The Pocket Guide to Flyball for Dogs

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Ever wished your dog could spend an afternoon running as fast as they can, jump over obstacles, and retrieve balls alongside other canine friends? It may sound like an unbelievably specific set of criteria, but anyone with a flyball dog knows just how rewarding all of these elements put together can be. If you’re looking for a great way to exercise an active dog with a knack for remaining focused and driven under pressure, flyball racing may be a fun and effective way to meet your dog’s physical and mental needs.

How flyball works

Flyball is a relay-racing sport where teams of dogs complete a straight-forward set of obstacles in order to reach the finish line. To begin, two competing dogs run the length of a course, jumping over a number of hurdles along the way. Once they reach the end of the course section, the dogs will then touch a spring-loaded flyball box with one of their paws in order to release a ball. The dogs grab the ball with their mouths, then run back down the course in the opposite direction from which they came. When they reach their initial starting point, another dog on that dog’s team will repeat the same activity – jumping hurdles, releasing a ball, and carrying that ball back to the relay point where another dog on their team enters the race. 

The winning team is decided by the fastest times in three out of five races, and all four dogs must complete the entire course with zero errors made. 

Flyball teams are made up of:

  • Four dogs to compete in the relay race
  • Four handlers to guide and encourage the racing dogs, and release dogs onto the course following a series of yellow and green flashing lights, which signal the start of a heat
  • One ball loader to replace balls for dogs to retrieve
  • One or two runners to collect any loose balls
  • The reserve crew – this consists of two additional dogs and their two handlers
dog playing flyball

Flyball is an incredibly physical sport. According to the North American Flyball Association standard, flyball courses are 51 feet in length and feature four hurdles which all racing dogs must scale both to and from the springboard that holds the ball. 

Because all breeds and sizes of dogs are encouraged to compete in flyball races, the height of the hurdles is determined by the smallest dog on a team. The hurdles measure five inches lower than the shortest dog’s shoulder blades, and hurdles max out at a height of 14 inches. The relatively low height of the hurdles allow competing dogs to retain top speeds while still requiring them to focus and time their jumps properly.

Is flyball right for me and my dog?

Because flyball is an activity that involves athletic capability, focus, and determination, the sport is generally better suited for dogs who need to be stimulated both physically and mentally in order to feel their best. Like many sports which rely on a dog’s agility, flyball as a competitive sport is great for dogs in good physical health. 

Dogs who participate in flyball competitions should also be non-aggressive and not leash reactive toward other dogs, are not easily stressed or agitated in a fast-paced and loud environment, and who have strong recall abilities and take commands and directions well. A dog and their handler generally work as a unit within the team, and communication, trust, and a strong bond is an important aspect of scoring well in flyball competitions.

dog playing flyball

How to get started

If you think flyball may be a good fit for your dog, the best way to get started is to attend a flyball event in your area in order to see for yourself what your canine is expected to do at competitions. To locate the flyball community in your area, there are a few things you can try: 

  • Search Facebook for flyball groups, clubs, and teams nearby
  • Research flyball online by searching for phrases like “flyball near me” and “flyball dog training near me
  • Ask a local trainer or pet care professional if they have any information or experience with flyball

Like any dog sporting event, finding a community of dog guardians immersed in the sport can provide a great resource for answering any questions you may have, learning about future competitions, and finding out what it takes to train a flyball dog. The North American Flyball Association sanctions over 300 competitions annually in various locations. 

If you can’t find a flyball community near you, or if you simply want to see if your dog would even enjoy participating in such an activity, there are some things you can do at home to assess your dog's interest. One way to do this is to have your dog return a ball to you. The ball should be stationary, so try laying a tennis ball on the floor and encourage your dog to pick it up and deliver it to you rather than drop it onto the ground. This will discourage a dog from dropping a ball during a flyball race, and is usually done via positive reward training, where a high value treat is offered to your dog each time they return the ball to you.

dog playing flyball

Jumping should also be practiced and successful attempts should be rewarded, and can be taught using any household item tall enough for your dog to step over. To practice jumping, start with something very low to the ground and easy to scale at first, and reward your dog each time they step over it. Over time, add height to the item and continue to offer rewards and encouragement, eventually adding running before and after the jump. A relatively private, outdoor space, like a Sniffspot location near you, are great options for teaching a dog to retrieve or jump in preparation for flyball racing. 

In addition to focus, recall, and racing, resting is a huge part of flyball tournaments. Teaching your dog to become comfortable at rest in a crate is highly encouraged so that they won’t be disruptive or overly excited while other teams are competing during their downtime.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Lindy Langum
Founder - K9 Fun Club
Staff Trainer - Summit Assistance Dogs
Certified in Canine Studies (CSS), NW School of Canine Studies