Articles Index/Living With Your Dog
Posted 10/17/04


Most of us are familiar with conformation shows and obedience trials. In the past few years, the sport of agility has really gained momentum. And, as terrier lovers, we're pretty well versed in earthdog events. But how about canine freestyle and flyball? And what about the new addition which is a combination of traditional obedience with some agility-style cheerleading thrown in ... rally obedience.

According to the Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc., canine freestyle is a choreographed performance with music, illustrating the training and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team.

CFF says, "Watch for the dog to be moving to the beat of the music and look for the bond between the dog and handler. You will see graceful and intricate maneuvers performed with precision and artistry. Every movement is accomplished through the subtle use of verbal cues and body language. The emphasis is always on the dog, with the handler completing the team creating a harmonious whole."

In freestyle, the performance of every team will be different, presented to different music and sharing an intimate view of the working relationship between dog and handler. The artistic freedom of choreography to music represents a significant change from the structure of traditional obedience competition and allows the handler to focus on the dog's strengths."

Freestyle is also an excellent discipline to illustrate the conformation and movement of the dog. The reach, drive, and beauty of an athletic, trained dog moving to music can take one's breath away."

Flyball is a team sport for dogs that was invented in California in the late 70's. Legend has it that Herbert Wagner first demonstrated the sport on the Johnny Carson Show to the delight of millions of Americans. Soon afterward dog trainers and dog clubs began making and using flyball boxes. In the early 80's the sport became so popular that the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was formed.

Flyball is a relay race with four dogs on a team. The course consists of a starting line, four hurdles spaced 10 feet apart, and a box. The first hurdle is six feet from the start line and the box is 15 feet from the last hurdle for a 51 foot overall length. Each dog jumps the hurdles and steps on a spring loaded box that shoots out a tennis ball. The dog catches the ball and then runs back over the four hurdles. When the dog crosses the starting line the next dog goes. The first team to have all four dogs run without errors wins the heat.

The height of the hurdles depends on the height of the dogs on the team ... 4" below the shoulder height of the shortest dog ... with an 8" minimum height and a 16" maximum height.

Added to the growing list of canine athletic endeavors is rally obedience ... or Rally-O to its followers. This is the AKC's most recently sanctioned event and official titles will be awarded starting January 1, 2005. As in regular obedience classes, there are three levels -- in this case, they are Novice, Advanced, and Excellent. This event has some characteristics of rally sports car racing, dog agility, and traditional obedience. (For those uninitiated in the nuances of sports car rallying, drivers and navigators are given a set of written instructions which must be followed at particular speeds for the duration of the course. Unlike rally obedience, it is not uncommon for course designers to try to trick driver/navigator teams into making wrong turns as the course winds through the countryside.)

As in agility, each course is different every time and a layout is posted at ringside. Handlers are also given a printed copy of the course and can walk it without their dogs prior to the start of the class.

Ring size is roughly twice that of the 35-foot by 50-foot standard obedience utility ring and accommodates 12 to 15 stations for level one and 15 to 18 obstacles for level two. A sign at each station gives instructions to the dog-handler team, and each team must execute the station's particular task within two to four feet of the sign.

Once the judge gives the command "forward," the dog and handler complete the course on their own without further commands from the judge, except for "exercise finished" at the end of the course.

Sheila Foran
ANTIC, September, 2004


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