International Flyball Racing

Jet returns with the ball

Jet rockets back to me with the ball at his first Flyball Tournament, intent on getting his tug toy.

So all this talk of working and competing my Flydog, Jet, and you have no idea what Flyball is? We can fix that.

(From the NAFA website)

Flyball got its start in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when a group of dog trainers in Southern California created scent discrimination hurdle racing, then put a guy at the end to throw tennis balls to the dogs when they finished the jump line. It didn’t take long for the group to decide to build some sort of tennis ball-launching apparatus, and the first flyball box was born. Herbert Wagner is credited with developing the first flyball box, and apparently he did a flyball demo on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that got a lot of peoples attention. Subsequently, the new dog sport for dog enthusiasts was introduced in the Toronto-Detroit area by several dog training clubs. After a few small tournaments were held in conjunction with dog shows, the first ever flyball tournament was held in 1983.

Flyball races match two teams of four dogs each, racing side-by-side over a 51 foot long course. Each dog must run in relay fashion down the jumps, trigger a flyball box, releasing the ball, retrieve the ball, and return over the jumps. The next dog is released to run the course but can’t cross the start/finish line until the previous dog has returned over all 4 jumps and reached the start/finish line. The first team to have all 4 dogs finish the course without error wins the heat.


Above, Jet (black), in his blue racing wraps, races D’art, neck and neck towards the box. The Electronic Judging Lights are in the center, in X-mas tree fashion. The lights order is blue, yellow, yellow, green. Jet is released at the 50 foot mark behind the start line on the first yellow light, so he can reach the start on the green light.

Jump height is determined by the smallest dog on the team – this dog, called the “height dog”, is measured at the withers, then that number is rounded down to the nearest inch and another 4″ is subtracted to get the jump height (with the minimum jump height being 7″). So a 13 1/4″ dog would round down to 13″, minus 4″, would jump 9″. Maximum jump height is 14″. Teams are always looking for the small height dog that can spit out the fast times the same as a bigger dog. It can put a huge edge against the competition.

A Flyball Box’s vertical face serves as a launch pad and trigger mechanism for the dog. The dog will use it to bank off and gain speed racing back, as well as using it to eject the ball and catch it at the same time. A good Flyball box turn is when the dog hits the box with all 4 paws, turns, and catches in one motion.loganbox.jpg

A Border Collie, demonstrating a wonderful 4 footed box turn

And another BC, with a BAD one. Not only is it a way to set your dog up for a slow return, but damage can be inflicted on a dog’s joints over time


In these two pictures, both dogs have their stopper pads and dew claws wrapped, either using vet-wrap or skid boots. Some dogs ingure these parts of their body when they bank off the box, so the wraps help to protect them.

When your dog is returning, or if your dog is the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th dog running, it will pass the dog coming back or going in at the start line. The perfect pass is a 0 foot pass, meaning when the returning dog’s nose hit the start line, your dog going out is hitting it at the EXACT same time.

passing.jpgThis is an example of passing. Dogs doing Flyball are in a high drive frame of mind, and still need to come in close contact with the dogs they are passing. Passing is one of the hardest things to do right in Flyball. The handler must know the speed of the dog their dog will be passing, how many feet to start their dog, and at what time to release. Late passes like this one happen. When the returning dog’s nose was at the start, the entering dog’s nose was about 3 or 4 feet back. With the onset of the Electronic Judging System (EJS), which uses lights and infrared timing sensors, competitors are able to track their starts, passes, finishes, and individual dogs’ times to the thousandth of a second. It’s hard to imagine racing without an EJS in this day and age. Many teams run all 4 dogs through the course in less than 20 seconds. The NAFA World Record is now around 15.0 seconds, held by the Las Vegas team, Touch N Go.

A Flyball race requires:

  1. 4 Dogs
  2. 4 Handlers
  3. 4 jumps
  4. 1 box
  5. tennis balls
  6. 1 Box loader

The above are the bare minimum essentials to a Flyball race. You usually need a pass caller, who allows you to tighten up or back up on your passes in on the other dog, a ball shagger, someone who collects the tennis balls the dogs drop, and a scribe, who writes down the times of each dog and the total time.

