Hints for new handlers for before your first competition.
Hints for box loading at a competition
Information on being a captain.
The Croydon Rockets Flyball Team is part of the Croydon and District Obedience Dog Club (CDODC), in Croydon, Victoria, Australia. The club, which holds classes on Sunday morning at the Silcock Reserve in Croydon, teaches obedience and agility as well as flyball. To become involved in flyball at Croydon, the club requires that dogs has passed the basic obedience course (Basic 2) and is over 12 months of age.
If you are already a member of CDODC, and would like to find out more about flyball, come up and talk to Brett (Croydon's flyball instructor) on Sunday morning. (If we're not there one week, we may be off representing the club. Even if your dog hasn't completed its basic obedience course or is too young, we can still suggest things you can do at home that will help when you do begin. Once a dog has learned the fundamentals of flyball, we usually invite them to 'team' training sessions.
For information about the Croydon Rockets, contact Brett Ironmonger on 0401 781 157
Flyball is a relay race between two teams of four dogs. Racing side by side, one dog from each team must go over four hurdles, trigger a flyball box pedal, catch (retrieve) a ball and then return over all four hurdles to the start/finish line where the next dog eagerly awaits. Flyball encompasses all things that dogs love to do - jumping, catching, retrieving, competing and striving to please their owners. Flyball is a sport in which any dog can participate, regardless of breed, shape or size. Flyball does not interfere with obedience training. In fact, the sport reinforces the disciplines taught in obedience class.
Flyball began in North America in the 1970's when a Californian, Herbert Wagner, developed the first tennis ball launcher for his ball crazy dog. After demonstrations at his obedience club, he gave a demonstration on the Tonight Show. The revolutionary idea was then introduced into Toronto and Detroit, and after a few small competitions the first full-on competition was held in 1983. The earliest known Australian flyball activity was in 1982 in Perth (WA). Now North America, Britain, Belgium, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Netherlands, Italy, Canada and Australia have an estimated 20,000+ dogs and 4,000+ teams active in competition.
Flyball is a team sport. Each team consists of four dogs racing in each heat, plus up to two reserves. Reserves can be interchanged after each heat. There are between three and five heats to a race, and a team has to win a majority to win the race. Races are run as single elimination, double elimination, round robin or a combination. A flyball course consists of two racing lanes, side by side down a 51-foot (15.54m) course. There are two sets of hurdles and flyball boxes. Each team's racing lane consists of 4 hurdles spaced at 10 feet (3.05m) intervals. The first hurdle being 6 feet (1.84m) from the start/finish line and a flyball box is placed 15 feet (4.57m) after the fourth hurdle. The flyball box ejects a ball after the dog triggers the pedal on the front of the box.
Each dog must run in relay fashion down the hurdles, trigger the box, retrieve the ball and return over the hurdles and across the finish line so that the next dog can be released. The first team to have all four dogs complete the course, without error, wins the heat. Missed hurdles and dropped balls require the dog to rerun the course after the rest of the team has finished.
Jump heights for each team are set at 4 inches (101.6mm) lower than the shoulder height of the smallest dog in the team. The minimum height is 8 inches (203.2mm) and the maximum 16 inches (406.4mm). Competitions are run in divisions, based on where the teams are seeded. The fastest teams are put in Division 1 and the slower teams in Division 2 etc. this enables every team to have a fair go and be competitive in their division.
The Australian Flyball Association was formed in 1996, adopting the rules of the North American Flyball Association (NAFA). The objective of the AFA is to promote responsible dog ownership through the sport of flyball. When the general public see how much fun the dogs and the handlers are having, it is easier to encourage these people to become involved in organised dog activities like flyball, obedience and agility.
Hints for new handlers for before your first competition
Before your first competition:
Make sure you are a memberof the Australian Flyball Association.
What to bring- crate, crate cover, water bowl (non-spill) for inside crate, harness, lead, motivator, height card if you have one, plastic bags, fold-up chair, hat, sunscreen, food/munchics/drinks, dog.
What to wear - Red Croydon Rockets top, with the black Rockets cap or floppy hat and black bottoms (pants, shorts, skirt).
Crate - It is strongly recommended that you have a crate for your dog. This enables your dog to relax between races much more than if tied to a stake, it leaves you free to help other teams with set-up or get some lunch etc. It leads to less barking and fewer fights. A cover over the crate is also useful to block the dog's view of the racing and for shade.
Harness - It is also strongly recommended that you get a harness for your dog. They provide a great handle to grab as your dog runs past, and if they pull on the lead or while waiting to be released, then the pressure is on their chest instead of on their throat. In a race, if your dog is pulling on a normal collar before you release him, it could be reducing the amount of air he is getting - not ideal when you want him to run flat-out the box and back! It is much easier to release your dog consistently if they are wearing a harness. If you don't have a harness, make sure you have a fixed collar (i.e. a slip-chain is not allowed).
