Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starting a flyball dog- Jump drills, motivation, direction

You've decided to start flyball training with your dog. Your dog is motivated by food or toys and you are willing to dedicate some time and effort to the training process. But where do you begin?


Find the toy or treat your dog is excited about and willing to work for. I prefer using a long (4+ feet long) tug toy, and will put effort into getting a dog to play with a tug. Other people successfully run their dogs for various toys (stuffed, tugs, treat-baited, even laser pointers) or treats. I just find a tug to be easier for me and an effective motivator for my dogs (though Pallo took 2 months to become the crazy tugging maniac he is today).

Jumps (2 person, 1 dog drill):

When a new dog comes to our class, they start out with back-chaining over jumps. Four jumps are used in flyball, and back-chaining just means that we teach them the jumps one at a time. Starting close up over jump 8 (jumps are numbered in the order the dog crosses them, 1-4 on the way to the box, then 5-8 on the way back to the handler, so jump number indicates both which jump and which direction the dog is moving), the dog is held by one person close to the jump while the handler stands or crouches on the other side of the jump with food or a toy held out over the jump to the dog. Most dogs will easily go over the jump to their handler, where they are then rewarded. (We don't recommend using a sit-stay to keep the dog behind the jumps until the handler can get to the end of the course, then releasing the dog from the stay. Part of this drill is to build speed, desire, and drive, which is best built when the dog is restrained, allowing them to pull against the person holding them.)

Both dog and handler move back in increments to give the dog more options. It can go around the jump, but is encouraged and rewarded for going over the jump. This is the method we use to teach all four jumps, backing up a little bit if the dog shows a desire to run around the jumps and slowly adding another jump in, then backing up to 15 feet from jump 5. The dog can then complete what we refer to as a run-away (other teams will sometimes have other names for this). Basically, a run-away is the dog being held with its back feet on or just in front of the flyball box, then recalling quickly over four jumps to the handler.

Once the dog is doing a run-away, the handler begins to change their position to running away from the dog, with the toy/reward held out in the LEFT hand, veering to the RIGHT side of the run back area. This is important for when other dogs are added in later. It will help your dog run on the right side of the lane (which reduces the risk of a collision over a jump if another dog ends up loose on the course) and keeps the handler out of the way of other running dog/handler teams.

ETA: As Patty pointed out in a comment below, some people like to use gates to keep the dogs in line when first teaching them the jumps. We've never really found this to be needed on our team dogs, though we have one older dog who began with a different club who we do fence in because of a long-term habit of skipping out on the jumps.

Once dog and handler have run-aways solidly down, you can add in variations by changing the spacing of the jumps (in a course, jumps are spaced 10 feet apart), changing jump height (you can keep them all the same or vary the height of them), knock the jumps over, etc. This will help your dog stay safe on a course even if a jump has been knocked out of place or knocked over during a race. In an active race, if the dog continues to clear jumps as if they are still upright, the run is clean even if the jump is out of place or knocked over.

Another variation is instead of holding the dog at the box, directly in line with the jumps, you can move the dog off to the side, a little at first, then more as they are solid. This helps teach a dog to still come back over the jumps even after a ball bobble at the box sends the dog far off to the side (I can proudly say, this is something Koira excels at, even when really far over, she will still come back over the jumps).

Other Jump Drills (1-2 person, 1 dog drill):

You can also practice other jumping drills with your dog to improve respect of the jumps (important to teach dogs to not run into or smack their feet into the jumps, preventing both injury to the dogs and damage to the equipment), improve athleticism, get the dog thinking about what it is doing, and overall conditioning. We don't run this in class, but I practice them at home and find them to be a helpful additional training drill.

Two drills borrowed from agility training are four-squares and pinwheels. Both work in a similar way, with the jumps close together and the handler near by. It is useful to have an additional person to assist, but can be done with a sit-stay, unlike the run-away jump drill above.

For four-square, set up four jumps as the four sides of a square. Start by having the dog on one side of the square, sitting just in front of the jump, with the handler on the far side of the square. (Starting from a sitting position helps build rear-end muscles for more powerful jumping.) Call the dog, and reward when the dog pops over both jumps. More complicated routines with the four-square add in a turn, with the dog on the outside of the handler, then the handler will toss the toy/reward across the other two jumps of the square, encouraging the dog to complete those as well.

Pinwheel is set up with the ends of the jumps in the middle, with each of four jumps spreading out like rays. Start sitting, as in the four-square drill, and encourage the dog to jump over each jump in turn.

