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You can feel the anticipation in the air as the dogs line up and wait for a Flyball relay race to begin. A set of drag racing lights signal the start of the race and as the last light turns green the first dog on each team races down the lane over a set of jumps towards a springloaded box, triggering the box with their paw to release a ball which they catch at lightning speed.

Then, banking off the box like a swimmer banking off the wall in a pool, the dogs race back over the jumps and return to their handler for their reward — a game of tug or a treat.  The dogs then go in succession relay-style, passing nose-to-nose at the start/finish line until all four dogs have successfully completed the course with the fastest team winning the race.

Like many dog sports, all dogs including mixed breeds (15 months and older) are eligible to compete in Flyball. The AKC recognizes three Flyball titles in partnership with the North American Flyball Association (NAFA):

  • Flyball Dog Champion (FDCH)
  • Flyball Master (FM)
  • ONYX

When you watch Flyball for the first time, it can be fun but confusing. The action happens so fast that it can be hard to keep track of who wins and why. We’re here to break down the sport of Flyball.

English Cocker Spaniel participating in Flyball.

What Dogs Can Play Flyball?

All dogs 15 months of age or older are allowed to compete in the sport of flyball.  The sport is open to all breeds from Yorkshire Terriers to Great Danes to mixed breeds. Any dog can compete in the sport as long as they can behave around other dogs in a high drive, fast-paced environment (ie. the dog must listen to commands from a handler, have a strong recall, and have no aggression issues.)

What Makes a Flyball Team?

Flyball is a unique dog sport in that it is made up of a team of dogs and handlers.  There are four dogs and handlers that complete in each heat of a race.  Up to two additional dogs can be named to a team to serve as back-ups. The six dogs can even rotate in and out of heats during the course of a tournament – this is the decision of the team captain. In addition to the dogs and handlers, there is one person loading balls into the box — the Boxloader.  Teams may have additional people available to help collect loose balls and to help call the passes at the start/finish line.

How Tall Are Jumps in Flyball?

The jump height of each team is determined by measuring the height of the team’s smallest dog at the withers and subtracting 5 inches. This dog is referred to as the Height Dog.  Each teams height dogs are measured at the beginning of the tournament by the Head Judge.  They can attempt to be measured up to 3 times, with the lowest measurement being the dog’s official height for that tournament. A dog deemed to be not measurable by the Head Judge will jump 14” hurdles.

How is a Flyball Course Set Up?

Each team is required to supply their own Flyball box and have a supply of round balls subject to the size, safety, and comfort of the dogs. Approved balls may be any color, must bounce when dropped onto a hard surface, and must roll. They cannot contain any noisemakers. The host club will provide two sets of regulation flyball jumps/hurdles for the duration of the tournament.  An official set of racing lights and a timing system is supplied by the North American Flyball Association to the host club for use during the tournament.

How is Flyball Played?

Flyball tournaments are divided into divisions, so the teams competing against one another are of similar speeds. Titles are earned based on a point system; points are based on the time it takes a team to complete each heat.

Every time a team completes the entire course in less than 24 seconds, each dog receives 25 points toward earning a title. An under-28-second run earns five points and an under-32-second run earns one point.

How Do You Win Flyball?

The current NAFA Regular record is 14.433 seconds and is held by team Border Patrol. The record was set on June 5, 2016, in Rockton, ON.

How Do I Get Started in Flyball?

If watching Flyball has you thinking your dog would be perfect for the sport, chances are you’re probably right! This sport is great for smart, energetic dogs. Flyball got its start in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Southern California and has expanded into other countries, as well. Today the North American Flyball Association has teams in all 50 U.S. states and throughout Canada.

There best way to get started in Flyball is to find a club in your area that offers classes and you can train with.  Remember, Flyball is a team sport so it is important to find a team that works for you and your dog. There are several clubs that host seminars and that offer on-line classes as well. Look for Flyball clubs in your state and read the NAFA Rulebook.

If Flyball isn’t for you, there are many dog sports that are suitable for dogs of all ages and abilities.

The Canine Flyball CanAm Classic is coming to your TVs! The nation’s largest Flyball event was held on October 22 in Indianapolis, IN, and premieres on ESPN2 on Sunday, November 5th, at 3pm ET. Don’t miss these speedy dogs in action! 

Related article: The Soul of Flyball: How a Dog Sport Transformed One Alaskan Family