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Secretary Hilary Kerr

The Illustrated Guide To Basic Flyball Training

Click on the thumbnails to see full sized versions of the photos

The MBCC thanks Steve James for his kind permission to publish this article here.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

This easy step illustrated guide to training and racing flyball dogs is of course only a guide.
Please note that this guide is for BFA (British Flyball Association) Flyball training and though the Crufts box does appear in some photos this is not used in BFA competition.

Pre Flyball - Basic Training
Much can be done before you even start training for real to ensure your dog will enjoy and perform to his/her full ability. This section is as important as the training itself so try to take a moment to study it.

Playing with a ball.
This may seem obvious but it is surprising the amount of people who turn up for the first time to a training session and their dog is not that interested in a tennis ball. In some areas of training i.e. Sheep Dog Trials a ball is seen as a distraction to working and discouraged by some owners. In flyball however playing is all part of the training and racing. As a rule dogs love to chase and the ball uses their natural urges and instincts to do what they want to do.

Tennis balls are quite cheap, easy on a dogs mouth, easy to throw or hit with a tennis racquet and they float in water. Once again it is surprising how many people do not use them because they say that they do not last long or their dog loses them. Buy several!

When people ask me if my dog needs plenty of exercise they usually mean "would I need to do a lot if I had one to keep him fit", the answer is in fact no. Walking a dog on a lead around your street may be good for you but would not be considered speed and stamina training for your dog. A much better way is throwing or hitting a tennis ball for your dog in an open area (free of broken glass etc). If you are that way inclined you can simply sit on a bench and wait for the dog to inevitably return so you can do it again. Your dog will also find this more entertaining than other dogs in which he will soon lose interest and return with the ball for another run.

At home the ball is also a good toy and you can teach your dog to catch, though watch out for those ornaments and breakables when he misses....

Recalls.

You will need someone to hold your dog while you run away from it

Fig. 2. You will need someone to hold your dog while you run away from it.

In flyball it is not necessary to learn the 'give' or 'present' commands that appear in obedience training yet a recall is a positive bonus. Any dog training club will help you with this as a matter of course but in flyball we often need this at speed. When you throw a ball for your dog you may notice that he/she will run at full speed for a ball yet often just trot back with it. When a flyball dog runs down a lane they will usually start the run at about 35 foot from the start/finish line so they can get up speed yet when they take the ball from the box they have to lose that speed and power away for the return. We can train for this during play in several ways.

The most important thing is that your dog wants to come to you. If you are not the most exciting thing in your dog's life then distractions will be inevitable. This can be easy when training a young dog or puppy though more challenging in older dogs, rescue dogs etc. Stimulate your dog to come back to you, try running away from your dog when calling him then reward him with much fuss, food, favourite toy etc. when he catches you. When at home too you can excite your dog by making fast running away moves with a dog's toy then rewarding him in the same manner. These types of games may sound crazy but dogs love crazy owners as I have observed on many occasions. Be extrovert with your dog and talk to him, he will soon pick up when you are in a playing mood. This kind of play will also stop the need for ball throwing in the flyball lane when your dog starts training for real. This game can be extended by teaching the wait command to your dog to give you more space before recall. It can also be extended into a game of hide and seek using trees and bushes to hide behind after throwing a ball. Watch to see how fast your dog will try and search you out, but never forget to praise your dog.

Some dogs may require a different approach such as a second ball which can be thrown in the opposite direction during recall or you may wish to add your own ideas to this space.

Meet other dogs.
Dogs are pack animals and a flyball team can soon feel like a pack to a dog. Pre training socialisation is a must for dogs even if you have several dogs already as they can reject other dogs that are not in their pack. This is easily obtained by attending local dog club classes especially when young. Dominant dogs can still be a problem yet they will only dislike other dogs they see as a threat and not all dogs so this is an obvious problem to handlers and easily rectified by keeping the offenders away from each other. I have often observed that dominant dogs can also be the keenest, they hate not going first which often makes them go faster as last dog in a team through sheer frustration in having to wait for the others.

~ * ~ ~ * ~

First Steps in Flyball Training

Handler Notes.
It is very important to note that Flyball races are usually lost by the handlers and not the dogs. For this reason it is important to realise that you will be needed to also put in plenty of effort to ensure the running of a team goes as smoothly as possible. If you own the fastest dog in the world you will still not win races if the team cannot complete or reduce mistakes to a minimum. Thinking ahead for a moment, the dog will be running in a team which means that you will eventually have people and dogs running both in front of and behind you releasing dogs that need to cross each other at speed. For this reason it is important to realise in basic training that the person in front of you will need space to run out with their dog while also not obscuring your view and you will have to do likewise for the person behind you. During training the moves you will make should take this into account.

