Flyball is a dog sport in which teams of dogs race against each other from their handlers, over a line of hurdles, to a box that releases a tennis ball to be caught when the dog presses the spring loaded pad, then back to their handlers while carrying the ball.
Flyball is run in teams of four dogs, as a relay. The course consists of four hurdles placed 10 feet (3 m) apart from each other, with the starting line six feet (1.8 m) from the first hurdle, and the flyball box 15 feet (4.5 m) after the last one, making for a 51-foot (15.5 m) length. The hurdle height is determined by the shoulder height of the smallest dog in the team, and should be 4 inches (10 cm) below that, to a height of no less than 8 inches (20.3 cm) and no greater than 16 inches (40.6 cm). Each dog must return its ball all the way across the start line before the next dog is released. The first team to have all four dogs cross the finish line error free wins the heat. Penalties can be applied to team time if the ball is dropped or if the next relay dog is released early.
Invented in California in the 1970s, flyball took off during the 1980s and the first flyball organization, the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was created to design uniform competition rules and to promote the sport. Flyball provides an entertaining and active way to interact with one's dog and other dog lovers in an environment that is fun and allows the dogs to get lots of exercise and enjoyment. It is especially a great way to burn off the energy of dogs with a high drive to work, such as Border Collies and Terriers.
A great part of flyball's popularity stems from the fact that it is one of the competition activities available to mixed-breed dogs, allowing rescued mutts to shine along side their purebred canine friends. Though herding dogs currently dominate the courses, many champion teams have mutts on them.
Also, flyball is not limited to the size of the breed, as smaller dogs such as Parson Russell Terriers and Whippets often compete with great success in mixed-breed teams (teams consisting of dogs of various sizes and breeds). Smaller dogs are often prized since the hurdle height is based on the height of the smallest dog in the team. Their only limitation is whether they can trigger the release pad, and small dogs often have to fully jump on it to do so.
Flyball is one of the non-hunting dog sports in which dogs and people work as a team together. Many casual pet owners use their flyball time more as a way to relax and socialize with other dog owners than as a competition, and many champion flyball dogs are essentially pet dogs with a hobby, not dedicated sporting dogs.