20 May 2022

Flyball: the sport for dog and human that deserves your a-paws

| Sally Hopman
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Dog flying

This is why they call it flyball: a border collie goes to great heights to get the ball. Photo: Tuggeranong Dog Training Club.

It’s about as close to doggy heaven as it gets: running, chasing, jumping, catching – and, of course, being with their human. Humans call it flyball; dogs reckon it’s just fun.

This Saturday (21 May), hundreds of dogs and their support staff will be at the ACT Companion Dog Club at Narrabundah for the Flyball MAYhem race meet.

Flyball has grown in popularity recently, with clubs all across Australia holding regular meets, but few are as passionate as those in Canberra.

READ ALSO Does Canberra have its own ‘culture’?

For John Carroll, a member of the Tuggeranong Dog Training Club, this Saturday will be special – it will be the first flyball game for his border collie Neo.

The two have been in training for a couple of months, although it’s unlikely Neo thinks of running, chasing, jumping and catching as hard work.

“It probably took Neo about three to four weeks to get the concept of flyball,” John said. “Then another few weeks to put it all together. And then, he just got it.”

Man and dog

Eat your greens and you, too, can become a champion flyballer: a young Neo with John Carroll. Neo and John will compete in their first event this Saturday. Photo: Supplied.

Flyball is a fast-moving sport where two teams of four dogs race against each other. Each dog must jump over four hurdles and retrieve a tennis ball that is released when the dog presses the spring-loaded box pedal. It then races back over the hurdles to the finish line carrying the ball in its mouth.

The sport is now played all over the world, including at the Crufts International Dog Show in the UK.

“Neo and I are not quite up to Crufts standard yet,” John happily conceded. “I know Neo will do fine on Saturday. I’m more worried about how I’ll do.”

Flyball is very much a combined effort between dog and human. The dog wants to please its human, but it can also get overwhelmed by the noise and excitement of it all. Winning is good, but John reckons having fun is really what it’s all about.

How could there not be fun with team names like Barking MAD, Woofers and the Licorice Bullets?

Little dog

Jazz faces the challenge of giant steps. Photo: Tuggeranong Dog Training Club.

Tony Fletcher from the Tuggeranong Dog Training Club has competed in flyball events for about eight years “because the dogs just love it”.

“It doesn’t matter what sort of dog it is,” he said. “Border collie or Jack Russell, they all love it. As long as a dog is sociable, it will have fun.

“We’ve got one little dog that does it; she can barely see over the 7-inch jump,” he said. “Her name is Jazz and she’s probably the smallest dog who does it in our club. She just goes and goes.

“Then there’s another dog that every time it comes towards the box, it sounds like it’s putting truck air brakes on it makes so much noise. It makes me laugh every time.”

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Flyball competitions are held regularly by Canberra’s four dog clubs – Tuggeranong, ACT Companion Dog Club, Belconnen and Flyball Friends, just out of town at Crookwell. The local clubs also host state and national competitions. One of the more successful flyball events was staged at the recent Royal Canberra Show.

Everyone is invited to watch the fun this Saturday at the Companion Dog Club, Narrabundah, with races on throughout the day. Up to 20 teams will be competing, both locally and interstate. Entry is free.

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