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The Basics of Flyball Training for Dogs

One of your biggest responsibilities in becoming a dog owner is making sure that your dog’s need for exercise is met. All dogs need a daily walk to burn off their excess energy but some dogs have more energy to burn than others. For highly active and energetic breeds, a single daily walk may not be enough – this is why many dog owners train their dog for various dog sports. If you are looking for a fun way to give your dog some extra exercise, consider training him for flyball.

What Exactly is Flyball?

Dog sports come in all shapes and sizes but flyball is one where dogs compete in teams against each other. In the sport of flyball, dogs compete in a relay race through an obstacle course to fetch a ball and return it to the starting line. A flyball course consists of four hurdles that are spaced about 10 feet apart with a flyball box placed 15 feet after the final hurdle. To complete the course, the dog starts at the starting line then runs through the course, going over the four hurdles, and presses a spring-loaded pad on the flyball box to release a tennis ball. The dog fetches the ball and runs back through the course carrying the ball. Each heat is timed and, in addition to competing for time against another team, each team also tries to beat their individual race time.

Getting Started with Flyball Training

The beauty of flyball is that it is a sport all dogs can enjoy – it is not limited to dogs of a particularly size or breed. As long as your dog can fetch a ball and run the course, he can compete in flyball competition. Before actually training your dog for flyball, however, you will need to train him to fetch and return a tennis ball. The difficult part about this is that you need your dog to not only fetch the ball, but to return it to you without dropping it until you give the command. You can start by just throwing the ball for your dog and reward him with praise and a treat when he chases after it. Once your dog has gotten the hang of the fetch part, you can limit the rewards to the times when he brings the ball back to you. Then, teach him a “drop it” command, rewarding him only when he drops the ball on command.

Once your dog has gotten the hang of fetching and returning a tennis ball you can start getting him used to the flyball course. Start by setting up a single hurdle in your backyard and throw the tennis ball over it so your dog will jump the hurdle and fetch the ball. This may work best if you teach your dog a “fetch” command while training him to catch and return the ball – you can give the command when you throw the ball to encourage your dog to jump the hurdle. After your dog gets used to jumping one hurdle you can add a second one about five feet away from the first. Toss the tennis ball over both hurdles and reward your dog when he fetches it. Eventually you can work your way up to using all four hurdles spaced the appropriate 10-feet apart.

The final element in your flyball training will be to teach your dog to jump on the spring-loaded pad to release the tennis ball. You can do this through a series of progressive rewards, starting by praising and rewarding your dog for approaching the box, then for stepping on it. You can work your way up to teaching your dog to jump on the box after running up to it so he creates enough pressure to release the ball. Once your dog gets the hang of the flyball box, all that is left is for you to put all of the steps together.

Training your dog to complete the entire flyball course will not happen overnight – you need to work with him in a series of steps working up to the final goal. Just take your time and be patient with your dog – keep in mind that the training should be fun! Work with your dog for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, two or three times a day and eventually you will accomplish your goal.

Photos by: Mackland/Shutterstock

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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.