Ask your Border Terrier if they’d like to participate in a sport that involves running, jumping, playing with balls, playing tug, getting treats, and barking as much or as little as they want. If this gets them to prick up their ears, flyball may be the sport for the two of you. This is a sport where the punishment is to be removed from the area and not be able to play any longer.
Flyball is a relay race for dogs. Any breed or type of dog can play flyball. The race is comprised of 4 dogs on a team running head to head against another team of four dogs. Each dog must run down a 52 foot lane over a series of four jumps. At the end of the lane the dog hits a box that has a ball spring loaded so that the hitting of the box ejects the ball. The dog then grabs the ball and return over the four jumps with it, back to their owner for a game of tug or a nice treat. As the dog crosses the finish line to its owner the next dog on the team begins his race. The race is completed when all four dogs on the team have run without any errors.
No dog on the team may cross the start line before the dog ahead of it has fully completed its race and cross the finish line. The challenge for the human end of the team is to release the dog so that the dogs come as close to crossing nose to nose at the start line without going over. If the dog is released too soon, it will need to run again at the end of the race, generally causing the team to lose.
The height of the hurdles for the entire team is based on the height of the shortest dog on the team. So it is to the advantage of the entire team to have a fast shorter dog, called the height dog, to bring down the height of the jumps. The jump height is set at 5 inches less than the height of the dog at the withers, but not less than 7 inches. So a 14 inch Border Terrier would cause the height of the hurdles for the entire team to be set at 9 inches, even though the rest of the team may be 17 – 24 inch dogs.
The dog must bring back the ball that was ejected from the box. Dogs are not penalized if they drop the ball (other than the time it takes them to pick the ball back up) as long as they eventually bring the ball back over the finish line and complete all the hurdles. Just about any variety of balls can be used. Many dogs use tennis balls, but soft, squishy small balls are becoming increasing popular with dogs that have some difficulty with catching a harder ball.
Dogs that love balls and fetching have a leg up on learning flyball, but all dogs that love to play with their owners can excel at this sport. It takes a patient handler to train a flyball dog. Dogs need to learn to be comfortable working 50 feet away from their handler as the handler must remain behind the start line as the dog runs the 52 feet to the box to eject the ball. You want a dog that is highly motivated to return to its handler for a reward. The best part of flyball for most Border Terriers is that you can feed or play in the racing lanes. Unlike all other sports like agility, obedience rally, and tracking, the dog is always immediately rewarded with his favorite treat or tug for a job well done.
I think the most amazing part of flyball is how much the dogs want to win. I see dog constantly checking over their shoulder to see where their competition is. A good flyball dog wants to win the race. But flyball is not for the handler who has difficulty with barking dogs. Nearly all flyball dogs bark enthusiastically, encouraging their team mates in their quest for victory. Flyball events generally last all weekend with dogs running about 30 to 40 heats throughout the weekend.