Flyball, Rally Opportunities For Fun With Your Dog

FOCUS ON PETS

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Fun dog activities were happening in Payson last weekend. I wish more people would have taken advantage of the opportunity to see these amazing dogs in action. Those who saw flyball for the first time were amazed and impressed.

It is fun to see the excitement and energy of both dogs and handlers in the fast-growing sport of flyball. Age seems to be no obstacle for either of them. A 10-year-old girl on one team worked with her 2-year-old Lab. She has totally trained this dog by herself from puppyhood and they are well on their way to a fun and rewarding partnership.

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Lots of play and tug toys keep the dogs excited about flyball. And then there is the obsession with tennis balls. It is all fun for dogs and handlers. These flyball teams compete throughout the Southwest, spending most weekends on the go.

These flyball dogs are well-trained. They spend a lot of time off leash and mingling with other dogs. They are well-behaved with no fighting and they always keep an eye on their handler. As the team gathers for their race, the excitement level is high and the barking is nonstop, with the dogs at full attention. These dogs are obsessed with tennis balls and they know how this relay team sport works.

A big part of the fun of the run is the game at the end. They are willing to drop that beloved tennis ball for a quick game of tug. The handlers have these sometimes-elaborate tug toys draped around their necks, ready for the dog's return. These dogs are strong and relentless in their quest for a good tug.

What is wonderful about flyball is the great array of dogs participating, including purebred miniature poodles, Jack Russell terriers and a huge mastiff. The Belgian Malinois is beautiful to watch, as he easily glides over the jumps. But probably half of the dogs are of mixed parentage and, if they are fast, they are loved.

Jump heights for each team are determined by the height of the shortest dog, so most teams have a feisty little guy. Rally is also open to mixed-breed dogs and people of all sizes and ages.

Watching these dogs reminded me of the importance of playing with our dogs. It reminded me of a book that has been among my collection of dog books for years and I have probably never read it through to the end. The book is "Playtraining Your Dog" by Patricia Gail Burnham. It was published in 1980, which was during the era of choke chain collars and harsh training. She must have been a real pioneer with her positive training methods. I have only read a few chapters, but I am enjoying her philosophy greatly. I will give a further report when I complete the book. She uses play to teach competitive obedience but her methods work for any dog activity. Flyball trainers are champions of playtraining. Their dogs must have fun doing what they do or they will lose interest.

There was quite a bit of interest from spectators who would like to learn flyball and rally. We are working to put together some classes where, after some basic obedience, people and their dogs can experience a variety of activities. These would include clicker training, rally, musical freestyle, canine dressage and even a group routine. A group routine might best be described as a drill team and it is great fun. If we got a decent routine put together, we might be asked to perform at local events like the fair and rodeos. Basic obedience is all you need to begin and then gradually work up to more advanced maneuvers. Jonnie Geen would do flyball training, if there was some interest.

For most of these activities, special, expensive equipment is not needed. You need a dog, a little time and the desire to spend fun time with him and other dog loving people. If you are interested in being part of any of this, give me a call at (928) 476-2239. The list is taking shape and this will happen. If I already have you on a list, you will be contacted but if you do not here, contact me. Don't miss the fun.

-- Christy Powers can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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