The speed is incredible, though this is hardly like most relay races. Called Flyball, in this relay race, the athletes run while down on all fours. No, that’s not as crazy as you may think. In fact, it seems to make sense. After all, these athletes are dogs. No, really – canines.
While it’s exciting and competitive, it’s also fun, a lot of fun. And the fun is shared. The dogs have fun, their handlers have fun and the spectators have fun.
The highpoint of Flyball enjoyment is most likely the United Flyball League International Flyball Championship. The event will be held this year at Purina Farms in St. Louis and will take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday; Aug 9, 10 and 11.
One of the teams competing in St. Louis is a team that trains at Aldens Kennels in Ringwood. The team has gone to the nationals before where their best finish was third in Div. 3. Zac Chernik, who manages the team with his wife, Nan, said there are different divisions for different speeds. The fastest dogs, in Div. 1, are shooting for a world record of 14.7 seconds. And that’s really moving.
The relay consists of four dogs hurdling four jumps while running a 120-foot track. At the end of the track is a box. When the dog hits the box, it automatically releases a tennis ball. The dog catches the ball and returns it going over the hurdles again. When that dog crosses the starting line, the next dog goes and so on.
If one of the dogs doesn’t bring the ball all the way back, goes around one or more of the jumps, or if the next dog starts too early, they earn a penalty flag. The dog receiving the penalty flag has run the course again when all the other dogs on the team are done.
“You’ve never seen anything like this,” said Janet Domrase, with Aldens Kennels. “The speed is incredible – dogs passing each other in opposite directions. And the dogs really have a ball. They just love it.”
Zac Chernik aid the way the dogs enjoy the sport is why he and his wife got involved. They first saw Flyball at an International Kennel Club show in Chicago in 1999. They were so impressed that, by the next year, their dog, a Border Collie named Jackie, was running in Flyball competitions and loving it.
The Aldens team consists of about 10 dogs (Jackie is 14 and retired). The Div. 3 team should include Mig, Phantom and Talon – litter mates that are three-quarters Border Collie and one-quarter Jack Russell Terrier. RazR is half-and-half Border Collie and Jack Russell. Zinger is all Border Collie.
Other members of the team, who are going along to run at other levels, include Duke (all Border Collie), Jersey (half and half), Clyde (a cattledog mix), Cruise (a Jack Russell), Zeus (half Springer Spaniel and half Border Collie) and Scooter, the oldest member of the team (an Australian Shepherd). There is also a Standard Poodle on the team that won’t be making the trip.
“All different breeds do this,” said Chernik. “You have everything from Pomeranians to Great Danes.” However, he said that some breeds do better than others.
In fact, Chernik said that some breeders breed different breeds together to produce the best possible Flyball dogs. Border Collies and Jack Russells are two exceptional dogs for the competition. The Jack Russell, along with its speed, is an effective Flyball athlete because it’s short.
“Your jump height is based on a measurement taken by the shortest dog,” Chernik said. “If you have a smaller dog it makes it easier for the other dogs.”
The world record for Flyball used to be in the mid-15 seconds. It dropped down below 15 when breeders a Whippet and a Border Collie.
“You get the very athletic and smart dog with the Border Collie,” said Chernik. “And you get unbelievable acceleration with the Whippet.”
He said that, along with having fun, one of the nice things about Flyball is that a lot of the dogs are rescued from shelters.
Domrase also applauded the idea that Flyball is another good reason to put good dogs in good homes. Aldens also boards rescue dogs that are available for adoption.