Updated: Dec 1, 2020
I was at my first lure coursing trial with Anubi. I was chatting with a friend. We both started showing a rare sighthound breed at the same show and we've been close ever since. She plays flyball and the more she talked about it, the more intrigued I was. I mentioned wanting to maybe try it and she encouraged me to look into it.
Several months down the line I decided to follow through and started looking for places. At a loss of where to start, I turned to my friend again and she invited me to come to a practice and try some recalls. I went to one practice sort of fell of the map with being busy, but then they invited me to their seminar held by the awesome Colleen Morita of X Flyball and then I was hooked.
What is flyball exactly? Flyball is a relay team dog sport. A team of four dogs runs one at a time down a course of four short jumps over roughly fifty feet, triggers a box that launches a ball that the dog must catch, and then return back over the four jumps. As one dog returns the next should be beginning their run down to the box and ball.
I brought Amidi home on January 3rd, 2019. On January 4th, new puppy in tow, Anubi and I headed to that seminar. We've been attending regular practices ever since -- in fact, there's been times I've decided to skip trials so I could attend practice. Little Amidi had just turned 9 weeks at that seminar and she's grown up with my team. She loves them and can do restrained recalls where a teammate holds her while I run the other direction and then call her. Anubi didn't and to say the least, it has made training more difficult. Anubi will let other people handle him on a day to day basis, but if you think about the criteria of having a relative stranger hold him while I run away, that's an extremely stressful situation. We eventually stopped doing restrained recalls with him and just had him hold a sit/stay.
So if it has its challenges, why bother? Flyball is a team sport and there's many different layers to that teamwork. There's nothing like the teamwork between me and my azawakh. They're not working for me, they're working with me, and flyball showcases that so well. Additionally, each handler/dog pair is part of a larger team and larger club and your teammates will always have your back. What azawakh person couldn't use a larger array of trusted people? And for all the training changes we make to accommodate an azawakh's needs, it's so worth it to see calm, serious Anubi spazing out happily watching other dogs race.
What's required to teach flyball? There's so many tiny steps that go into the final patterned behavior (that's part of why I love it so much). Component behaviors and requirements include:
* A dead ball retrieve
* A solid recall
* Good drive- ideally toy, but food works too
* A sound, fit dog- overweight dogs don't do well in the sport
* An accepting, supportive team
You'll start with recalls and slowly add in distractions like other dogs (and other people which is a big one for azawakh). Separately, you'll need to build ball drive, which Amidi had from day one, and Anubi had to build big time. Additionally, you'll need to start on target work, to teach a safe four foot box turn. Azawakh are tall and the box is quite small, so there's a lot that goes into teaching a safe turn. Eventually you'll begin to chain all these behaviors together.
If you intend to try flyball with your azawakh, I suggest getting into the sport and take your puppy to practices as soon as you take them home. Get them used to the environment and people. This is an occasion where you'll want to check out a club potentially before you even have your puppy prospect. You can train an adult azawakh, I am with Anubi, but it does make the process more complicated. I guarantee that if I'd done practices with Anubi from the day I brought him home, he'd be racing already.
That's my last bit of advice. Be patient. Flyball takes a long time to train. This is a complex behavior and it can take a year or even substantially more to train it.
And just for fun, here's me running a teammate's border/staffy on our A Team with two border/whippets and a sports mix.