||Hints for new handlers
at their first competition
Before the competition:
At the competition:
Make sure you are a member of the Australian Flyball Association.
What to bring - crate, crate cover, water bowl (non-spill) for inside
crate, harness, lead, motivator, height card if you have one, plastic bags,
fold-up chair, hat, sunscreen, food/munchics/drinks, dog.
What to wear - Red Croydon Rockets top, with the black Rockets cap
or floppy hat and black bottoms (pants, shorts, skirt).
Crate - It is strongly recommended that you have a crate for your
dog. This enables your dog to relax between races much more than if tied
to a stake, it leaves you free to help other teams with set-up or get some
lunch etc. It leads to less barking and fewer fights. A cover over the
crate is also useful to block the dog's view of the racing and for shade.
Harness - It is also strongly recommend that you get a harness for
your dog. They provide a great handle to grab as your dog runs past, and
if they pull on the lead or while waiting to be released, then the pressure
is on their chest instead of on their throat. In a race, if your dog is
pulling on a normal collar before you release him, it could be reducing
the amount of air he is getting - not ideal when you want him to run flat-out
the box and back! It is much easier to release your dog consistently if
they are wearing a harness. If you don't have a harness, make sure you have a fixed collar (i.e. a
slip-chain is not allowed).
Team captains are nominated for each team. Their job is to decide
which dogs run in each heat and the running order, fill in the time sheets,
deliver the time sheet to the stewards before a race and collect it after
the race and represent the team in any discussion or disputes. The team
captain's job can be a very difficult one, as they need to balance a number
of (often conflicting) objectives and expectations. The success of the
team in a competition, and the satisfaction of the team members, can depend
very much on the strategy and decisions made by team captain. The
captain should be open to feedback and suggestions, but if you do have comments
or suggestions then choose your timing carefully. The captain sometimes needs to make split-second decisions between
heats, when there is no time for discussion or explanation. It needs to be a two-way street
- the captain should respect the team members, and the team members should
respect the captain.
Helping out - there are many jobs that need to be done throughout
the day (set-up and pack-up of equipment, changing jump heights, moving
the flyball box in and out, videoing, holding dogs for recalls, taking
the time sheet to the stewards before a race and collecting it again after
the race, stewarding, ball collecting, pass and start evaluating, keeping
statistics and more). We all need to help each other and work together.
It is much easier to change jump heights for other Croydon teams, than
have each team change their own jump heights while holding their dog and
getting ready for practice. When you see a Croydon team going out to race,
check with the captain to see whether anything needs to be done.
Toilet, warm-up - Take your dog to go potty before each race in
case they need to. If a dog fouls in the ring, the team automatically loses
the heat. Have a plastic bag with you, just in case. You should also warm
your dog up before each race and cool him down afterwards, to reduce injuries,
strains etc, as they work pretty hard on the flyball course.
Drinks - make sure your dog drinks enough throughout the day. You
can add electrolytes etc to their water. (Handlers should remember to eat
and drink enough themselves too!).
If the weather is hot, we usually have a small swimming pool for the dogs.
It is a good idea to wet down their feet and belly to keep them cool, but
don't put water over their head, as this is not good for the dog. If there
is a bucket of water in the ring, you might occasionally have time between
heats to splash their belly with water if it is very hot.
Height dogs (dogs smaller than the maximum height) need to be measured
at the beginning of the day and bitches need to be vet-checked to
ensure they are not in season. It is possible to get a 'height card' that
verifies your dog's height and removes the need to be measured as each
comp - ask an instructor for details.
Points - The four dogs running in a particular heat are awarded title points
for each clean run (all 4 dogs complete the course correctly the first time),
with 2 points given for a win and 1 point for a loss of the heat. Points are accumulated toward flyball
titles. Races are usually run as
either best out of 3 heats, best out of 5 heats, best 2 out of 3 heats,
or best 3 out of 5 heats. Competitions can be in a round robin or
elimination type format. A typical number of races for a team might be 6 races of 3 heats each.
Faults - if a dog gets a fault, indicated either by a light or a
red flag from the steward, the dog must re-run after the other dogs in
the team have run.
Starts - The electronic timing gear judges starts. It signals a
false-start with a red light if the dog crosses the start line before the
green light comes on, and the judge will blow the whistle to stop the race.
(The timing gear also signals which dog crossed the line first with a green
light on the side, don't let that fool you, listen for the whistle if you're
worried about a false start). After a false start, the race is restarted,
but in the new heat, if the same start dog again has a false-start, the
race continues and the start dog is required to re-run after the other
3 dogs have run. The start dog is allowed one false start per heat.
Passes - The electronic timing gear also judges crossovers, and
signals a fault if the dog heading to the box (dog B) crosses the start
line before the returning dog (dog A). Dog B must then re-run. A passing
fault will also be signalled if a handler accidentally crosses the start
line, or waves their motivator/toy through the sensor beams at the start
line while their dog is at the box, and the next dog in the team will be
given a signal for a passing fault. (A number of us have been caught by
this, so BE CAREFUL!).