~ * ~ ~ * ~

Netting can be a very good training aid

Fig. 3. Netting can be a very good training aid.

This seems a good point at which to mention various aids which we could use to keep the dogs from going astray. Wings can be placed on the sides of the jumps to channel the dogs down the lane. Netting is also useful especially around the box area where a dog can become disorientated when box work begins. During training there is no disadvantage to having these aids in place, they simply teach the dogs to run without mistakes and as such create good habits.

Learning the Jumps.

Start with just one jump Progress to 2 jumps then 3 and 4

Fig. 4. Start with just one jump.

Fig. 5. Progress to 2 jumps then 3 and 4.

This is called ‘Restrained Recalls’ which needs two people. The handler should run in a straight line with a ball in the left hand which is visible to the dog; when the dog approaches throw the ball for the dog. The holder should stand with the dog near to the first jump making sure the dog is in a position to make the jump. Start with only one jump then progress slowly on to two jumps then three and finally four. If the dog runs out then go back a step and try again. The handler should always run in front of the dog at this stage taking the hurdles before the holder lets the dog go. Keep running and encouraging your dog with the ball as the ultimate goal. Progress with this until the handler can call the dog from the start/finish line without the dog running out, the handler should still run though. The use of a netted lane will speed this up considerably.

~ * ~ ~ * ~

Learning the box.
See Fig 2.

Once the dogs are used to running down a lane then you can slowly introduce the box though not necessarily using it straight away. The holder can restrain the dog with its back legs on the box while the handler once again runs over the jumps, as the handler goes over the last jump the holder can let go and the handler should be ready to throw/roll the ball in a straight line while still running and encouraging the dog.

Hold your dog behind the jumps and toss the ball to the helper

Fig. 6. Hold your dog behind the jumps and toss the ball to the helper.

Again you will need two people, the helper should stand behind the box and to start with the handler should stand with the dog restrained behind the first or second jump then throw the ball to the helper so that the dog can see the ball is now with the helper. The helper should show the ball to the dog and call its name then gently roll the ball down the box in view of the dog or place the ball in front of the box. The handler can then let the dog go and once the dog has the ball quickly run back as before encouraging the dog at all times. ALWAYS PRAISE SUCCESS!

If you have difficulty at this stage remove the box and let the helper gently toss the ball instead towards the box position. If the dog is very timid or not interested in the ball then you must consider three things -
a) Has the dog had enough for today - young dogs especially have a short attention span or may be tired from the initial training.
b) Is the dog ball orientated enough - if not then play with the ball as described earlier then try again.
c) Is the dog distracted, excited or frightened by other dogs or new people - this is when you need to socialise your dog more and simply get your dog used to the new environment yet do not be disheartened as the more times you attend the sessions the better it will be for your dog.

The helper should encourage the dog and show the ball. The handler can then release the dog The helper should then place the ball on the ground or roll the ball down the flyball box front

Fig. 7. The helper should encourage the dog and show the ball. The handler can then release the dog.

Fig. 8. The helper should then place the ball on the ground or roll the ball down the flyball box front.

The handler should now be running back up the lane shouting for their dog to follow Keep running well beyond the start finish line

Fig. 9. The handler should now be running back up the lane shouting for their dog to follow.

Fig. 10. Keep running well beyond the start finish line.

(Note: In Fig. 10 an inexperienced handler is waiting for her turn but has stood on the runout side with her dog - this was no doubt reprimanded as this area must be kept clear and you should line up on the right side when facing the lane and run out on the left)

If you have mastered this then you can insert the ball in the box. The helper may have to point to the ball at first whilst encouraging the dog. The box loader will also soon notice which way your dog turns on the box and should be able to load the ball on the relevant side. It is of course important for the handler to remember which side so that they can instruct future box loaders.
It can often be confusing to a box loader by saying "left" or "right" as their left is your right so use arm bands or clear signals when instructing as their life is a lonely one of "blame" yet they are an important part of any team.

A typical BFA box with two holes which can be loaded on the side which a dog turns This dog has just turned on the box loaders right!

Fig. 11. A typical BFA box with two holes which can be loaded on the side which a dog turns.

Fig. 12. This dog has just turned on the box loader's right!

~ * ~ ~ * ~

Once your dog is running up and down you do of course have the basics to start team training but you will need plenty of repetitive practice yet to build up confidence and accuracy for both the dogs and the owners. If a mistake is made always take a step backwards before continuing. Running a team will then rely on the Human factor and this is where most races will be lost!

Steve James (Molten Magnets Flyball Team, Northants - 2005 BFA Flyball Champions)

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