Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Flyball Book Project: Topic #1 - What makes a good flyball dog?

On January 1st, I posted about the Flyball Book Project. Thank you for all your comments and private emails! Everybody has been so positive about the book idea, which just validates for me how much we all think a modern-day flyball book is necessary. (Sure, we're biased because we love flyball, but still.)

Plan recap: I will post discussion topics and excerpts from the book onto this blog, and ask you all for your feedback, ideas, success stories, photos, etc. My goal is to make this book as complete and well-rounded as possible. Obviously we're not going to remember everything, and some info is bound to become outdated (like rules, world records, etc.), but the intent is to put as much of our collective experience as possible into this book, so that we can share this sport that we love with others and each other. 

The original target audience for the book was newbies -- I actually called the book The Beginner's Guide to Flyball in my proposal and manuscript. I got some interesting feedback from the publisher about that, though. They told me that unlike agility, flyball seemed to be a finite activity that could be summed up in one book. They didn't really see, for instance, The Intermediate's Guide to Flyball coming out later or anything like that. They thought the book would have wider appeal if instead I wrote something more along the lines of The Definitive Guide to Flyball, and just put everything into one place. As soon as they said it, I knew they were right. 

So while the book will definitely cover everything the beginner needs to know to get started, and will hopefully explain things to the point where newbies can train their own dogs to play at home/practice and come to a tournament ready to compete (either with a club they join, start, or even in Open/Pickup or Singles/Pairs racing), this book will also discuss the more "advanced" stuff like alternative training techniques, lineup strategies, troubleshooting problems/issues, etc. For example, I know of at least three ways to train a dog on the box, and I'm sure you guys have your own variations on those three ways, plus different ways to train the box altogether. There is no one right cookie-cutter way to train a dog to play flyball, and what works for one dog won't work necessarily for another. It's good to have a whole toolkit of training ideas to choose from.

Here's a question for all of you, though, based on what I just said in the paragraph above. Do you think a book can actually teach a newbie how to train a dog (or a whole team of dogs) to compete? Will it really be possible for somebody to go to Amazon or barnesandnoble.com, buy this book, read it, and train their dog to play flyball? I ask because these days you don't really have to be part of a club to compete -- there's Open class, Pickup, Singles/Pairs racing, etc. Theoretically, somebody could train their dog alone at home, then arrange (though their regional Yahoo group or something) for their dog to run on an Open team. That's in theory -- can it actually work for real?

I'm considering creating a companion website to the book (probably with links out to YouTube) with videos and additional photos to help further illustrate the training methods in the book. Thoughts?

So okay, let's move into the first topic. Chapter 1 of the book is actually a high-level overview of flyball that includes some flyball history and a summary of the game, organizations, titles/awards, etc. It's the type of info you see all over the place already. I'd rather save that stuff for a future post and dive into more exciting topics, like what makes a good flyball dog. 

Here's how I open up Chapter 2: 
One great thing about flyball is that all types of dogs – purebreds and mixed breeds, big dogs and little dogs – are welcome and have something valuable to offer a team. 
Sure, the fastest teams are usually dominated by Border Collies and Border Collie mixes (mixes bred on purpose for flyball, actually), but if you go to a tournament you will see all kinds of dogs racing in the various divisions, earning points and titles and having a blast. The more unusual breeds are actually the most fun to watch – the giant Great Dane loping over the hurdles, the tiny determined Dachshund leaping up onto the box to get the ball, the flashy Shar Pei with the gorgeous swimmer’s turn. Flyball would be boring if it were just a bunch of Border Collies running around.
Being consistent and reliable has great value just like being a speed demon has great value. Even the smallest dogs have an important role in flyball – they are the coveted height dogs.
I’ll delve into more of what makes a good flyball dog later in the book, but the two most important attributes are:
  1. The dog must be physically sound (able to run and jump without stress or pain).
  2. The dog must not be aggressive.
Almost everything else can be trained.

What do you guys think? Do you agree with that last line -- "Almost everything else can be trained"? 

Included in this chapter is a section about height dogs. I keep it very high level and talk about how jump heights are determined in each flyball organization and I briefly explain the NAFA measuring style and the U-FLI measuring style. I mention NAFA height cards and how they aren't really necessary (or even used much anymore). I don't mention how jump heights can be challenged and I don't dredge up any of the old political stuff (crouching, cheating, etc.). Should I mention these things or not?

I also include a section about evaluating your dog's fitness. I start it out like this:

You’ll see fat dogs playing flyball, but it’s usually pretty painful to watch. They labor over the jumps, get winded quickly, and hit the box awkwardly. Think about how you’d feel if you were overweight and out of shape and had to spend a whole weekend running over hurdles. It’s the ultimate weekend warrior experience.
A dog may run the flyball course 20-30 times over a weekend, if you count the total number of heats plus re-runs, false starts, and warm-ups.
To keep my dogs fit, I feed them a good quality high protein kibble twice a day and keep them borderline skinny. If you run your hands lightly over their sides, you will feel their ribs. My vet is really supportive of this and often comments during exams about how low their resting heart rate is and how healthy they are. 
I like to compare it to human athletes – you would never see a chunky track and field competitor out there sprinting around the track and leaping over hurdles like a rockstar. 