Interference - The judge can stop the race (whistle) if a dog from
one team crosses over and interferes with the other team. It is up to the
discretion of the judge whether they do this as soon as the dog crosses
the imaginary line halfway between the 2 lanes, or lets the race continue
if they see no danger as this may let the other team still get points.
Handlers may not reprimand their dog in the ring.
Important - motivators, toys, balls eta are NOT to be thrown in
the ring. Squeaky toys can be used as motivators, unless the judge decides
it is interfering with the other team and the handler can be told not to
use it. (So if you do choose to use a squeaky toy, don't rely on it).
Knocked jumps-If a jump is knocked and falls during a race, as long
as the judge believes that the dogs are not in danger, the race will continue
and the dogs are still required to jump over the knocked jump. (We practice
this in training, as well as teaching dogs to ignore balls that have been
dropped in the lane by other dogs).
Lanes - Roughly half of your races will be in the left lane, and
other half in the right. One trap for new dogs can be when your team has
been racing in one lane, then the next time they race they are in the other
lane. The start dog (or another dog) may still be focussed on the box in
the wrong lane, and when the race starts it may head to the other team's
box instead of ours. If this is likely to be a problem (it is not common,
but has happened to a few of our quite experienced dogs), you can make
sure to do a recall or a full run with the start dog after each lane change.
Warmup - We have usually 2 or 3 minutes before each race to put in the flyball
box, change the jump heights and do any practice we want. Again, having
people from other teams help with the box and jumps leaves more time for
practice. It is up to you whether you want to practice before each race.
Early in the day it is a good idea, but as the dogs get tired you might
not. If there is something you need to practice, like box work, a recall
from the side of the box or a run for the start dog after a lane change,
you can. Make sure your box loader and/or captain know whether you want
a recall, full run or anything else in practice.
Breakouts - when team entries are sent in, we specify the fastest
time we believe the team can run (called their seed time), and the teams
are split into divisions based on these times. The breakout time for a
division is set at one second faster than the fastest seed time for the
teams in that division. If any of the teams in that division run faster
than their breakout time, then the team forfeits that heat, and the win
is awarded to the other team. If a team has 3 breakouts in one competition,
they are disqualified from the whole competition (although they continue
to compete, all of their races are ignored at the end of the day to calculate
placings for the other teams in the divisions).
Breakouts are designed to stop teams putting in slow seed times to get
into a lower division than they belong, then winning all the races. Breakouts
do not apply in Division One.
Team dynamics - in the run-back area, dogs head to the box from
the right side of the lane and return on the left side (facing the box).
Once your dog has run, and you know you don't have to rerun, move out of
the way to give the rest of the team as much room as possible. Keep an
eye out for faults for all the dogs in your team (particularly your dog),
as sometimes it is possible to miss them and not know you need to rerun.
Once the race is finished, and the judge has declared a winner, line up
ready to race again as quickly as possible. We try to have a spare person
to collect balls in the ring during the race, so we don't all trip on them.
If a spare person is not available, you'll have to put your own balls in
the bucket. (Someone from the team should make sure they take an empty
bucket into the ring for balls).
Team order - if you change the order the dogs are running in, make
sure the box loader knows.
Reserve dogs - There are 4 dogs in each heat, and there can be up
to 2 more dogs in the team as reserves. The reserves can only be swapped
in at the end of each heat, and the dogs running need to be marked on the
time sheet prior to the heat starting. Remember to change the jump heights
if a height dog is swapped in/out. The reserve dogs are to be close by
when they are not actually running. This means they can be waiting just
outside the ring, or inside the ring at the back, although they are much
better outside the ring (so it is less crowded in the ring, and if they
cause interference to the other team (via noise or if they accidentally
get away), our team could be penalised if they were in the ring, whereas
if they were outside the ring the judge may not penalise the team). A clear
run-back area is a real advantage and it takes no time to come into the
ring when required.
More Advanced things to think about
Reruns - Sometimes we might choose not to rerun a dog, in which
case the team has not completed the run and the dogs get no points (this
is a DNF - Did Not Finish). Cases where we might not rerun could be if
the 4th dog has a problem with crossovers, or if we've lost the race already, or if
the dog is unlikely to do it correctly anyway. Sometimes we will rerun
even if we've lost the race, to give the dog a chance to correct the mistake
they made. In general, if the other team hasn't finished yet, try to rerun,
but apart from that, if you are unsure whether to rerun, you can ask the
team captain. Be aware that the 4th dog is not expecting your dog to run
after them, so talk to the handler of the 4th dog before the race so you
know whether you should do a late pass if your dog needs to rerun.
Start dogs - The way to develop a good start it to always let your
dog at the same time on the light sequence (perhaps just as the last orange
light comes on) and adjust the position where you let them go until you
get a good start. Ask someone to watch your starts, to tell you if you
are too late. If you do do a false start, try to remember where you started,
so you can gradually get to know where to stand for a good start. If you
have done one false start, make sure the start for the rerun won't be another
false start. The start dog has the advantage of having a second chance
that the other dogs don't get with their crossovers, it is unfair of the
start dog to break on the restart and have to rerun.
These hints are based on our experience running with the Croydon
Rockets under Australian Flyball Association rules.