Australian shepherd Gryffin, running at a full clip, bounded over the hurdles, bounced off the spring-loaded board while scooping up a ball, then sprinted back over the hurdles to her human amid the yips and barks of the many very happy dogs waiting for their turn to do the same thing.
It’s called flyball, a dog performance and agility sport, and a group of flyball teams put on a demonstration at the Greater Clark County Kennel Club’s weekend dog show at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
“We call it drag racing for dogs, but it’s a relay race, essentially,” Gryffin’s owner, Heather Butcher, said Sunday.
A team of four dogs, one at a time, sprint over hurdles into a spring-loaded board. Hitting the board triggers it, sending out a ball. The dog catches the ball and runs back through the course, and the next dog goes. The group with the fastest time wins.
“It’s a perfect dog sport,” said Chet Wise as Pi, his papillon-border collie cross, squirmed and whined in his arms, begging for another go.
Training the dogs for the jumps is relatively simple, wise said. The trick is getting them to perform a good turn as they bounce off the box, then working in the ball part.
And then there’s getting them to focus while there are teams of dogs having fun doing the same thing all around.
“We like them overstimulated,” he joked.
Jonae Waldroop helped organize the demonstration, and said just about any breed can do the sport, and the world-record teams can clock in at under 15 seconds.
It’s unique in dog agility or performance competitions in that it’s a team activity: There are four dogs, four owners and one person manning the spring-loaded box.
“It’s all about having fun; we always want the dog to have fun,” she said. “That’s why you heard all that barking and excitement, because these dogs are having a great time.”
The flyball demonstration was one of a handful of new offerings at the show, Greater Clark County Kennel Club President Don James said.
Dogs dove from docks, played at sniffing out rats in piled hay bales and caught Frisbees, along with other performance, agility, obedience and breed conformation events.
Dogs also vied for a Super Dog award, a kind of decathlon for dogs that participated in multiple events.
The weekend marked the fourth year for the county club’s dog show, which emphasizes performance competition over conformation.
In a conformation show, such as the kind you see on TV, purebred dogs are evaluated by experts for how well they conform to the breed standard for the dog.
The Greater Clark County Kennel Club’s focus on performance for the show seems to be paying off, as more dog owners are participating and, this year, Eukanuba signed on as a corporate sponsor, James said.
“There are probably two dozen different things, different sports, that dogs can do that have nothing to do with conformation. We’re trying to get people to understand that if your dog’s not a show dog, it doesn’t matter, because these events here, any dog can do it,” he said.