Saturday, August 27, 2011

What makes a flyball dog?

Due to a comment on my blog post yesterday by Catalina, from Just A Pup, I decided I should probably do a post about flyball. Not just flyball training with my dogs, but the basics, the beginning, and what it really takes. The blogging world missed out on the early training with both of my dogs, and I only started blogging after both of them were well into their training, Pallo competing, Koira dealing with a number of training issues.

So first off, what makes a flyball dog? Depends on who you ask. My response is: Any dog who is motivated by food, toys, or a drive to please you can learn to be successful at flyball. Dogs must be physically able to run and jump, and preferably be at a low, healthy weight with healthy joints. They should ideally be non-aggressive toward other dogs or humans, though levels of aggression can, of course, be worked on with the proper trainer. A super-successful, competitive flyball dog on a world-record-setting team has a lot of other requirements, but lets face it, that't not the goal most of us have. We just want to get out and have some fun with our dogs. I'm going to write this as geared to those people who currently have a dog and are interested in learning this sport with them.

I did pick out Pallo specifically for flyball. I wanted a height dog who would be competitive. When going to meet him, I brought along Koira, some toys, and treats. I spent some time with Pallo visiting him, testing his interest in toys (super high), his willingness to work for treats (really high) and his general behavior around people, dogs, and cats. I wanted a companion dog for Koira as well as a flyball dog, so it was important that Pallo fit in with her as well as me, and he did.

While Pallo was interested in the ball more than any other toy, he would drop the ball for a treat, and readily gave it up. He also, while very interested and motivated to retrieve, would NOT do a totally mindless scramble after any ball that went rolling. While sometimes amusing, ball obsession (not to be confused with toy/ball drive) can be a huge hurtle to overcome in flyball training. It can be overcome, but is certainly not ideal. Without proper training, the dog can end up dangerously in the other lane, in the way of other dogs, stealing balls from dogs potentially protective, tripping humans, driving straight through jumps or fences to get the ball, and generally creating havoc. In flyball, the ball is part of the game, but it is not the game. The ball IS NOT the game.

A dog who is properly motivated by toys, treats, and a desire to please is easy to train. Using the right methods, they will learn fast. You just have to make sure what they are learning is what you want them to learn. A handler with experience in training will have more success with training flyball, but any motivated handler who is willing to work will be able to train their flyball dog.

The end goal of a trained flyball dog is multifaceted. The dog will, when fully trained, be able to be released 20-50 feet from the start line of a course, pass an outcoming dog closely at full speed, complete all four jumps quickly, execute a proper box turn, catch the ball from the box, return over all four jumps, bring the ball across the finish line, passing an incoming dog going full speed, and return to their handler. In essence, a trained flyball dog has 5 main skills that are trained, which altogether create a successful flyball dog: Run away from the handler 100+ feet at full speed; Pass another dog while both are running full speed without turning, slowing, snapping, or showing interest in the other dog; Jump four hurdles; Execute a proper, fast, safe box turn, including catching the ball when fired; Return to the handler at full speed, allowing themselves to be caught.

Many people have many training tips. Different techniques are used for training each step and each behavior used in flyball. I have used a number of them, seen others, heard about more, and undoubtedly have never even thought of any number of additional training methods. Each dog will need individual work, and may learn better with one method than another. In the end, a flyball dog has a willingness to please and work with their handler, allowing them to both succeed.

Since Catalina, who asked the question prompting this post (which will be one of a series of ongoing flyball training posts, hopefully) owns a Tibetan Terrier herself, I thought it would be appropriate to share some pictures of Pippin, a Tibetan I trained in flyball until he developed cancer.

