What Is Flyball?

Dog flyball trainingIn flyball, teams of dogs compete against one another from the starting line to the finish line, over a series of hurdles, to a box where pressing a spring-loaded pad releases a tennis ball for the dog to catch, then back to their handlers while carrying the ball.

Teams of four dogs compete in relays. The track is 51 feet long and has four hurdles spaced 10 feet apart, with the starting line six feet from the first hurdle and the box 15 feet after the last hurdle. The smallest dog on the team’s shoulder height or the ulna length is used to calculate the hurdle height (depending on the association). For instance, according to current North American Flyball Association (NAFA) regulations, this should start at no less than 7 inches and no more than 14 inches, which is 5 inches below the size of the smallest dog’s withers.

A proprietary ulna measuring apparatus used by the United Kingdom Flyball League (UKFL) measures the distance between the stopper pad’s “elbow” and bone with a minimum height of 6 inches (15 cm) and a maximum height of 12 inches.

Before the next dog crosses the start line, each dog must bring its ball back across. At the starting line, running should be done nose to nose. The first team wins the heat to have all four dogs successfully cross the finish line. If the ball is dropped or the following relay dog is released too soon, penalties are imposed on the teams.

Flyball started as a dog sport in the late 1960s.  Australia, Canada, and South Africa are just a few of the newer nations to adopt the sport, and in Europe, nations like Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Hungary, France, and United Kingdom host both national events and annual European championships.    In the United States, the first flyball competition was in 1983.

Best Flyball Dog Breeds

Dogs that do best in flyball must be fast and intelligent.  The Border Collie and the Whippet are two of the breeds that are frequent winners in the sport.  In the AKC Flyball Dog Challenge of 2022, the winning team included 4 Border Collie/Whippet mix dogs.