Flyball is a very exciting and fast-paced dog sport that started in South Africa in the 1990’s as an exhibition sport. In 2005 it was recognised by the Kennel Union of South Africa as a canine sport and the rules and regulations were documented. Any dog, no matter of size or breed can participate in flyball.
So what is Flyball? Flyball is a type of relay race between two teams each consisting of four dogs. The first dog in each team is released upon a whistle (South Africa has not yet adopted the “red-amber-green” countdown lighting system used in the other countries) and has to negotiate four hurdles, trigger the flyball box that releases a tennis ball; catch the ball and return over the four hurdles through the start/finish poles. The time starts as soon as the first dog’s nose crosses the start line. Once the first dog reaches the start/finish line, the second dog is released. The same applies for dog three and dog four.
The dog running in must not cross the dog running out before that dog’s nose has crossed the start/finish line. The aim is to get the dogs to pass as close as possible over the start/finish line – ideally a nose-to-nose cross.
The team that runs all four dogs in the fastest time is declared the winner of the heat. Currently the rules allow for either a three or five-heat race or best of three or best of five heat race to determine a winner of a race. The current practice is to run a round-robin event so all the team entered in a flyball competition run against all the other teams.
The flyball box has two holes where the ball is placed – left or right depending on the natural turn of a dog. The person placing the balls in the box is called a box loader and has to know which dogs in the team turn left or right.
The sport is rapidly growing in Gauteng and we have between 6 and 7 teams competing with a few more upcoming teams who will start competing soon. An average of 20 Flyball competitions are run annually with the highlight being the Nationals where teams from throughout South Africa compete for the highest stakes – that of being crowned “National Flyball Team” of the year.