and the right dog owner, dog flyball is an excellent activity that both can enjoy.
But is flyball safe for dogs?
We love our dogs and this was something we were initially concerned about. We were concerned if repetitive jumping on the flyball box could cause injury and be bad for the dog's joints.
There is no question that if not properly trained, and not using proper equipment, flyball can cause injury to dogs. Dog arthritis used to be common in the front shoulder of older flyball dogs.
Most things you allow your dog (or yourself) to do involve some level of risk, whether it is playing fetch, allowing your dog to swim, run in the woods, or take part in any dog sport, e.g. dog agility. As with everything else is life, it is about minimizing the risk as much as possible.
With good training and good equipment's the joy dogs and dog owners can have together from dog flyball should outweigh the potential risk… but good dog joint supplement is also a good idea.