What do you do with a "ball-crazy" Newf? Why not try flyball?
Flyball consists of a series of four jumps and a spring-loaded box which spits out a tennis ball. The first jump is six feet from the starting line. The next three are each ten feet apart and the last jump is 15 feet from the box. The jumps are set at four inches below the height of the shortest dog. The minimum jump height is eight inches and the maximum is sixteen inches.
There are six dogs on a team with four running in each race and two alternates. The basic idea is that the dog jumps the four hurdles, hits the box, catches the ball and returns over the four hurdles. When one dog returns, the next dog runs. The first team to have all four dogs run down and back without dropping the ball wins. In a tournament you usually race each other team in your division five times and the best three out of five wins.
Each member of a team is equally important. Some fast dogs are needed to speed up your time, and most teams have one or two small dogs to keep the jump heights low.
One of the great things about flyball is that even if your team doesn't win, you can still get points toward a title. Points are awarded according to team times. Each time a team runs under 32 seconds every dog that ran gets one point, under 28 seconds is five points, and under 24 seconds is 25 points. Titles that are awarded are Flyball Dog (FD) at 20 points, Flyball Dog Excellent (FOX) at 100 points, Flyball Dog Champion (FDCH) at 500 points, Flyball Master (FM) at 5,000 points, Flyball Master Excellent (FMX) at 10,000 points, Flyball Master Champion (FMCH) at 15,000 points, ONYX at 20,000 points, and Flyball Grand Champion (FGDCh) at 30,000 points. Since it's not unusual to run 25 to 50 times in one day, a title or two can be earned in a weekend.
Initially I was invited to play flyball by a new team that was forming in town because I have a very energetic French Bulldog (a great height dog). After bringing him for a few weeks and getting nowhere, I thought I might give it a try with my Newf, Petie. After only a few classes, he was running down and back with the ball and he loved it. We had a few difficulties to overcome, dropping the ball or wanting to chase the dogs in the other lane, but nothing my trainers hadn't dealt with before. Also, getting my teammates to truly appreciate Petie's slobbery tennis balls took some time!
Our first tournament was the first weekend in November. My team, Desert Dawgs, consisted of a Border Collie, a Belgian Turveran, a Whippet (the fast dogs to keep our time down), a Cocker Spaniel, a Shetland Sheepdog (the short dogs to keep the jump heights down) and Petie, my Newfy (the crowd pleaser). Four dogs run in each race, so we alternate. I honestly have to say it takes a special group to welcome Petie on their team. While the others could easily get many titles without a Newfy slowing down their time, we need their speed to have a chance at any titles. A lot of flyball teams are fiercely competitive and are very unlikely to allow a big slow dog on their team. I was very lucky to find a group that is just interested in having fun.
At the end of our day, our team took fourth place and Petie got ten points-one point short of his first title. Our next tournament is in the spring so hopefully we'll ge't some more points; but regardless, I recommend trying flyball to anyone whose dog lives to fetch. Newfoundlands may not be the fastest dogs around, but you'd be amazed at how many people come out of the woodwork to cheer us on!
[Editor's Note: Petie earned his first flyball title at the spring tournament.]