Does anybody want to add to this? I am not a vet, so this is all just written in laymen's terms based on my experience. If any of the flyball-playing veterinarians out there want to chime in on this topic, I would love to hear your thoughts. 

I spend a page or two talking about conditioning, but truth be told, my conditioning program isn't that much to write about. I work from home so my dogs get to run around my backyard as much as they want, and I play Frisbee or Chuckit with them from time to time (when it's not too hot/cold and the yard isn't full of sticks). I liken the fitness level of my dogs to a human 5k runner. 

I write, "Some competitors go way above and beyond my conditioning routine and end up with dogs who are more like Olympic-caliber athletes." Do any of you uber-conditioning competitors want to weigh in on this? :)

The last section in this chapter discusses aggression. I write: 
There’s no place for aggression in flyball competition. Your dog will be constantly surrounded by a sea of other dogs at practice and tournaments. The environment is highly charged – many dogs bark and pull on their leashes to get into the racing lanes, and space can be tight sometimes next to the ring. Part of the game is that your dog will have to pass within inches of another dog at the start/finish line (at top speed), then come back to you in a runback area (the place where all the handlers and dogs line up to race and run back to afterwards) full of other barking and tugging dogs. For the majority of the race, you will not have your hands or a leash on your dog, so he is free to make his own decisions.
Dogs don’t have to LIKE other dogs or people, but they have to be able to tolerate them or ignore them. A couple of my dogs can be snarky if another dog gets right in their face, but being a little snarky if somebody invades your personal space is very different from straight-up aggression, where you worry that your dog could chase after or attack another dog. 
Your dog needs to be 100% focused on his job, preferably to the point that he doesn’t even notice the dog he’s passing into or anybody in the runback area. (If your dog isn’t at this point yet, don’t stress – you can desensitize him to a lot of outside stimuli during training – but it’s important that he is not prone to unprovoked aggression.)
Both flyball organizations have strict penalties for aggression. Judges will disqualify and write up dogs that attack other dogs (or even chase other dogs, if it’s clear that the intent is to hurt the other dog), and your dog will only get a few warnings before he’s banned from racing permanently.
If you aren’t sure if your dog is flyball material, enlist the advice and help of a local behaviorist or trainer. "
Aggression is a touchy thing to write about, so I want to make sure I get it right. I also don't have that much experience with it. Luckily none of my dogs are aggressive, and since I'm not a behaviorist or trainer, I can't really offer any professional advice on the matter. I feel like I need to tell people to seek professional advice if they think they have an aggressive dog, but at the same time that last paragraph feels like a cop out. Do you guys think I need to delve more deeply into it, or keep it high level like this?

Photo by Willie Moore
Photos that would work great in this chapter:
  • unique breeds playing flyball
  • height dogs going over a jump or being held by handler
  • dog being measured (NAFA or U-FLI)
  • stacked or action photo of a really fit dog
  • photo of  dogs in the lineup or passing where they are so focused on what they're doing, they aren't even looking at each other
(If you have a photo that you think would work, you can either email it to me at xterrier@gmail.com -- or, if it's one of Len Silvester's or Willie Moore's, send me the link to the photo on their website.)

Ok, hopefully something in here has sparked your interest enough to comment or email me with feedback. Public comments are great because then everybody can participate, but you can also email me privately on Facebook or at xterrier@gmail.com, too. 

Also, I wanted to publicly thank my friends who read/edited the first draft of the manuscript last year and helped me get it ready to send to the publisher: Kristie Pope, Sarah Proctor, Kate Corum, and Lisa Gironda. Thanks, guys. :)

« The Flyball Book Project | Flyball Book Project: Topic #2 »


Andy McBride said...

2 corrections

A dog could have to run 40-60 reps in a weekend not 20-30 if you had a full time spot on a regular team (higher or lower depending on the region).

Flame suit on now

Chasing a dog is not aggression. You will not be written up in NAFA for your dog chasing another dog. Contact isn't even going to get you written up for aggression. Dogs, especially herding dogs are going to have a natural instinct to chase down fast moving animals and touch them. I asked NAFA for specific details on what is and isn't aggression since I think it's very poorly worded and some people like to throw that word around a lot. Basically though intent was what makes it aggression. If the dog is intent on hurting or injuring another dog then that is aggressive.

For the purpose of a general book though I think it would be safe to say bite. Dogs who can not be handled without unprovoked biting people or other dogs should not be doing flyball. The rest of the details can be worked out by the judges of the different venues.

-Andy GDG

Anonymous said...

flyball has helped me build a relationship of trust with my 7 dogs, 5 are rescues. A few of them had for want of a better term aggression issues, these were not allowed in flyball. Not sure how to word this. In flyball you need to train your dog to be under controll in an atmosphere of organized chaos. whether the dog be aggressive or shy if you can get control over this and make it fun you will build this dog's confidence and they will be a much better dog in the real world. Hope someone can figure out what I am trying to say :o) Jeannie in Nova Scotia

Anonymous said...

I am far from being a professional, but, chasing and crossing over may not be considered aggression, but, is very dangerous to all involved or in the path. Dogs should be taught or broken of the habit of chasing/crossing over, BEFORE they actually get into the competition ring. Collisions can cause great damage to other dogs. They should be taught to stay in their lane with many different distractions including another dog running. Barb WG

Kim said...