Another jumping drill is power-jumping. Basically, you set up jumps, in a number in excess of 4, then do restrained recalls over those jumps. Eight or more jumps can sometimes be used, helping build endurance and drive. Just be careful not to overdo it, as this is a lot of work for your dog! Then again, it is a lot of work for the handler too, as you should always be running away during restrained recalls.

Direction (2 people, 1 dog):

The other thing we always do at the first class is try to determine which direction the dog turns. Like people are right or left handed or footed, dogs turn easier either to their left or their right (as many people involved in agility or herding probably already know about their dogs). Some dogs show a strong preference one way or the other, while other dogs seem to have little to no preference. Make sure when trying this that you are not in a location with lots of distractions, as it may effect the outcome.

The way we test for this is pretty simple, but requires two people. The handler holds the dog. The other person walks straight out in front of the dog about 20 feet away, places a ball on the ground (or a toy, or a treat if the dog will not pick up a ball yet), stands stationary on the other side of the ball from the dog. The handler releases the dog to get the ball, and takes note of which direction the dog turns to return- left or right (the dog's left or right, always). Repeat 3 times. Take note of which direction the dog turns more often. This is the direction the dog turns, and will be important when you start box training.

One last thing:

Though not essential, it can be easier to train some things if your dog has a touch-stick trained behavior. This means that your dog will touch the marked end of a stick on command, including following the moving stick, jumping, etc to reach that marked target on the end. Try to refrain from using a ball on the end of a stick, and even if you have the hand-touch behavior, try transferring that behavior to a touch-stick. I taught this behavior with a clicker, but you don't need to. In fact, you don't need this behavior at all, I just find it makes training easier.

Pallo, jumping up to "touch" (note the black part at the end of the stick)


  1. Great posts! I will have to reference them when i start training my second dog since I can barely remember how Sophie and I got started.

    Just to add something: When we first start dogs we use baby gates to help them stay in line. Then we wean off them pretty quickly.

    Another jump drill that has come in handy now (i.e. when our dogs fumble balls and are not directly in front of the jump) is to teach the over command means over from wherever the dog is standing. We use one jump and start in front, give the over command and reward. Then we move a step to the left and repeat. We continue until the dog can be way far to the left and sell knows over means take that jump. Then we do the other side. Comes in handy during races!

  2. Patty- thanks for the comment. We do run the dogs with angled hold-backs sometimes, which I forgot to put in originally, thanks for the reminder! Its hard to think of everything when sitting at home instead of being out there and doing it!

  3. It seems to differ with each dog but with Wizz she has always seemed to go down to the box quick but not back so fast. So we have been working on her motivation to come back to a tuggie. It seems to be paying off :-)

    Thanks for sharing your training tips :-)

  4. I just recently found your blog and am really enjoying it.

    I have a passing interest in flyball, and I've been doing relays as part of performance events recently and my dog seems to be surprisingly proficient at it. (With tunnels instead of a flyball box.) I'm glad to have found your blog right when you've started these introductory flyball posts. Thanks for writing them!

  5. Hei Koira ja Pallo! You are so beautiful and have such a great names! I'm happy to meet you and your great blog!
    Sunny wishes from Finnish woman living in Greece!
    Teje & Nero

  6. Oh I can't wait to have a puppy to start training in flyball. Steve made thing soooo easy. A few runs down some gated jumps, teaching him a box turn, and then put the pieces together and go. I figure my next flyball dog will be the Hardest Dog Ever to train, just so that the universe can equal itself out :p

  7. What a great set of instructions, Crystal!

    Just as a matter of interest, have you ever tried fly-gility? It's taking off in quite a big way here in New Zealand.

  8. Katie- I can't wait for my next dog either! I feel like I've learned so much since I started Koira or Pallo, and would love to try out all the new training drills on a fresh pup. But I need a third dog like I need a hole in my head.

    GCS- I've heard of flygility, and actually did a post about it back in the days when no one read the blog at all. I used some of it to help motivate Koira when she had motivation issues, but loved tunnels, so replaced to jumps with a tunnel. Its not big enough in the area to do competitions though, which is sad.

  9. This is so interesting! I don't think any of my dogs are suited for flyball, but it's always seemed so cool to me. This is really neat to read.

  10. Just wanted to let you know we are going to check out a flyball practice this Sunday! Very excited! I hope Tibby likes it :)

  11. This is a good dog drill exercise. recently found this, will refer to this from now on.
    Jumping Castle Hire

  12. What is the name for it when a dog Dominantly left or dominantly turns right while playing flyball

  13. Great post, and great website. Thanks for the information! jumping castle hire

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