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Drag Racing Dogs Go For the Balls

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Editor’s Note: The ‘Sports Spotlight’ will be a periodic feature highlighting off-the-wall sports or sports accomplishments.

Tahoe is so doggone crazy for canines I couldn’t help but focus my first ‘Sports Spotlight’ on a dog sport – Flyball.

Never heard of flyball? Neither had I until I happened upon the 'Patriot Games,' a regional flyball tournament that was hosted by Reno’s RF Revolution Flyball team at the Riverview Park in Truckee on July18 to 19.

I had come to Riverview Park that Sunday looking for pictures of slide tackles and bicycle kicks, but upon walking up to the soccer fields my attention immediately drew to the spectacle unfolding across the way. I saw running dogs, cheering fans, and what looked like drag racing lights. What the heck was this?!

It was flyball, a dog sport in which teams of four dogs relay race down a line of hurdles one at a time and collect a projectile tennis ball before chasing back over the hurdles and across the finish line. As soon as one dog crosses the finish line, the next can go. The first team to have all four dogs at the finish, error-free, wins the race.

Invented by So-Cal dog trainers in the late 1960s, flyball has now spread throughout the world with teams in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. Its appeal is not surprising as it seems the perfect sport for the hyperactive, ball-obsessed dog – plenty of those the world over.

I know, you’re thinking…my mutt is a tennis ball freak! Fido could be the next flyball grand champion! Could be.

Countless breeds, including mixed breeds, excel at flyball. But flyball dogs are not just your average ball-retriever. The race course demands serious training for both dog and handler.

The 51-foot long flyball course has four 7- to 14-inch tall hurdles (height determined by the size of the smallest dog in the race) spread 10 feet apart and 15 feet from the course-ending ‘flyball box.’ The flyball box is a spring-loaded pad that, when jumped on, shoots out a tennis ball. Racing dogs hit the pad, snatch the tennis ball out of the air, pivot and beeline back over the hurdles toward the finish line.

Meanwhile, the next dog in the relay is being held by its handler right past the finish line. As soon as the first dog approaches the last hurdle, the handler will let go of the next racer with the goal of having both dogs cross the line at the same time. If the starting dog crosses the line early a time penalty is accrued. The side-by-side race courses are timed down to a thousandth of a second using motion sensors at the finish line.

Top flyball dogs can cover the 102-foot course and return the tennis ball in under four seconds. The world record for a team of four dogs is 14.96 seconds! Compare those times to human track and field stars and you’ll uncover part of flyball’s appeal – the dogs are as fast and agile as Olympic sprinters. There is no doubt many dog handlers live out their athletic dreams vicariously through their furry flyball friends.

If you’re interested in learning more about local flyball opportunities check out the RF Revolution Flyball Team – thejackswild/ The team is based out of Reno and offers weekly practices and training.

Judging by the mix of dogs at the Patriot Games Tournament, prime flyball pooches come in all shapes, sizes and ages. The only type of dog I didn’t see was a mean one.

So before you sign up your sidekick for flyball training, make sure they are healthy and non-aggressive towards people and other dogs. Pulling a canine Tonya Harding move at a flyball tournament would definitely not be cool.

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July 12, 2018