Lisa- I think the book idea is awesome.

1. Yes I think as long as a dog is physically sound they can learn to play flyball. As you said everything else can pretty much be trained. I was always told the best flyball dog was one who DID NOT like tennis balls.

2. Regarding aggression: there are different forms of aggression and depending on the dog the dog can learn to compete safely. I wouldn't rule out aggressive dogs in general but yes many should not compete. We have at least 2 aggressive dogs on our club. There is more training involved but it can be done. My Denali is fear aggressive and we just have to manage her better. There are a lot of dogs in flyball that have aggression issues but they learn their job and as long as folks are managing the situations it can be done safely.

3. Regarding the weight of dogs. I am not sure if you have a paragraph that leads into that first statement but many "pet" will take offense to that sentence. The topic of dog weight is a very touchy subject for many owners. When I bring it up during classes that I teach I get a mixed bag of reviews. I have had students drop out because I made comments about their dog's weight. I also hear well my vet says their weight is perfect, etc... You will need to have some kind of argument to rebut what people have been told be their vets. I usually use that human athletes vs. dog athletes as well but it doesn't really seem to help. I end up trying to explain that for a pet dog the weight is fine but for a competition dog they are overweight and go from there.

4. Your statement that dogs may run 20-30 times in a weekend is actually low for our area (region 9 and 15). Outside of Division 1, many teams are getting from 36-42 heats in a weekend and that does not even include what the start dog will run.

Susan said...

Could a group of people train their dogs in flyball from a book? Yes, especially remembering that people doing so wouldn’t be perfectionists…yet. They wouldn’t be searching for that absolutely perfect boxturn or ensuring striding to and from the box. Not that you won’t address these in the book, but the people learning from scratch would probably not use that portion as much. That being said, is it probable? No. I remember trying to learn from the book that I could find and not really understanding what they were getting at. BUT! I think the chances of success go up exponentially if you have a companion website with links to videos of what you are talking about in the book, and maybe forum for discussion (facebook, yahoo group, dedicated forum for the book). Like you said there are a ton of videos out there and specific ones could be made to fill in gaps, or even at the request of a reader.

Can almost everything else can be trained? Almost. I’ve known a few (but this is such a teeny tiny portion) rescues who were so shy their people have yet to figure out a motivator strong enough to get them to do much of anything. If the dog has a motivator (toy , treat, something, anything) then with enough single minded dedication you can train flyball. I trained my non-drivey breed who couldn’t catch kibble when I dropped it in his mouth and didn’t care one bit about toys in general and balls specifically, to play. But he is very food motivated. What have other people trained through?

Mentioning past height dog issues? I’m totally wishy-washy on this one. There is good and bad to both including in and not including it. But my instinct says maybe this isn’t the place for it? I don’t know.

Overweight dogs playing flyball. I would love to see a vet’s blurb about the damage running an obese dog can cause to the dog (in addition to the damage just being obese causes in general). Flyball is already a full contact sport with dogs getting injured without the added complication of weight. But Kim is totally spot on, people can get really touchy about this.

Aggressive dogs? I don’t see your sentence as a cop out at all. I see it as honest, you aren’t a behaviorist or whatever and even then evaluating whether a dog is aggressive or not isn’t something a book can really do.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra Kay said...

Love the book idea

The basic behavior can be trained-but I would put something in early and often about attending trials with your dog before you plan on running the dog. The trial environment is very different than even a team training day-it's chaos and noise and lots of food smells x 30 or more teams. Asking a dog to walk into that and perform without ever having been around it is pretty unfair to the dog.

Another skill that is boring but handy is teaching your dog to relax in the car-because if you dog can't relax in the crate at a trial-you might want to take him out to the car for a nap.

Even if your dog is going to run singles and not be a team dog-it will still have to be very comfortable around a lot of other, excited dogs. The easiest way to do this is to take your dog to any dog sport venue and walk around with it....then put it in the car for a bit...then take it out-just like you would at a trial.

If you plan on traveling to trials-some hotel practice is good too although there is no substitute for good crate training. I can't imagine going to any trial of any kind with a dog who wasn't comfortable in the crate.

Anonymous said...

"Do you think a book can actually teach a newbie how to train a dog to compete?"

A book should be enough to teach the basic mechanics of flyball (run over the jumps, hit the box, catch the ball, run over the jumps, party), and I don't see why it couldn't get a sufficiently large and determined team up and running. However, unless it's an exceptional dog, proofing and teaching passing and all the etceteras necessary for competition aren't something you can or should be doing outside of a team environment.

"Almost everything else can be trained."

... eventually, if the owner is willing to keep working at it. This is a great lead-in to a frank discussion about expectations. An Agility-trained sports-bred Border Collie is probably going to learn the game faster and race better than, say, a rescued hunting Beagle that spent its formative years outside on a chain. Not to say both won't have fun at flyball, but some dogs will take a longer than others... years, in some cases.

As far as conditioning and health goes... our team won't allow significantly overweight dogs to race. The risk of injury is too high. All that extra weight is just joint failure waiting to happen, and I don't think anyone wants to be in the ring when a fat dog pops an ACL or drops from heart failure.


Anonymous said...

