What is Flyball?

What is Flyball?

Flyball is a high energy, high speed, sport in which two teams of 4 dogs each and their handlers compete relay-style against each other, and the clock.  Flyball is open to all dogs - any breed, any size, any background - and is governed by the North American Flyball Association, NAFA

What is involved?

A flyball course consists of two side-by-side lanes, each 51 feet long, and consisting of 4 jumps.  At the end of each lane is a flyball box, which when triggered by the dog, releases a tennis ball.  Each dog must retrieve his ball, and return over the jumps, thus releasing the next dog to race.  The following dog may not cross the start/finish line, until the previous dog has already done so.  Each dog must jump all jumps down and back, must trigger the box, and must return back over the start/finish line with the ball that was placed in the box specifically for them.   If any of these qualifications are not met, the dog that made the error must run the course again after the others have finished.  The first team to have all four dogs complete the course without error wins that heat.   

The Course, Equipment, Judges, and Goals

The side-by-side lanes begin with a run back area followed by the start/finish line and an electronic judging system.  The EJS uses lights and infrared timing sensors to help the handlers to time their releases, as well as alert the head judge of any obvious errors.  The goal of the first dog in the lineup, or the start dog, is to cross the Start/Finish line at the exact moment the lights change from yellow to green.  If done perfectly, this results in a start time of 0.000 - a coveted perfect start!  Any time that lapses between the light turning green and the start dog crossing the line is added to the final time of the team after all dogs have run.  Any negative times are referred to as false starts resulting in one do over per team.  If there is ever a double false start on one team, it's an error and the start dog must run a second time at the end of the lineup.  The start/finish line and the lights also aid in timing perfect passes, performed when the dogs meet exactly nose to nose at the line.  If this is done too soon, it will be an overpass and the lights will signal so.  The dog that overpasses must run again at the end of the lineup.  There are line judges assigned to watch for any overpasses or errors missed by the lights.  The line judges also keep a record of all the times the EJS displays including the start time, each dog's individual time, the teams' total collective time, and the winner of the heat. 

Six feet past the start/finish line begins a series of 4 jumps set 10 feet apart.  The height of the jumps is set based on the shortest dog running for a team.  This is why one often notices three large fast dogs and a smaller dog making up a four some.  The highest the jumps can be is 14" and the lowest is 7".  The height is determined by subtracting 5" from the withers of the shortest dog.  Fractions of inches are rounded down, so a dog measuring 14.8", would round down to a 14" and would set the jumps at 9".  These height dogs must be measured by a judge to determine their true height prior to racing, and eventually are issued a height card as permanent height identification.  A height dog is considered very valuable to a team as even an inch or two added to the jumps can slow everyone else down significantly. 

The flyball box is set 15' beyond the last jump.  The flyball box is a spring loaded box triggered by the dog to release a ball placed there by the box loader.   The box loader stands behind the box to steady it and places a new ball in the box for each dog.  This is often described as the toughest job in flyball because all dogs are different.  Some dogs turn left, some turn right, some hit straight on... some take tennis balls, some take squishy balls, some take tiny balls, and some will only touch a certain color.  The box loader is responsible for differentiating what each dog requires and doing so on a moment's notice if the lineup changes!  All teams are responsible for providing their own boxes, which are inspected by a judge prior to the start of a tournament.   Teams train their dogs to perform a swimmers turn off of their box - the fastest turn possible on the box that results in retrieving the ball and reversing direction. The swimmers turn can make a huge difference in a dog's individual course completion time.  There are also box judges who watch for box malfunctions, lack of triggering, dropped balls, and skipped jumps.   

Tournaments, Times, Points, & Titles

Flyball has evolved a lot since its primitive start in the late 1960s, and with the development of the spring loaded flyball box and the electronic judging system, competition has gotten tight!  The current NAFA World Record for 4 dogs successfully completing the course is a mere 15.22 seconds!  The overall world record was achieved on May 16, 2009 by a team out of Utah who ran four Border collie / Staffordshire terrier crosses with a time of 14.963 seconds!  However, they did not run a height dog and jumped 7" jumps. 

The 300+ tournaments sanctioned by NAFA are held all over North America.  Divisions are set up to ensure fair racing and to keep the competitive spirit of all those involved - human and K9!  The divisions help to pit teams of equal ability and caliber against each other, with Division 1 teams racing other Division 1 teams and so on.  There are 4 sub-divisions:  Open, Regular, Multi, and Veteran.  In an Open Division, dogs from different registered flyball clubs can join together and run in a tournament.  Regular division is any four dogs from the same registered NAFA Team, and Multibreed division teams must have four dogs of different breeds from the same NAFA team.  A mixed breed dog is considered a separate breed as well.  Veteran divisions have teams in which all four dogs are over the age of 7.  The Veteran division also limits the jump height as well as the number of heats each dog can run in a single tournament. 

Once teams are separated into divisions, they are then broken into smaller classes to ensure similar possible racing times.  That way, a 16 second team isn't placed into the same class as a team working hard to get under 24 seconds.  These smaller groups are based on a seed time - the fastest time a given team can possibly run.  Seed times are determined by each team and turned in to the tournament prior to racing begins.  To ensure a team doesn't underestimate what their abilities are, a break out time is given to the team as well.  The break out time is usually 1 second faster than the given seed time.  If a team breaks out, it means they ran faster than they claimed they could, possibly putting them in a different division.  Penalties for breaking out in a tournament are hefty!  Once receives a warning, but if a team breaks out twice in a single tournament, that team will forfeit any placement AND points they earn for the entire tournament. 

Titles are earned based on points which are determined by the cumulative team completion time, and are issued to every dog that ran on that team. The point scale is as follows:

  • under 24 seconds earns each dog in the heat 25 points
  • 24.000 through 27.999 seconds earns each dog in the heat 5 points
  • 28.000 through 31.999 seconds earns each dog in the heat 1 point

Before a dog can step into a NAFA sanctioned ring, he is issued a Competition Registration Number, or CRN, to provide an accurate method of keeping up with that dog's achievements.  Points are cumulative throughout a dog's entire flyball career and titles are earned when goals are reached.  From the NAFA site, titles are issued as follows:

Points Title
20 Flyball Dog (FD)
(includes certificate of achievement)
100 Flyball Dog Excellent (FDX)
(includes certificate of achievement)
500 Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh)
(includes certificate of achievement)
1000 Flyball Dog Champion-Silver (FDCh-S)
(includes certificate of achievement)
2500 Flyball Dog Champion-Gold (FDCh-G)
(includes certificate of achievement)
5000 Flyball Master (FM)
(includes certificate of achievement and commemorative pin)
10,000 Flyball Master Excellent (FMX)
(includes certificate of achievement and commemorative pin)
15,000 Flyball Master Champion (FMCh)
(includes certificate of achievement and commemorative pin)
20,000 ONYX
(includes commemorative plaque and pin)
30,000 Flyball Grand Champion (FGDCh-30)
(includes Commemorative Plaque and Pin)
40,000 Commemorative pin and plaque
50,000-90,000 Commemorative pin and plate for 40k plaque
100,000 Hobbes Award
(includes commemorative pin and plaque)


For more information on the sport of Flyball, please visit NAFA's home site at www.flyball.org.


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