Flyball with Vizslas?
This article was written by Dave Hall with ongoing commentary by Kate Payne. Kate, who along with her dog, was kicked off the flyball team because they both have the pack drive of a cat.
Dave Hall is Kate Payne's "other half', and the co-owner of Mattapex's Col. John S. Mosby, CD, AX, AAD, FDCH (Colonel) & Maftapex Full Tilt Boogie, OA, FDCH (Bobbie). He also owns & trains Lily the rescue dog, and loves but does not train Kate's rescue boy Texas Valiant Kirby (VCA Rescue Mascot). He has been active in the Texas Gulf Coast Vizsla Club for seven years, and served for two years on the VCA Board of Directors. He is a co-founder of the Texas Tornado flyball team in Houston, TX. Dave's passion is flyball, and his newest "thing" seems to be judging flyball tournaments. The photo that accompanies this article is of Colonel, triggering the Flyball box while going into a turn.
Sure you can do Flyball with the versatile Vizsla. But first, let's talk a little about Flyball. In my opinion, Flyball is the most exciting team sport you can do with your dog. It is a relay race that got its start from scent hurdle racing. The scent discrimination part has been eliminated, which opens up the sport to a lot more dogs and trainers. In flyball, the dogs race over the hurdles and, instead of finding the correct scent article, triggers a box containing a ball (usually a tennis ball) and brings it back over the hurdles. There are six dogs on a team, but only four run at a time. That gives you four dogs and two alternates. The course is composed of a start/finish line, four jumps (or hurdles), and the box. The height of the hurdles varies from eight inches to sixteen inches, and jump height is determined by the shortest dog running that race. Dogs must jump hurdles that are 4" lower than their shoulder height, or a maximum of 16". A lot of teams will have a "height" dog that is short enough to get the jumps down to a level that is very easy for the other three dogs. Obviously, the dogs must run down to the box, jumping all four hurdles, trigger the box, catch the ball, and return with the ball over all four jumps. During the typical race, spectators are screaming encouragement for their favorite team, the other team of dogs is racing down and back about ten feet away, both box loaders are calling the dogs down to the box while the trainers/handlers are yelling to get their dog back! (Kate's note: Flyball tournaments are VERY noisy.) There is a lot of energy in the air, the excitement is infectious, and the dogs really love it. It is said that you know you have a good flyball dog when you can save a cat by simply throwing a tennis ball for your dog to retrieve.
Before you consider doing Flyball with your Vizsla, you need to do an honest evaluation of its temperament. Temperament is the most critical component of a good flyball dog. Has your dog shown any sign of being dog aggressive? If so, you need a different dog if you want to do Flyball. Let me explain why. This is a team event. You and your dog will be in very close proximity to at least three other dogs and probably five, not to mention the other team's six dogs. I have heard the excuse that "My dog does not like little furry dogs- they look like rabbits." Guess what, you may have a Papillon on your team in order to get the jump heights down, or the other team may have one. If you owned the Papillon would you like to know that its life is in danger every time it raced with your dog? My team will not even attempt to train a dog if it shows any signs of aggressive behavior. Dominance behavior is different; that we will work with - for a while. A dog that is posturing when it is around other males is likely to have very little racing experience until that posturing behavior is under control.
Now that you have honestly evaluated your dog's temperament, do the same for its physical attributes. This is a dog sport, a performance event. You are asking your dog to accelerate as fast as it can, jump four hurdles as fast as it can, stop as quickly as it can, catch a ball, spin around and accelerate as hard as it can again, flying over the four hurdles. The Vizsla that truly fits the standard in regards to angulation and bone ("lightly built", "moderate angulation") is a good candidate. Those dogs that are "straight" and heavier boned can still do Flyball, but probably not as quickly as the lighter boned, more angulated dogs. You need to know what your dog is capable of doing and be realistic about your goals. Any excess fat on your dog is a serious handicap. This is a sport, not a beauty contest- your dog needs to be fit. Fat is not conducive to a good, healthy Flyball career. My prescription for the perfect Flyball Vizsla is pretty simple: it would be one that has a rock solid temperament, a strong prey drive (out run), a strong pack drive (a quick return), and is highly trainable. Anything else, good or bad, can be dealt with.
The more difficult part of the prescription is for the handler/trainer. The trainer must be willing to train the dog. I am constantly amazed at how many people think they can get a dog ready for competition in a couple of months. It takes time, it takes patience, it takes a true love for your dog to be dedicated enough for this sport. (Kate's note: It takes a love of team sports. If you are the sort who falls asleep at Superbowl parties - like me - this sport is probably NOT for you.) What I have found is that the best trainers are the same ones who are fun to be around when they are entered in Agility trials, Obedience trials, and Hunt tests. They take the training seriously, but not themselves. Since Flyball is a team event, it helps to really like and be friends with the people on your team.
For what it is worth, my flyball team, Texas Tornado, has trained and titled seven Vizslas, and an eighth is well under way. Our fastest combination runs a Sheltie (sable colored), an Irish Setter, and two other Vizslas. (Kate's note: Want to know the beverage of choice for this team? Got ft - Red Dog! They do know how to party.) We do not take first place very often, but we sure look good. The reason we do not win is that the fastest Flyball dogs are Border Collies. None of the members of my team take this sport so seriously that we will buy a particular breed of dog just to win. Somehow, taking any dog seriously and living with Vizslas seems to be mutually exclusive. (Kate's note: This last bit of Wisdom is from the man who insisted on keeping Lily (the rescue dog) because she was wired and "there's no such thing as an ugly fast dog." But that's OK; Lily is a sweetie)