I think the book idea is a great one! With that being said I think you need to be careful with what you say about fat dogs.

How many Captains out there have been contacted via the web by someone interested in trying flyball with their pet? Maybe they got a BC or Lab mix from the pound and are suddenly realizing that the dog desperately needs an outlet for its energy? Or the puppy they got isn't the angelic couch potato they saw profiled on say 'Dogs 101", etc.? For the past several months they've showed their 'love' for the dog by feeding it everything in sight and sure enough this overweight dog shows up at a practice or beginners class to give flyball a try. Do any of us turn the dog away or not let it try some recalls over jumps? I know I don't. :) Just like in overweight people, a little exercise/conditioning and a better diet and some of those chubby pups could be fantastic flyball dogs (at least in the eyes of their owners).

I find it much easier (and less painful on the owners) to approach the weight subject with kid-gloves. If a dog gives the sport a try and the owner is interested in continuing I generally try to 'guide' them to a healthier lifestyle for the dog. Most new dogs that show up at a practice have at least a couple/few pounds to lose, *unless their owners are already participating in other dogs sports.

If you a truly gearing this book towards potential flyball newbies, I think you need to be less 'harsh' in the analogies... especially considering most newbies who attend a flyball tournament are sure to notice that not all the handlers are in top top shape. ;)

Just my opinion on things. :)

Linda said...

1) Yes, I agree almost everything else can be trained.

2) Can a newbie learn flyball just from a book. Maybe. However, I believe it would take an extremely motivated person to train themselves all alone or to start up their own flyball training program (in order to train a group of folks) without this lead person already having had flyball experience or someone they could go to for hands-on advice (such as another experienced flyballer). Flyball is a team sport and even training is team-focused. However, I think a book combined with group training is a great method.

3) Height dogs & measuring. You could include simply a brief comment about how it "once was" or “use to be” (i.e., crouching/cheating or whatever the case was), along with making a statement that most flyballers do not support this tactic, prefer the "honor system" and appreciate personal integrity among their fellow flyballers. [The honor system and personal integrity also applies to breed of dog when registering to compete.]

4) Regarding overweight dogs & pet dog owners who may get offended, regardless of how these type folks react, the subject needs to be pointed out in honest terms. If someone gets offended, in reality, they may not be flyball material as they most likely lack the basic understanding of their animal and its health & well-being.

5) Fitness. Cross-training in other dog sports and even learning tricks such as sit-up and move back are good conditioning exercises.

6) Aggression. I like your statement. Maybe include a comment that not all dogs are going to be flyball material based on their temperament.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for addressing aggression in dogs in regards to Flyball.
Some dogs are not wired for Flyball. Flyball is an over the top energy level sport. There are a lot of things a dog has to deal with along with the handler. Chaos can reign during a team run and the handler and dog have a lot to deal with. How someone would handle an aggressive dog might not be feasible during a flyball run. A dog has to do a lot of behaviors independent of you. Knowing your dog’s temperament is an important part of considering if Flyball is the sport for you. There are other dog sports available. Drive does not = aggression nor does aggression = Drive.
I will let you know, that out of nowhere, my height dog had a severe predatory attack on her in the lanes. I know most handlers would hate to put their dog in a position to do that to another dog.

Anonymous said...

"If someone gets offended, in reality, they may not be flyball material"


There's no reason to be nasty about telling someone their dog is fat, but you can't sugar coat it. We explain the reasons, the expecations, and offer a decent amount of help and suggestions in weight loss. But in the end, we'd much rather see a handler go away offended than waste our time training someone who isn't going to fix the problem. If they aren't willing to put in the small amount of effort necessary to drop some pounds off their dog, why should we expect them to do the necessary homework, training sessions, and show up for team practices? Or, assuming they muddle through all that, show up with a dog conditioned enough to make it through an entire tournament?

There's probably a really great "there's no 'meat' in 'team'" joke here somewhere.


Pete Ness said...

Enjoys the game. When I first saw flyball on the Great Outdoor Games, I immediately thought it was a game my dog Kelty would enjoy. She was a BC, and was hooked in no time, to the point of obsession. Not all dogs will love FB to the point Kelty did, but having a dog that gets worked up for every run sure makes it more fun for the handler. It may take a while for some dogs to really get into the game, but as long as they're eager to please, and enjoy playing with their handler and other dogs, you have a flyball dog.
And a dog should have at least 3 feet, but I think Faith the 2 legged wonder dog would give it a shot if asked and was allowed.
Lisa - Thanks for using an outline of Gryph for the logo. Or is that Punk?

Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

Isn't Gryph a girl, Pete? Just sayin'...

K-Koira said...

1. I think each person has different criteria they look for in a potential flyball dog. My criteria: Eager to please, likes balls or other toys right away, and quick learning curve. The dog I adopted specifically for flyball had all of these, and they were relatively easy to evaluate in a visit at the pound.

2. Regarding aggression: Non-dog people have different definitions of what is or is not aggression. A chi that snaps and growls at me, I consider aggressive, while the owner often considers that cute behavior, or protective. Using some definitions and examples might help to define the word more.

3. Regarding the weight of dogs. A dog active in a sport should be leaner than a standard healthy dog. This would be good to add in, especially for the people who will think "my vet says her weight is perfect." My vet said my dog's weight was great, way better than the goal she would set for most owners, but that I might consider him dropping 2-3 pounds for his flyball career.

