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Flyball has a rather peculiar origin. The flyball machine (in its original form) was invented by a lazy gentleman — Californian Herbert Wagner. He realised that his dogs needed physical exercise, but didn't want it to cost him any effort. Even throwing a ball was too much trouble. He invented a machine that would launch a ball. The dog could operate the machine by pushing on a small wooden board.

This idea was modified and resulted in the sport it nowadays is. Some obstacles were added and teams started to compete.

The course

The course consists of four obstacle (jumps), precisely positioned relative to the starting line (dogs get used to the distances and jump them automatically). Flyball machineBehind the last hurdle the dog will find the flyball machine itself. The dog pushes the board (in practice it'll be "jumps on the board") and catches the ball that is launched by the machine. The dog returns over the four jumps and crosses the start/finish line. Behind the flyball machine the loader stands; he is responsible for reloading the balls in the flyball machine.

The picture above shows the Dutch model of the flyball machine; in England another type is often used which launches the ball from a hole. Regularly discussions take place about which type of machine is the best and which type reduces the chance of injuries the most.

If hurdles fall over during a race, they will not be put upright at that time. The dogs should take the jumps as if they were upright (they should not run past them).


Every team has six dogs, from which only four run a race. In practice this means that you should at least have eight dogs, because not everyone can attend every event. Within a team not more than two dogs can be of the same breed or type.
This is different from the situation in many other countries. A Border Collie-only team for example is not allowed. The records in The Netherlands are often slower compared to elsewhere; those fast record times were often achieved by teams who used more than two dogs of the same breed.


Like many other sports, flyball uses categories (classes): the A, B and C class. The A-class features the fastest teams. The season starts with some qualifying tournaments. Teams that don't make it to the C-class are out of the competition 'league', but can participate in tournaments (to win the day prizes).

The challenge

Yuppie demonstrates the flyball box.
The game itself is so simple that the first impression is that it can't be fun for the dog owners. The enthusiasm of the dogs and the thrill of the competition and tournament for the daily winners make flyball an exiting sport. The fact that results are immediately available (in contrast with other sports you don't have to wait all day for the results to be published) and that there is a direct confrontation with another team contribute to the attractiveness of the sport.

The results depend highly on tactics. Which dog should run when? What should be the starting order? These are all tactical problems that must be solved by the team's captain.

Starting order

The results prove to be influenced by the order in which the dogs start. The first dog needs to be a quick starter, because he starts running just behind the starting line. The other dogs can be a little slower in starting. To compensate for that they will start further behind the starting line. The captain lets the dog start at the right moment, so he will cross the starting line just after the previous dog crossed the finish. This is called a 'flying start'.

The starting order also depends on the relationships between the dogs. When two dogs don't agree that much it's better not to run one of them immediately after the other.

Team members

Every team has its faster and its slower dogs. If you use the faster dogs at the beginning of the day they will be so tired halfway that their results will be quite bad in the afternoon. A lot of tactical insight is needed to determine which dogs to use when.

Another issue is that the height of the hurdles depends on the size of the smallest dog in the team running at that time. Many teams have some small (and fast) dogs to speed up the larger ones.


It's obvious that every dog that participates in flyball should have an excellent health. Injured dogs (often not flyball related) would better not compete for a while, thus giving the injury time to heal.

In every sport the question is which health risks need to be considered. Flyball has a relatively low number of flyball related injuries. One should however keep a close eye on the dogs and have them examined in case of the slightest doubt. Particularly the front legs, knees, neck and back take the load. The front legs while breaking for the flyball machine, the knees while turning, the neck in catching the ball and the back while breaking and turning. The larger breeds are more susceptible (they have more weight to move). It also depends on the dog's character if he demands a lot of himself and if he shows easily when he is hurt.

Suitable breeds

In principle every dog (if healthy) can do flyball, provided that he'd kill for a ball. The only motivation for the dog when learning flyball is fetching a ball. One could think of types of dogs and breeds that would be troubled by the physical effort, but they too could learn the basics of the sport.
Sheep training for flyball
As I said, flyball is for all breeds...
Full size picture (42KB JPEG)


  1. STEIJN, O.; Flyball, een praktische handleiding; Zwartewaal 1996; Otto Steijn. (Dutch)
  2. NOTENBOOM, R.; Flyball-instructie, van start tot finish; 1998; Uitgeverij Tom. (Dutch)

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This page last modified: Wednesday, 30-Jul-2008 16:41:06 CEST
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