At the competition:
Team captains are nominated for each team. Their job is to decide which dogs run in each heat and the running order, fill in the time sheets, deliver the time sheet to the stewards before a race and collect it after the race and represent the team in any discussion or disputes. The team captain's job can be a very difficult one, as they need to balance a number of (often conflicting) objectives and expectations. The success of the team in a competition, and the satisfaction of the team members, can depend very much on the strategy and decisions made by team captain. The captain should be open to feedback and suggestions, but if you do have comments or suggestions then choose your timing carefully. The captain sometimes needs to make split-second decisions between heats, when there is no time for discussion or explanation. It needs to be a two-way street - the captain should respect the team members, and the team members should respect the captain.
Helping out - there are many jobs that need to be done throughout the day (set-up and pack-up of equipment, changing jump heights, moving the flyball box in and out, videoing, holding dogs for recalls, taking the time sheet to the stewards before a race and collecting it again after the race, stewarding, ball collecting, pass and start evaluating, keeping statistics and more). We all need to help each other and work together. It is much easier to change jump heights for other Croydon teams, than have each team change their own jump heights while holding their dog and getting ready for practice. When you see a Croydon team going out to race, check with the captain to see whether anything needs to be done.
Toilet, warm-up - Take your dog to go potty before each race in case they need to. If a dog fouls in the ring, the team automatically loses the heat. Have a plastic bag with you, just in case. You should also warm your dog up before each race and cool him down afterwards, to reduce injuries, strains etc, as they work pretty hard on the flyball course.
Drinks - make sure your dog drinks enough throughout the day. You can add electrolytes etc to their water. (Handlers should remember to eat and drink enough themselves too!).
If the weather is hot, we usually have a small swimming pool for the dogs. It is a good idea to wet down their feet and belly to keep them cool, but don't put water over their head, as this is not good for the dog. If there is a bucket of water in the ring, you might occasionally have time between heats to splash their belly with water if it is very hot.
Height dogs(dogs smaller than the maximum height) need to be measured at the beginning of the day and bitchesneed to be vet-checked to ensure they are not in season. It is possible to get a 'height card' that verifies your dog's height and removes the need to be measured as each comp - ask an instructor for details.
Points - The four dogs running in a particular heat are awarded title points for each clean run (all 4 dogs complete the course correctly the first time), with 2 points given for a win and 1 point for a loss of the heat. Points are accumulated toward flyball titles. Races are usually run as either best out of 3 heats, best out of 5 heats, best 2 out of 3 heats, or best 3 out of 5 heats. Competitions can be in a round robin or elimination type format. A typical number of races for a team might be 6 races of 3 heats each.
Faults- if a dog gets a fault, indicated either by a light or a red flag from the steward, the dog must re-run after the other dogs in the team have run.
Starts - The electronic timing gear judges starts. It signals a false-start with a red light if the dog crosses the start line before the green light comes on, and the judge will blow the whistle to stop the race. (The timing gear also signals which dog crossed the line first with a green light on the side, don't let that fool you, listen for the whistle if you're worried about a false start). After a false start, the race is restarted, but in the new heat, if the same start dog again has a false-start, the race continues and the start dog is required to re-run after the other 3 dogs have run. The start dog is allowed one false start per heat.
Passes - The electronic timing gear also judges crossovers, and signals a fault if the dog heading to the box (dog B) crosses the start line before the returning dog (dog A). Dog B must then re-run. A passing fault will also be signalled if a handler accidentally crosses the start line, or waves their motivator/toy through the sensor beams at the start line while their dog is at the box, and the next dog in the team will be given a signal for a passing fault. (A number of us have been caught by this, so BE CAREFUL!).
Interference - The judge can stop the race (whistle) if a dog from one team crosses over and interferes with the other team. It is up to the discretion of the judge whether they do this as soon as the dog crosses the imaginary line halfway between the 2 lanes, or lets the race continue if they see no danger as this may let the other team still get points.
Handlers may not reprimand their dog in the ring.
Important - motivators, toys, balls eta are NOT to be thrown in the ring. Squeaky toys can be used as motivators, unless the judge decides it is interfering with the other team and the handler can be told not to use it. (So if you do choose to use a squeaky toy, don't rely on it).
Knocked jumps-If a jump is knocked and falls during a race, as long as the judge believes that the dogs are not in danger, the race will continue and the dogs are still required to jump over the knocked jump. (We practice this in training, as well as teaching dogs to ignore balls that have been dropped in the lane by other dogs).
