Neither of my dogs have earned the award Iron Dog from NAFA. Neither of them are old enough for it. But I seriously love the idea.
The Iron Dog award was announced at the end of the 2011 racing year. Instead of a title based off of points, as all other awards in NAFA flyball, the Iron Dog is based off of years. A dog earns the Iron Dog award by earning at least one point per year for ten consecutive racing years.
Basically, Iron Dog is a reward for longevity and perseverance, rather than speed.
To get points in NAFA, the team your dog is on must put up decent times. Each dog on the team earns 25 points per heat under 24 seconds, 5 points for each heat 24-28 seconds, 1 point for each heat 28-32 seconds, and no points for heats above 32 seconds. Most clubs can put together teams that run consistently in the 24 second range these days, though it used to be much harder years ago.
Even with running under 24 seconds in every heat, it takes a lot of heats to earn titles. The first few titles come easily. A single heat under 24 seconds is enough for a dog to earn their first flyball title, FD. Once you get up into the higher titles, though, there are a ton of heats, races, and tournaments represented by each title. A Flyball Master (FM, which is what Pallo currently has) takes 5,000 points to achieve. It is another 5,000 points until the next title, FMX. An ONYX, which is a major achievement to be celebrated, takes 20,000 points. A good haul of points at a tournament is somewhere around 400 per day (though some dogs haul in 700 or more at some tournaments). If you figure 400 points per day, it would take 25 tournaments to achieve an ONYX. And don't even start thinking about how many it takes for a Flyball Grand Champion (30,000) or a Hobbes (100,000).
So, what does all that nonsense about points have to do with the Iron Dog award? A lot.
Because for an Iron Dog, you don't need to run a team at 24 seconds or faster. You don't need to travel to 10 tournaments per year. You don't need to run your dog full time every day of every tournament to suck up every last point possible.
To get the Iron Dog, you have to go to one tournament per year. Your dog has to run on at least one team, which runs at least one heat under 32 seconds. And you have to do that for 10 consecutive years. Iron Dog rewards those with perseverance and longevity, rather than speed and attendance.
Does this mean I don't care about what titles my dogs earn? Does this mean I won't celebrate every title as it comes? Does this mean I won't count points carefully as we approach each new title? Absolutely not. I love titling my dogs. I love adding those extra letters after their names. I love celebrating the new titles of each and every dog on my team, and the high titles achieved by some of the dogs in our region. It is part of the enjoyment of the sport.
But at the end of 10 years of flyball racing, I will be more proud of that Iron Dog than of any single title. Because it will mean that we kept at it. We showed up. We played, no matter what. It will be a celebration of all the years we have played flyball together. And ultimately, that is the goal I have for my dogs. I want them both to be around 6 years from now. I want them both to be in good enough physical condition to still play and have fun playing flyball. They might still be pulling in the same times they bring now. They may slow down as they age. But if they are still here, still having fun, and still wanting to play, that will be an award worth celebrating.
Even if it doesn't add any letters on the end of their names.