There are two organizations that sanction Flyball tournaments, Championships, and rules. They govern Flyball with a passion. One is United Flyball League International (UFLi) and (NAFA), the North American Flyball Association. Each organization offers individual dogs points and titles, as well as team awards. But, your dog needs to earn them.

UFLi Titles

Each dog earns titles based on the team’s time ran

19.999 seconds and under: each dog recieves 30 points

20-24.999 seconds: each dog earns 25 points

25-29.999 seconds: each dog earns 10 points

30-35.999 seconds: each dog earns 5 points

The winning team earns ad additional 5 points per dog

Titles (Each titles earns you an award PIN)

Top Flight 100 points

TF Level 1 500 points

TF Level 2 750 points

TF level 3 1,000 points

Top Flight Executive 2, 500

TFE-1 4,000

TFE-2 5,500

TFE-3 7,000

Top Flight Premier 9, 500

(Titles go up to 100, 000 points)

NAFA titles

Less then 32 seconds: 1 point

Less than 28 seconds: 5 points

Less than 24 seconds: 25 points


Flyball Dog 20 points

Flyball Dog Excellant 100 points

Flyball Dog Champion 500 points

Flyball Dog Champion Silver 1,000 points

Flyball Dog Champion Gold 2, 500 points

Flyball Master 5,000 points

Flyball Master Excellent 10, 000 points

Flyball Master Champion 15,000 points

ONYX (named for its first recipient) 20,000 points

(Titles go up to 100, 000 points. Plaques, certificates, and pins are awarded)

Divisions Of Racing

In both UFLI and NAFA organizations, Flyball racing can be divided under various Divisions, in which each class has a specific rule of racing.

Standard (UFLI) or Regular (NAFA)-Any of the 4 dogs racing on this team can be of any breed, meaning all 4 can be border collies, or jack russels, or Whippets. Any combination of breeds can race in this division. Possibly the highest competitive division available.

Variety (UFLI) or MultiBreed (NAFA)- Each dog racing on this team in this division must be of a different breed. For example, you may have one Border Collie, one Jack Russel, one German Shephard, and one Cattle dog racing. A mixed breed dog is consitered a Breed, and only one Mix may race at a time on a Multibreed or Variety team.

Pick-up (UFLI) or Open (NAFA)- In this division of racing, dogs on the team can belong to different clubs. each of the 4 dogs can belong to other clubs and still earn points towards their titles. The teams, however, cannot race towards a placement ( 1st, 2nd, 3rd) in a tournament. This division is handy when you want to run your dog in a tournament that your team cannot attend as a whole.

Veterans (UFLI and NAFA)- For the older athletes, each dog running on a Veteran’s team must be at least 7 years of age.  Dogs running earn points towards titles as usual. The jump height is set at a low height for this division, regardless of height dog.

Special (UFLI and NAFA)- In this ‘special’ division, dogs running on the team must qualify to a specific and fun rule. The rule can be whatever the hosting team dicides. For example, in 2004, one of our teams in the Special division raced under the rule in which every dog on the team had to be black. In 2006, each dog in the Division called “Unmastered” were required to not have their ‘Flyball Master‘ title. In 2007 and 2008, Jet’s team raced under a Special Division called “Who’s on First? In which each dog on the team had to have a turn as the start dog. The starting dog changed each heat in the race. This special is becoming a favorite. As in the other teams, each dog earns points towards titles in the special divison.

Singles (UFLI)- Singles is a special division unique to UFLI. One dog races against one other opponant. This is a great division to work on personal best times, work on a new dog’s confidence, or give an older dog some fun that wouldn’t want to handle a team lineup. Some clubs require new dogs to race in a few singles races before they can run on a team lineup. Dogs running do not achieve points, but can earn Singles Dog titles based on the number of singles races they enter, and earn personal bests.

Pairs (UFLI)- Also unique to UFLI, two dogs can race against another team of two. Best pairs times can be earned, as well as Pairs Dog racing titles based on the number of Pairs events attended.

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