Lanes - Roughly half of your races will be in the left lane, and the other half in the right. One trap for new dogs can be when your team has been racing in one lane, then the next time they race they are in the other lane. The start dog (or another dog) may still be focussed on the box in the wrong lane, and when the race starts it may head to the other team's box instead of ours. If this is likely to be a problem (it is not common, but has happened to a few of our quite experienced dogs), you can make sure to do a recall or a full run with the start dog after each lane change.
Warmup - We have usually 2 or 3 minutes before each race to put in the flyball box, change the jump heights and do any practice we want. Again, having people from other teams help with the box and jumps leaves more time for practice. It is up to you whether you want to practice before each race. Early in the day it is a good idea, but as the dogs get tired you might not. If there is something you need to practice, like box work, a recall from the side of the box or a run for the start dog after a lane change, you can. Make sure your box loader and/or captain know whether you want a recall, full run or anything else in practice.
Breakouts- when team entries are sent in, we specify the fastest time we believe the team can run (called their seed time), and the teams are split into divisions based on these times. The breakout time for a division is set at one second faster than the fastest seed time for the teams in that division. If any of the teams in that division run faster than their breakout time, then the team forfeits that heat, and the win is awarded to the other team. If a team has 3 breakouts in one competition, they are disqualified from the whole competition (although they continue to compete, all of their races are ignored at the end of the day to calculate placings for the other teams in the divisions). Breakouts are designed to stop teams putting in slow seed times to get into a lower division than they belong, then winning all the races. Breakouts do not apply in Division One.
Team dynamics - in the run-back area, dogs head to the box from the right side of the lane and return on the left side (facing the box). Once your dog has run, and you know you don't have to rerun, move out of the way to give the rest of the team as much room as possible. Keep an eye out for faults for all the dogs in your team (particularly your dog), as sometimes it is possible to miss them and not know you need to rerun. Once the race is finished, and the judge has declared a winner, line up ready to race again as quickly as possible. We try to have a spare person to collect balls in the ring during the race, so we don't all trip on them. If a spare person is not available, you'll have to put your own balls in the bucket. (Someone from the team should make sure they take an empty bucket into the ring for balls).
Team order - if you change the order the dogs are running in, make sure the box loader knows.
Reserve dogs - There are 4 dogs in each heat, and there can be up to 2 more dogs in the team as reserves. The reserves can only be swapped in at the end of each heat, and the dogs running need to be marked on the time sheet prior to the heat starting. Remember to change the jump heights if a height dog is swapped in/out. The reserve dogs are to be close by when they are not actually running. This means they can be waiting just outside the ring, or inside the ring at the back, although they are much better outside the ring (so it is less crowded in the ring, and if they cause interference to the other team (via noise or if they accidentally get away), our team could be penalised if they were in the ring, whereas if they were outside the ring the judge may not penalise the team). A clear run-back area is a real advantage and it takes no time to come into the ring when required.
More Advanced things to think about
Reruns - Sometimes we might choose not to rerun a dog, in which case the team has not completed the run and the dogs get no points (this is a DNF - Did Not Finish). Cases where we might not rerun could be if the 4th dog has a problem with crossovers, or if we've lost the race already, or if the dog is unlikely to do it correctly anyway. Sometimes we will rerun even if we've lost the race, to give the dog a chance to correct the mistake they made. In general, if the other team hasn't finished yet, try to rerun, but apart from that, if you are unsure whether to rerun, you can ask the team captain. Be aware that the 4th dog is not expecting your dog to run after them, so talk to the handler of the 4th dog before the race so you know whether you should do a late pass if your dog needs to rerun.
Start dogs - The way to develop a good start it to always let your dog at the same time on the light sequence (perhaps just as the last orange light comes on) and adjust the position where you let them go until you get a good start. Ask someone to watch your starts, to tell you if you are too late. If you do a false start, try to remember where you started, so you can gradually get to know where to stand for a good start. If you have done one false start, make sure the start for the rerun won't be another false start. The start dog has the advantage of having a second chance that the other dogs don't get with their crossovers, it is unfair of the start dog to break on the restart and have to rerun.
These hints are based on our experience running with the Croydon Rockets under Australian Flyball Association rules.
Hints for box loading at a competition
with your hands behind your back. Only voice encouragement is allowed.
Use a positive,
high-pitched voice to encourage the dog. A deep or gruff voice can
sound like a reprimand without you realising it. If you can, call in the
same way as each handler calls their own dog.
Wait until the
dog is properly on its way back (at the first jump) before moving or
bending to get the next ball, or some dogs will return to the box for
Get to know the
dogs on your team (talk to the handlers). Some dogs need you to really
encourage them down, others need you to be silent after they have the ball
etc. Get to know which side each dog has the ball in the 2-holed box. Just
as the race is about to start, call out the name of the start dog to get
their attention on the box.