5. Height dogs. I would not dredge up old issues. I have a height dog, joing flyball in the last two years, and could care less about old political issues. Maybe include something in a different area, like a section of contriversial flyball issues, if you include it at all.

6. Learning from a book does not seem realistic. Most people are not going to go out and buy or build a flyball box right when starting out with a sport. Having the book as a good guide to Before your first flyball practice and What you can train on your own is more realistic than thinking full, ready-to-compete training can take place out of a book.

Anonymous said...

I think the "Complete Book of Flyball" suggestion from the publisher is a bit disingenuous. As in, "not much public interest, how hard can it be?".

We used Olson's book, initially, and I feel it's strengths are that it is at the Beginner level. We gained more from it than from our first club.

Now, a few years into flyball, and the flyball training techniques I want to learn would be a book per skill: gait training, set/release, box turn, racing, training program for a puppy/dog, training program for a club, etc.

The world definately is ready for another flyball book, keep it up!


Chris said...

Per dog aggression,

While I may agree that many aggressive dogs can be trained to remain under enough control to play flyball, what we don't know is how many owner/trainers have taken an aggressive dog out of flyball training because the dog's aggression issues could not be brought under control. What were the factors that led to such a decision?

I know of at least one such dog. It was determined that training flyball escalated the dog's propensity to bite (humans). Flyball exacerbated this dog's tendencies so, it was taken out of flyball classes.

When it comes to possibly painful decisions (such as whether or not to continue training) we should not sugar-coat the possibility since we do not know who will read the book and use it as a guide.

As a "Definitive" guide for flyball?

How 'bout leaving the door open for more authors to come forward and write about their experiences training and competing in flyball? There are many perspectives out there and a pure newbie is probably not aspiring to break the world record. Encouraging them to keep at it, train their dog and compete grows flyball. Teach them how to have "fun" at any and all levels of play. I get discouraged when I listen to people divide the world of flyball into the "serious" competitors and those who are just "having fun". My god! Do people think that those who are "serious" competitors are NOT having fun? Conversely, do you think if I am out there having fun that I am NOT competing seriously?

Let me tell you-my team and I do not play for Championships or World Records but, we take competing well seriously and we have a WONDERFUL time, too! We compete as well as we can with the dogs that we have in the Division where we land. Sometimes, that is Reg 5 and sometimes it is Multi 1. We play to run clean but, we practice close passing, too. Our competitors respect us because they know no matter where we are seeded in the Division, we are tough to beat cuz we play to win. ....and yet, we don't get upset over losing cuz it ain't about winning or losing. It's about playing well and having fun with our dogs.

Write what you want to, Lisa. If you are going to self-publish then break up your subject matter according to the focus of your book. Plan to write more than one book. You are not the dog trainer you were 3 years ago or 5 years ago or what you were when you began to train dogs. I don't think any ONE book can be everything to everybody in flyball.

So, write one book for beginners and another for internediate and YES...one for "advanced" players, too. Let's admit it, the vast majority of flyball players own at least three flyball dogs: One retired, one in competition and one "in training". And, we have all said to ourselves what we will do differently for our "next" flyball dog.

Lonnie's book went out of date only because she never wrote another book. Flyball is still "evolving" so, plan to write a second or even third book to acknowledge that whatever you write about flyball, the sport will continue to evolve and you cannot put all the material you have in just one book.


Kim said...

I did forget to mention thoughts on the height dog and past issues.

I think you leave the issues in the past unless as someone stated you have a chapter on controversial aspects of flyball. Now a chapter like this could be fun if written correctly.

I think the book (and the secondary website) could help get dogs up and running but not necessarily get the club running. I definitely think you would need to suggest that newbies should still get some direction from those who have been around for awhile, maybe set up scrimmages, etc... many folks are happy to help a new team get started. I have taught classes knowing that the students would not plan to run with my club but wanted to start their own. It didn't happen but I was there just in case.

Conditioning: I would love to hear what others are doing since I have been bad about this lately. In the past I did some On The Ball exercises and treadmill, typical retrieving outdoors when nice and still light out (not much lately), did some swimming over the summer but basically my dogs are not as conditioned as I would like. I just don't have the time or the weather does not cooperate. Then I myself just get lazy about it.

Anonymous said...

On controversial issues: maybe if the rulebooks cover it, let it go at that. ie Aggression in the ring.
Maybe devote a chapter to conditioning, to include diet, weight, as opposed to whether a dog can play flyball without their ribs showing?


Anonymous said...

I think what you wrote about behavior issues and aggression is right on. I don't want to train people who's dogs are going to be a liability. Some of the other people said stuff about crossing lanes and that not being aggression. Whatever, many judges consider that aggression or say the dog had intent. I don't have a problem when they say that because you can end another dogs career by crossing in front of it. The dog may suffer physically or mentally because of this behavior. Crossing is BAD and if a dog does it often they aren't ready to race.

Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

I can already tell that the issue isn't going to be getting enough input/feedback from you guys on these book topics -- it's going to be considering both sides of the arguments and figuring out the best way to incorporate your feedback into the book. :)

K-Koira said...

