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 Obviously we're not going to remember everything, and some info is bound to become outdated (like rules, world records, etc.), but the intent is to put as much of our collective experience as possible into this book, so that we can share this sport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:
- The dog must be physically sound (able to run and jump without stress or pain).
- 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?
- 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. :)
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