A short note before you read on: Flyball is my sport of choice, as should be pretty obvious to any regular blog readers. It is simply the sport I choose to participate in above all others. When I compare it to agility, or obedience, or any other sport, I am doing so from my own perspective, with opinions born from my own experience. Feel free to express any disagreements in the comment area. This is all open to discussion, but please try to keep it friendly.
Many people seem to have a very simplistic view of flyball. A lot of people in the dog sport world have a simplistic and negative view of flyball. The strange part is, most of those people have never been to a flyball tournament, demo, or practice.
Giving all of these people the benefit of the doubt, that they simply don't know what flyball is all about, I want to share what flyball does for dog training. Every type of training with dogs has focus areas. Some things are really strong in them, and others, not so much.
Flyball on the surface has two behaviors that need to be trained: jumps, and the flyball box. It looks so simple when an experienced dog is on the course that sometime people want to just get out there with their totally untrained (at least for flyball) dog and are disappointed when the dog doesn't perform well, or at all.
Almost everyone views jumps as a simplistic obstacle for a dog to learn, whether they compete in obedience, agility, flyball, or simply play in the back yard. Most dogs learn to go over a jump easily. Some agility trainers take it a step farther by training and proofing jumps enough to give a dog accountability for keeping bars up. But, in the most basic sense, jumps are easy. No dispute there.
The flyball box is an obstacle that sounds simple. Dog jumps on box, box shoots out ball, dog catches ball, dog jumps off box. Training a fast, smooth, and safe box turn that holds up is a whole lot more complicated than that, but lets face it, its a pretty single purpose behavior. (My personal opinion is that there is not one other single obstacle or exercise used in any dog sport that is more complex and more complicated to train than a box turn. Feel free to disagree, and comment with examples if you would like.)
Flyball as a sport is a lot more than just the obstacles. Sure, the dog runs down over four jumps, hops on the box, grabs a ball, and runs back over four jumps. Sounds easy. Sounds simple. How much training can that possibly take?
For agility people, let me ask you a question: How far of a send out can you do with your dog and have them reliably perform the obstacle at that distance? How far can they send out to their hardest obstacle (be it weaves, a contact obstacle, or whatever)? Keep this in mind for a minute.
A flyball course is 51 feet from the box to the start line. Most dogs are started at least 10 feet into the run back area, and many are started closer to 30-50 feet. This means the send out to the flyball box for a dog can be anywhere from 60 to 110 feet. Will your dog perform reliably at that distance from you? (Herding people are probably laughing at these measly distances, knowing their dog can work reliably at much, much greater ones.)
Now take your agility dog or obedience or other trained dog and put them within 20 feet of 7 excited, barking, running dogs and 7 excited, running, yelling people. Ask your dog to perform for you. Some of your dogs may do great. Others will likely melt down. Being able to work in that type of environment is not required of these dogs. It is of flyball dogs.
Can your dog perform its task with another dog running full speed past him only inches away? Our flyball dogs have to learn to do this before than can ever compete. They pass other dogs like this up to two times in every heat of the race.
I'm not trying to say any other dog sport is super simple. I'm not saying agility is easy, or obedience is something we could do in our sleep, or even imply that. I know I could not just decide to jump onto an agility course or into an obedience ring with no specific training and do anything but make a fool of myself, and possibly risk injury to my dog. It takes training. All I am trying to say is that flyball takes training too. A lot of training.