Introduction to Flyball Training

Your first class session should start out by giving people as much info as you can about Flyball. Be sure to explain what the final goals are and why you will be training a certain way. Most people (I know I was) are probably in a rush and want to try and have their dog learn it all too fast. Since most of the people probably have not seen a Flyball tournament, you may want to try and get ahold of a video from someone. Make sure the handlers really praise their dogs when they do something correct and general consensus is to just ignore the dog when it makes a mistake and have it repeat the exercise from a previous point. I always explain to people that they should do whatever it takes to get their dog pumped up and excited. They can do things like bounce a tennis ball, wave a Frisbee, or anyting else that will entice the dog to return fast. You can't look stupid during Flyball (especially if you have a fast dog).

The vast majority of people recommend teaching Flyball by using the backward chaining techniques from Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot the Dog". As such it is best to think of Flyball as the following chain of events:

  1. Release the dog
  2. Jump over first hurdle
  3. Jump over second hurdle
  4. Jump over third hurdle
  5. Jump over fourth hurdle
  6. Approach box
  7. Hit box to release tennis ball
  8. Catch tennis ball
  9. Turn
  10. Return over fourth hurdle
  11. Return over third hurdle
  12. Return over second hurdle
  13. Return over first hurdle
  14. Cross finish line
Step 1.5 (not listed) and 14 are really passes but you don't have to worry about them for a while. Since we want to teach your dogs everything backwards, you will want to start with step 14 and work your way backwards. Whenever you are adding a new jump, I would recommend starting with the dog real close to it. When the dog is consistently going over the jump, move him back a little. If he cuts a jump, move back in until he is consistent again. Slowly work backwards until the dog is being released from where the box is. If you get to the point where you are releasing the dog from the box position and it is running 45 feet over a single hurdle, you are well on your way to having a reliable dog.

Whenever you add a new jump, move up close to it and watch the dog carefully. You want the dog (unless it is small) to single step between jumps. If the dog is not single stepping, move the jumps closer until it single steps. Slowly move the jumps apart until the dog is single stepping at 10 feet.

Once the dog is doing a full recall over all 4 jumps, you are ready to introduce step #9 "The Turn". Do this by starting the dog at an angle. Start with a slight angle and slowly build up to a 180 degree turn. Once they are doing this, you can start releasing them from near the 4th hurdle and have them run to the box. Don't worry about having them release the ball on their own, have the boxloader release it.

Steps 5 through 1 are taught just like the recall except in reverse order.

Once the dog is doing a full outrun and recall, you can start delaying the ball release little by little. It is important to release the ball just before the dog slows down (you don't want him to slow down at the box). Eventually, most dogs end up just hitting the box and little initial box work is required.

If you only have two hurdles to work with, I would recommend putting them in the normal position of the two hurdles closest to the start/finish lie.

What kind of box do you have? If it is a catapault style, don't bother trying to teach the dogs to hit the box (or at least delay it as long as possible) as they have to slow down to hit this kind of box safely.

Some people like to surround the lane with netting or expansion (kiddie) gates. This prevents the dogs from cutting jumps. It is a matter of personal preference and it just changes when you teach the dog not to cut jumps. For what it's worth, our team recently switched to training without gates and it appears to work fine. If you decide to use gating, once the dog appears to be doing well, remove the gating one section at a time. Some people recommend removing the middle section(s) first and working your way outwards.

One thing you need to be concerned with is that every dog will learn at a different pace. I think it would be hard to try and have a set schedule. I guess we can call it a form of outcome based education. We generally have 2 to 3 instructors at the beginners practice and things really keep moving. Since most of the time is spent on the recall, we have one person holding the dog, and the others are "runners". We've also found that since we have dogs being walked to the release point while others are running, it helps to teach them to ignore other dogs from the start. It doesn't take too many dogs before things are really hopping. There isn't a whole lot of sitting around for anyone.

There is no cookbook for learning Flyball, your best bet is to keep track of everything recommended and do what works best for your team. Sometimes (especially when you are in need of dogs) you may want to relax some things inorder to keep the handlers interested. Since using netting or gates makes it appear as if the dogs are learning faster, you may want to use them to keep the people interested.

Remember, people respond to positive reinforcement so your job is to praise the handlers much like they praise their dogs.

Copyright © 1996 Kathryn Hogg,
Last Modified: Feb 7, 1996