I have to say I agree with Eli in that two different books would be very helpful, or even more. A basic beginners guide to flyball, teaches the basics, brings up different training practices, etc, would be helpful to everyone.

I would be very interested, however, in an entire book about training box turns, trouble shooting, different training ideas, retraining the turn if needed, etc. I think there is plenty of material that could be covered for a full book just on box turns.

Same goes for striding/gait as a book (maybe with motivation, etc); a book on running a club, organizing practice, traveling to tournaments; one on starting a young puppy on foundation training from the time you bring them home.

Flyball is just as complex to train as agility. They have books on all different aspects of their sport: weave pole books; contact training books; puppy training books; the list goes on and on. I would love to see a Beginner's Guide to Flyball, followed by a series of books dedicated to helping experienced flyballers train something new, in a new way, get into a different aspect of the sport, etc.

Anonymous said...

Even if you're experienced you can't train a dog flyball without a team. The passing and other lane distractions are something that can only be learned by practicing with others.

Susan said...

Keep in mind that this book wouldn't just be for individuals. The question isn't always whether -a person- can train a flyball dog from a book, but also can a group of people do it in a place where there might not be a team and they want to start one.

Linda said...

"...can a group of people do it in a place where there might not be a team and they want to start one."

"...it would take an extremely motivated person to train themselves all alone or to start up their own flyball training program (in order to train a group of folks)..."

I think one way to promote in an area that doesn't already have flyball is to market to the existing dog training facilities where there are already experienced dog-sport instructors. However, in an area that doesn't have flyball yet, they are hard-pressed to find an instructor that is motivated enough to tackle it blind. They need a very simple training plan that guides them with a specific class structure from Introductory all the way to (what I call) Intermediate. Nothing complicated with too many choices how to train or how to structure their classes.

I've found there are some training facilities as well as instructors who, while they are not interested in forming a flyball club themselves, they are very excited to learn about flyball and train others. It brings money into the training facility and that's a motivator. They have an understanding that they can help guide folks through the classes and once the students "graduate" they are ready to either join a club, form a new club, or compete on their own.

In my area, we successfully did a similar thing with a local training facility and one of their experienced dog-trainers who did not have any experience in flyball. We are in the process of repeating this program with the facility.

However, in this instance, there was an experienced flyballer providing hands-on help.

Merrylegs said...

We used to dance around the subject of overweight dogs. Now, we'll bring it up at the first session. We try to be gentle in the wording, while still getting across the information about the stress the sport puts on the body and how much extra weight will compound that. Yeah, everyone winces a little when told their dog is overweight; we do tend to take it personally. However, if someone really gets offended about it, you probably don't want them on your team anyway. That probably leads into another topic, team dynamics ;-)

Laura Green said...

1) Yes, I think a book can teach someone how to train their dog for Flyball. I was just having this discussion with someone else. I trained two of my three dogs, and he trained his one dog, pretty much by ourselves. At least, the basics. After the basics, we both pretty much ironed out the details in a few team practices and tournaments with our respective dogs. And, neither of us are professional trainers.

2) I totally agree with the statement, "All else can be trained", as I've trained everything else either with my own dogs or team dogs...

3) On the issue of weight. I learned a while ago that no matter what I said, how I said it, or when I said it, if the owner was going to take it wrong, they'd do so regardless. My best method for explaining what a proper weight is was taken from someone I can no longer recall:

With your dog standing in front of you in a straight line with his head facing away from you, you should be able to run your hands along his side and feel his ribs easily, but not too easily. I liken this to your hand. Make a fist. Run your index finger across your fist right in front of where your wrist meets your hand. If your dog's side feels like this - he's too fat for Flyball. If you run your index finger across the top of your knuckles, he's probably a bit too thin (though, my dogs are closest to this... for the average pet owner looking to get started, though, this is usually satisfactory until the owner is more interested and invested in the sport). Now, if you run your index finger over your fingers, still fisted, this is the ideal of what a dog should be at to train and compete for Flyball.

You might want to mention a caveat based on breed characteristics - like sighthounds and bully breeds. And, mention that a lot of fur is no excuse for extra blubber. My favorite quote, "He isn't fat, he's fluffy!" ;)

Great start, so far.

Laura Green said...

One more thing: Regarding conditioning, I think it is important to mention the importance of cross-conditioning. All dogs should get a wide range of exercise to work and tone all the muscles, not just those used extensively for Flyball. For example, dogs should get time to take long, relaxing walks on leash, swim in a pool or river, run in the woods (to work on uneven ground, speed, strength, agility), wrestle and play with other dogs, play games with their owner, run uphill and down, trot for extended periods of time at a consistent speed to build endurance, etc. Dogs should be provided with a variety of conditioning routines to build and strengthen the muscles and organs and keep the dogs from becoming bored or stale.

barbara FFlash said...

