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Flyball: Drag Racing for Dogs

Red light... yellow light... green light... and they're off. Down the straightaway, through the turn, that final burst of speed, and across the finish line. You might expect to see Jeff Gordon jump out of his racecar at this point to accept his trophy, but instead you'd see ecstatic dog owners planting well-deserved kisses on their canine companions and waving their blue ribbons at the cheering crowd.

Flyball is the latest craze in the dog sports arena, with more and more teams cropping up across the U.S. The rules are very basic; a relay team of four dogs run down a 51 foot course, jumping over 4 hurdles, catch a tennis ball in the air, and race back over the hurdles to release the next dog in line. As if that's not tough enough, another team is racing just a few feet away from you with a judge awarding the heat to the fastest team. The U.S. record currently stands at just over sixteen seconds, meaning each dog ran his or her 100 foot leg in about four.

Flyball got its start in the early 70's when Californian Herbert Wagner developed the first tennis ball launcher. Subsequently, the new sport for dog enthusiasts was introduced in the Toronto-Detroit area by several dog training clubs. After a few small tournaments were held in conjunction with dog shows, the first ever Flyball tournament was held in 1983.

To standardize the rules, keep records of tournaments, and guide the development of Flyball racing, the North American Flyball Association, Inc. (NAFAŽ) was formed in 1985. Interest and participation have soared since its beginning, and the sport is now being enjoyed throughout North America, Europe, Australia and other countries. NAFA has over 300 registered clubs with more than 7000 registered dogs. NAFA even has a hall of fame in which they allow two dogs per year to be inducted.

Flyball is made up of component parts. Running, jumping, passing, and box work. Practice will be geared toward each individual dog's needs. If one dog has a problem passing, then the other dogs will work with him on it. If a dog chases, then drills will be run to help him overcome it. The majority of the time will be spent working on problems, with time left at the end of practice to run 'lineups' to see how it all fits together and identify areas that require additional work. Practice is all-important. Every effort should be made to attend each and every practice session with your teammates. If you have to miss one, perhaps others might be willing to hold an additional practice one evening that's convenient. Depending on the problems you're trying to overcome in training, it will be mandatory to attend a certain number of practice sessions prior to a tournament.

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