Photo by Ambient Exposure Photography |

Flyball is fast, furious and fun! This sport is a relay race between two teams of four dogs each. One at a time, each dog runs down a lane of four hurdles, retrieves a tennis ball from a special spring board box, runs back to the start over the hurdles and then the next dog begins. The team with the fastest time advances.

Each team usually has a starter dog that is by nature amped and ready to go, a couple of steady, predictable dogs, and a 'hurdle dog'. The jump (or hurdle) heights are set to the height of the smallest dog on the team. By having a short dog on a team, the hurdle is lowered for all of the dogs.

This is a great sport for the 'fetch-a-holics' and a wonderful team building experience for humans and dogs alike.

Training techniques:

Flyball requires a dog to retrieve, jump, perform a swimmers turn on the ball box and have the ability to run alongside other dogs, or in the opposite direction of other dogs and still maintain focus.

  • A dog is first taught to retrieve a tennis ball.
  • When the dog is proficient at the first stage, she is then taught to retrieve a tennis ball while jumping over hurdles.
  • Much time is spent accustoming a dog to the 'box' which is a spring-loaded box holding the tennis ball. This is done by positively associating the box with good things like treats and tennis balls.
  • The dog is then slowly shaped into performing a swimmers turn on the ball box as this technique is the most efficient as well the least stressful on the dog’s body.
  • It is interesting to note that dogs have an individual preference for turning right or left. While initially training a dog to retrieve a ball laid on the ground against a simple wall, observe which way the dog innately likes to turn. When teaching the dog to use the ball box, take this into consideration as you teach the dog to perform a right or left swimmers turn.
  • The boxes have two slots for the balls. When a dog is taking off to run down to the box, the handler signals to the box loader if the dog is right or left turning and the box loader puts the ball in the appropriate slot for each dog.
  • Finally, practice is done with dogs running along side of each other or in opposite directions to teach dogs to stay on course and on task even with the distractions of other dogs running by.

What not to do:

  • Do not rush the process of teaching your dog the individual steps of retrieving, jumping, swimmers turn on the ball box and running with other dogs.
  • Take your time and reward each small success for your dog.
  • This is especially important when teaching them to interact with the ball box. The spring in the box and the sound it makes can spook a dog if introduced incorrectly.
  • Find an experienced Flyball trainer using positive reinforcement techniques only to help you.
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4 thoughts on “Flyball

  1. VLM

    This box is TERRIBLE!!! We train a "swimmers" turn to prevent injury. No one uses a box that rejects like this and no one should be training a 2 footed turn. Please talk to people in the sport to get the real story. This makes me sad and very frustrated!!!

  2. Joy

    This is a good post for spreading the word about flyball, but unfortunately it has quite a few inaccuracies starting with the photo. The style of box used in the photo is quite old, more than 20 years most likely, and it would not be acceptable for any competition in NAFA or UFLI. As can be seen in the attached photo, most competition boxes now have 4 holes for the balls to be used depending on the dog's size and turning ability - my boy in the photo takes from the inside right hole, for example. The dogs that set the height of the jumps are known as height dogs, and the height range is 7" - 14" in NAFA and 6" - 12" in UFLI. The training techniques listed here are also quite unlike the methods used by competitive flyball teams, as the methods described here will not result in a safe and fast turn.

    For more information on flyball, please visit (NAFA) or (UFLI), and both sites have club locators and tournament lists for events and clubs in your area.

  3. Kate Corum

    Hi all, please note that the comments below are from 2 months ago when another picture was on this page. The current picture of the black dog in yellow leg wraps is a proper box turn on a UFLI and NAFA approved box made by Dan Sharp!!

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