Lisa, WOW !! It IS possible to learn the basics from a book... especially supported by video and other means (instead of linking specific videos, have a constantly updated SITE listed where people can go to find the best and newest.) I also agree that a book would be most helpful to a GROUP of people starting out, more than an individual unless that individual had access to one or more flyball clubs, or people, to learn with and from. The *team* dynamics or even the skills needed in a flyball atmosphere can't be duplicated in many environments but the REAL thing.
That said -- I remember when flyball came to Florida in '98. An announcement was made that there would be a tournament and "come one, come all". ONE club, and the host club, had flyball experience -- as in actual team training and had done demos. The other two, ours included, were starting pretty much from scratch. We DID know what the game was, we all had training experience in obedience and agility, and a desire to have a TEAM that could run the game. ALL our dogs were already trained in other sports and not too *drivey* so we had NO "aggression" issues or even control issues to deal with. The dogs all trained quickly and learned a rudimentary game in a matter of a few months.
However, we have video of those tourneys and frankly, they are almost painful to watch. What we know now and what we knew then -- it isn't even the same game.
What you can teach beginners now with the knowledge that is already available, with video, with the quality of equipment, is SO far superior that, yes -- it is time for a new book. And in the right hands, that book could teach the game from start to TEAM SCRIMMAGES (to proof the racing techniques needed for a tournament). I wouldn't encourage a newby club to show up at a tourney unless they had an opportunity -- or a large enough group to create multiple teams -- to work with other teams to complete their racing training. THAT would be where the chasing issues would arise and probably demotivate the newbies completely.
It does take a *drivey* individual to create and lead a flyball club but competent and comprehensive training information in ONE (supported) place would be invaluable -- even to already existing, and racing, clubs.

barbara craig
florida flash flyball

Anonymous said...

What makes a good Flyball dog? well... My first Flyball dog was a rescue Sheltie who loved tennis balls. He learned really fast, and ended up (for the time) a 10-inch height dog (now, he would be 9 in NAFA). He would run tirelessly all day, even double-run in the heat and even when we'd try to extend races to 4 and 5 heats to get other dogs points. He would run in any position but start (start did not make any kind of sense to him). He was fun to run, and a joy to watch, because despite his crappy structure he was VERY serious about his Flyball. And he had to retire relatively early because of his super-straight shoulders--even though he did a swimmers turn. And he could never run faster than about a 5.5. But you know what? He thought Flyball was the greatest game ever, and he earned his ONYX and helped many, many other dogs to ONYX and higher. And he was what our fledgling Flyball team needed--a height dog who would take whatever you threw at him and keep going, all day. So he was a great Flyball dog.


Craig P. said...

Ok, from personal experience, just stating an overweight dog shouldn't do flyball isn't going to be helpful. There should be a brief explanation of the issues that a dog's weight has an impact on.

Weight seems to be a big issue that people focus on, but nails, jumping/dog stride technique, warm-ups and conditioning are issues too. This and other factors also are somewhat breed dependent.
Breed issues not withstanding, weight has a direct affect on all of the "issues" across the board (Think greyhound vs labrador retreiver)

As an example, I have a fox terrier beagle mix that weighs in typically around 16.5-18.5 pounds.

- When the dog weights less than 17 pounds, dog becomes food focused and is difficult to control -- always in search of the next meal -- so isn't necessarily reliable in the flyball ring (or practice for that matter).

- When the dog weights more than 18 pounds, even with nails properly clipped, the dog will not do jumps (flyball, agility, etc.) even with the appropriate jumping style.

- At 17.5-18 pounds, the dog will do jumps, but because of fatigue factors that the additional weight introduces on the nails, legs, box turn contact and appropriate jumping techniques the dog does not have the same endurance level over the course of a tournament when compared to running at a weight of 17-17.5 pounds.
Note: This also impacts how the amount of warm-ups you can do over the course of a tournament and consequently time consistency for the heats at a given tournament. Or from a team perspective, how many extra dogs are needed on the team to compensate for the endurance issues and allow for a consistent team tournament time.

So, after several years of observing this particular dog, I can approximately determine the weight of the dog for the a given tournament based on the average tournament time.

Unknown said...

Oh yeah.
Since this a new to flyball intro, might want to have an
explanation about "why would I care about time consistency over the course of a tournament",
Running under 24 seconds in NAFA gets you the full 25 points, between 24 and 32 gets you a fraction of the points, above 32, nothing.
If your team starts out running at just under 24, say 23, and time consistency isn't addressed in some way, your team will likely be running over 24 half way through the tournament and not earning the full point values.


Unknown said...

> The passing and other lane distractions are
> something that can only be learned by practicing
> with others.
No, it's something that can be learned outside of flyball with appropriate dog socialization and obedience related training (it's just not obvious what's most relevant to flyball -- trained a flyball dog this way).
What difficult iv not impossible to learn outside of a flyball "team"/club is:
- the coordination that makes up a flyball team --human and dog--
- gaining a given dog experience/knowledge about the dog should expect/do at a flyball tournament without actually competing at/in a tournament. e.g. No club, no practice mat time at a tournament
- familiarity with given team/team expectations (from both a human and dog perspective)
At least in region 5, this is most evident between regular, open I, other open divisions and vets.


Unknown said...

> Or from a team perspective, how many extra dogs are
> needed on the team to compensate for the endurance
> issues and allow for a consistent team tournament time.
From an individual perspective:
-- if you pay a flat fee (e.g. tournament entry fee divided by 4 dogs), would you want to earn less points because of fatigue issues (independent of weight) or more points toward a title. Keeping in mind, that with just 4 dogs, your fatigue issue also affects the other team members.
- If your dog has to be swapped out to allow for more consistent times on a team, meaning you get less races to run, does earning more or less points because of fatigue issues (independent of weight) still matter?