After the four
dogs have run, be ready with another ball in case a dog has to rerun. It
is sometimes difficult from the box to know if a dog needs to rerun, so
You don't have to
lift the box into place on your own - organise someone to help you put the
box in before a race, and to move it out at the end if you need help. We
only have a short amount of time before and after each race to do
Do not move from
your position until the judge has awarded the race.
If the box
malfunctions, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Signal to the team and the judge, perhaps
by standing in front of the box. The judge will come and check the box to
decide whether a 'malfunction' call is to be made and the race rerun.
If a ball is
dropped in front of the box, and you are SURE you have time to get it and
get back behind the box before the next dog reaches the box, you are
allowed to pick it up. If your are inanydoubt, leave it
until the race is finished. The team can be penalised if you interfere
with their run, and dogs should have been trained to ignore balls dropped
in the lane.
Info on being a Captain
The Team Captain is a very important part of the team. The captain needs to have a good knowledge of the dogs in the team, how they act in different situations, and how they interact, as well as knowing the individual and collective goals of the people in the team. The captain has the very important role of developing the strategy to achieve a number of often conflicting goals. A team can win or lose due to decisions made by the captain, and people in the team can feel happy or disgruntled based on how the captain manages the team.
Some of the goals of the team may be to:
win or place well
give dogs an equal number of runs and a fair opportunity for points
maximise the number of points earned
give new dogs experience
The role of the captain is to:
attend the captain's meeting at the start of the day, and report back information to the team members
decide which dogs will run in each heat
fill in the time sheet and deliver it to the steward's table
decide on the running order
adjust plans to allow for unexpected problems
change the time sheet if dogs are changed (before heat is run)
represent the team in any disputes
Suggested ways to achieve the above:
Become involved with the team before competition day, so you know the dogs and handlers well. Know which dogs can or can't cross with each other, who can or can't run first or last, and who has whatever problem and how to deal with it.
Listen to your team. Make sure you know what they expect or would like. Find out how everyone in the team feels about balancing winning races with getting even runs for each dog.
Decide before the day begins (together with the instructors, and based on the wishes of the team members) how you will deal with issues if a conflict arises between the various goals (e.g. equal runs vs winning). Know how inexperienced dogs will be included in the team (equal runs, practice only, few runs if successful in practice etc).
Talk to your team. Tell them how you will run the team, so that they know what to expect and can have some input into these type of choices. Tell the team members well before they are called for a race who will be running, and under what circumstances (e.g. dog A is in all heats of this race, unless he makes a mistake, in which case dog E will replace him).
Watch each race your team is in, and review your choices based on how the dogs run, and how the other team is running.
Be prepared to explain why you have made a particular choice. You are acting on behalf of the team and the team members have a right to understand your choices, but at the same time they must also respect your decisions.
Work together with the captains of the other Croydon teams. Ask for suggestions if unsure how to solve a problem, and possibly cover for each other if you are running your own dog and can't act as captain for one race. If you are unavailable to captain for a race, make sure the team knows who will make decisions on your behalf.
Plan ahead to ensure even runs and pace dogs that might not cope with a lot of runs in a row. Know if there are clashes with dogs that shouldn't run against a particular team (e.g. handlers with 2 dogs in different teams, dogs that are very distracted by a particular dog or breed). Tell your team what your plan for the day is, and if the day doesn't run to plan, tell them when things change.
If you have new people in your team, make sure they understand how the lights work, where the stewards are, not to talk to the stewards, where to stand etc.
Organise people to help with jump height changes before racing or between heats, to evaluate crossovers or record statistics from the timing gear if necessary. Most people are happy to help if you just give them a few minutes warning and explain what is required.
If you make a wrong choice, learn from it and do it differently next time. Nobody's perfect, just do your best.
If you respect the people in your team, take into account their opinions, make decisions with thought and keep your team informed, they are much more likely to respect you and your choices.
Unexpected problems and possible solutions:
A dog makes a mistake - decide how likely you think the dog is to repeat the mistake based on your knowledge of the dog and the circumstances at the time, and decide whether to a) leave the dog in the next heat, or b) pull the dog for this race and try to fix the problem in practice before the next race, or c) pull the dog completely from racing.
A dog continually interfering with the other team - you could continue to run the dog, but run it last and hold it until the other team have finished. (Tell the judge if you are doing that).
A dog not wanting to cross with a particular dog (e.g. missing last jump) - advise the handler of the second dog to do a late crossover, or adjust the running order or which dogs run together.