Early Ball Training for Flyball
The main requirements for flyball are a good recall and retrieve. This article is about the ball retrieve training specific to flyball.
The ball in flyball is a high status item so should only be used in training or as a reward in other training. This might sound strange but if the ball is just another toy your dog can get bored with it, but if it associates it with a good time or treats, it is of a higher value. Also, if you have more than one dog you may have a more dominant or ball obsessive dog that gets the ball all of the time so your other dogs will not bother with the ball.
Firstly use a ball the appropriate size for your dog to pick up and carry. In competition you can use any tennis type ball, as long it is not damaged (in starters comps they can retrieve any item, even their favourite teddy, but best to start early with a ball).
To start getting them interested in the ball, roll the ball a short distance on the ground and using an excited voice get your dog to chase the ball. When they get hold of the ball praise them in your happy voice. If they bring the ball straight back respond with lots of praise and a treat. If they run away with the ball don’t show any signs of being annoyed just keep using the happy voice and call them back. Always praise your dog for doing your last command even if they do not bring back the ball. Do not use any negative reactions, just try again. Keep the sessions short but always try to finish on a high.
Once you are happy with this exercise move on to a static or target retrieve. For this it is easier if you have a training partner and a few balls.
Stand a short distance away from your training partner and hold onto your dog. Get your partner to place a ball on the floor then send your dog with a command like “get your ball” or “fetch it”. Your partner should encourage them to fetch the ball by calling them and then using the command “hold it”. You then call them back and praise them, always with an excited voice. Repeat the exercise but this time increase the distance (your ultimate aim is to do this at about 20 meters). Again keep the sessions short and end on a high.
As your dog gets better at this you can increase the challenge by adding small obstacles for them to jump over. They don’t have to be high, a broom handle will do, as the intention is for your dog to adjust their stride which will help with the jumps later.
And finally, just a little information about balls. Cockapoos, like all gun dogs, have soft mouths. If you look in your dog’s mouth you will see flaps of skin on the lower jaw that cover the lower teeth. This causes them to hold onto things lightly. If you see your dog mouthing or spitting/dropping the ball it could be that the ball may be too hard. You can get tennis balls in different grades from soft starter tennis balls (referred to as squidgy balls in flyball) to the very hard ball sold at pet stores. At flyball, standard tennis balls and squidgies are normally used but you can use a tennis ball of your choice as long as you provide them.
In addition, if you are starting with an older dog your dog may not carry a normal ball over the jumps at first. If this is the case then a rabbit ball is used. This is a tennis ball covered with rabbit skin which is soft for them to hold. However, try getting one of these off a Cockapoo!
I bet you thought a ball was just a ball…..
Now you are ready to try the real thing.