- Even if you're in it for just the fun aspects, would you be happy with running more or less heats/races over the course of a weekend?


Unknown said...

> Here's a question for all of you, though, based on
> what I just said in the paragraph above. Do you think
> a book can actually teach a newbie how to train a dog
> (or a whole team of dogs) to compete?
No -- otherwise, one could do their "dog" certification
trainer, therapy, dog business, etc "from a book".
That's not to imply you can't learn a good deal from
a book or books.
It would be an ideal way to give "newbies" an over view
of what flyball is, the issues, and fill that in with
ideas/approaches/advice that would be valuable to
"non-newbies". This would give someone who's a "newbie"
and asked to train flyball w/ minimal dog experience
a roadmap of approaches w/ end goals in mind.

> Will it really be possible for somebody to go to
> Amazon or barnesandnoble.com, buy this book, read
> it, and train their dog to play flyball?
Depends on what level you're talking about.
In general no, because you're making assumptions that
a person has the skills to train a dog to a level where
they could just focus on "flyball" related stuff.

> I ask because these days you don't really have to be
> part of a club to compete
> -- there's Open class, Pickup, Singles/Pairs racing, etc.
Yeah, but as a suggestion look at the differences / problems /issues encountered in regular, open, pickup, vets, etc. They're related, but different (partly because of the different goals, expectations, training, experience in each division of both the dogs and handlers). It'd be ideal to look the differences within the divisions in regular class or for newbies, focusing on typical "open division" issues.

> Theoretically, somebody could train their dog alone at
> home, then arrange (though their regional Yahoo
> group or something) for their dog to run on an Open
> team. That's in theory -- can it actually work
> for real?
Depends on the open team and the experience of the handler.
In general, for someone new to the sport of flyball, no.
For a professional trainer who has a good deal of knowledge about flyball, possibly, but it would be much harder than training with a group of dogs (even if the flyball dog isn't going to run with the group of dog's it's training with).
The best example I can think of off hand, is world class agility competitors (with more than a decades worth of experience at the world/national level) typically take dogs that they're training, but yet to compete with, along with them to shows to get the "newbie" dog familiar/comfortable with the show environment.

> I'm considering creating a companion website to
> the book (probably with links out to YouTube) with
> videos and additional photos to help further
> illustrate the training methods in the book.
> Thoughts?
What about other resources / flyball references too?

Unknown said...

> I’ll delve into more of what makes a good flyball dog
> later in the book, but the two most important
> attributes are:
> 1. The dog must be physically sound (able to run and jump without stress or pain).
Flyball isn't just about the dog or group of dogs. It's a dog/human group participating
as part of a group of dog/humans on a team.
The dog must be both structurally sound && trained to run/jump appropriately.
( e.g. charging the box vs. swimmers turn is a simple example)
A dog can initally be structurally sound, but because of lack of knowledge on the owners
part wind up running/jumping in a way that causes undue pain/stress.
The owner must also be willing to keep up with / maintain the physical condition of the
dog. (e.g. not just exercising the dog, but also for dogs who's nails don't wear down,
trimming the nails)

> 2. The dog must not be aggressive.
No, the dog must be/have been properly socialised to work around other dogs and humans in a chaotic environment. "Aggressive" has to many degrees of interpretation and/or of acceptable/unacceptable behaviors as related to flyball; even from a non-"newbie" standpoint.

> What do you guys think? Do you agree with that last line -- "Almost everything else can be trained"?
Yes, but the question is, for a "rescue" what do you have to "undo" first; for a puppy, what's appropriate
for the flyball goals; and how do you maintain the "training" in a realistic/reasonable manner.
What's appropriate given the experience of the trainer and/or handler along with what's appropriate for dog.

> I don't mention how jump heights can be
> challenged and I don't dredge up any of
> the old political stuff (crouching, cheating, etc.).
> Should I mention these things or not?
In the context of a flyball club that has been around awhile or someone with flyball experience
would have a general idea of what's not reasonably acceptable practice, yes.
But specifics, no.

> preferably to the point that he doesn’t even notice
> the dog he’s passing into or anybody in the
> runback area
No. The dog needs to understand that they need to come back to you while being aware of, but avoiding
everything else in the runback area.

> get a few warnings before he’s banned from racing permanently.
For NAFA, first time, gets you a 1 year ban (which takes several months after the ban to repetition/demonstrate that the aggression issue has been resolved.) The 2nd time, and the dog is no longer allowed to participate in NAFA flyball.
Getting it right before it shows up in competition should be emphasised over, well lets just see what happens.

> Do you guys think I need to delve more deeply
> into it [aggression], or keep it high level like this?
I think that the emphasis should be on socialization, ideally through an obedience class with a
trainer qualified to teach obedience before attempting flyball.
This would permit a person to see how their dog reacts to an unfamiliar environment and unfamiliar dogs
with someone who knows what to look out for and/or how to correct what's going on.
Note: I tend to use obedience and schutzhund training interchangeably.
Personal preference is for schutzhund style obedience foundation training for flyball -- as it's less about
the dog strictly sticking to your side, and more focused on getting the dog to keep their
attention on you while doing other tasks/things
(a few less steps involved than outright agility training)


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