He was a fun dog to work with. He had some dog aggression issues that we had to work through, but was food and toy motivated, and he loved nothing better than strutting around, pleased with himself, being told how awesome he was. (While I use past tense, I refer only to his flyball training, as he is still alive and kicking despite dire predictions when he was diagnosed.)
Pippin never made it to competitions but he loved the training we did together. I have also worked with a number of other Tibetans on flyball training, including Pippin's daughter Dharma (an active agility competitor), Fannie (Dharma's half sister), Guilty (Fannie's pup), and Sargas (Guilty's sire), as well as sisters Kizzie and Lexi. Each one had their own favorite parts of training, places where they excelled, and things they needed extra work on. I am hoping to be able to work with some of them in the future again to the point of being able to compete with them. Breed standings in NAFA flyball don't include many Tibetans, and the top dog in the breed is retired. But I guess if I don't get these guys up and running fast, Tibby might just get there first!

A few more things:

THANK YOU to every one of my 100 followers! It's an awesome mark to get to, and I am coming up with a giveaway soon to reward all of you readers, so stay tuned!

Also, on the 7 links from my own blog posting challenge, I am supposed to pass on the challenge, and haven't yet. So, here goes. I am passing this challenge on to:


Gardening with Wyatt


The Court of Tails

Just A Pup

Looking forward to seeing the posts you guys pick!


  1. SUCH a great post! I especially liked the 5th paragraph, about toy motivation.

    It's definitely something you see quite often in herding breeds -- obsession. How great that Pallo came prepared for his future!

  2. I agree -- great post. You sure do have good in-depth knowledge of flyball.

    I love seeing "non-traditional" kinds of flyball dogs and I love that they can have a great time and be successful in flyball right alongside the more traditional bcs, whippets, and staffie mixes. We have a local flyball beagle in my parts who is so fun to watch.

  3. Thanks for passing this on, this will be fun :)
    We enjoyed reading your past posts of Christmas and candy and flyball.
    You guys really know how to have fun!

    Wyatt and Stanzie

  4. congrats on hitting 100!! I'm really excited to read the rest of your posts. I've thought about taking a beginner type class with Skye, but she is bordering on the obsession with tennis balls. My biggest question is how the heck you train the dog to hit a box, catch a ball, and turn? It seems beyond her ability- though I hate to underestimate her!

  5. fascinating ... I know so little about flyball - except it's LOUD :)


  6. Wow! What a great post! Lot's of good information.
    Love all the stuff about TTs - makes me think maybe Tibby could do it someday :)

    From the videos I've watched of flyball - it looks like Tibby's barking might not be noticed as much as it is at agility. She just gets so excited!

  7. I forgot! Thanks for passing the 7 questions on to me :) I'll have to get to work on it and find some posts

  8. Very comprehensive post, Crystal. Well done. And it looks like Pallo is reaching your expectations:)

    Congratulations on your 101 now followers:)

  9. Great post! I thought dogs had to be completely obsessed with balls to do well at flyball - but I guess there's a fine line between toy drive and toy obsession.

    I don't think I'll be doing any flyball with my current dogs. Lola would freak out in that atmosphere, and Jess is a little too old! Still, it's very cool hearing information about it.

    I'll be doing that blog challenge tomorrow, by the way. Thanks for tagging me! :)

  10. Having fun is the best reason to do flyball ! :-)

  11. Great post! I love flyabll, after only one six week course both my dog and I were hooked. Unfortunately, that's all that is available in my area. An intro class. There are no teams looking for new members, no clubs willing to help train, nothing. So my next question is... How did you get involved and how do I convince a team to take us on? Because I know my dog would rock it.

  12. Okay maybe I take back the comment I just made on your other post, lol. My dogs might be suited for flyball after all (well, Nemo and Heidi might be - Mel not so much, haha) and I might be the hold up! Great post!

  13. Flyball sounds fun, we have a pointer and malshi that both love to fetch. I'll look into it :)

  14. Fly ball does look like fun.

  15. Such interesting information. I have a cairn terrier that does have a "red thing" i.e. Kong toy obsession. I was with you until I read the line, "The ball IS NOT the game." Well for my dog Gracie IT IS the game, so maybe she would not do so well with this after all...

    We will continue to watch Gracie at her private Kong toy sport, though, because she lives for it!