This introduction to Flyball will help you learn what training is required for the sport of Flyball, so you can make a decision about whether it’s a good choice for you and your sport dog. This series is divided into eight parts will help you learn what you will need to teach yourself and your dog on the road to competing in a Flyball competition.
Because there are many specific training exercises needed, you might need a class or the help of a team to help with training you and your dog. This introduction serves as an outline to what will be involved if you choose to do so, and also helps you learn what you start practicing on your own!
This is part 4 of the Introduction to Flyball series. You can find links to earlier parts of this series near the end of this post.
This week we’re going to discuss getting onto the flyball box, which is a complicated maneuver to teach your dog to do. Therefore, it’s broken down into pieces to make it easier for everyone. And luckily, it can be quite fun and rewarding for dogs which makes it a bit easier for them to learn.
Making a ramp
The first step is to learn to jump onto what’s called a “ramp”. The ramp is nothing more than a plank of wood covered with a yoga mat, so it’s available to anyone wanting to start this training.
You want to find a board that is about 2 feet by 3 feet, or so, and drape an inexpensive yoga mat over it – and this is what we’ll call the ramp. You shouldn’t need to attach these things together, and the ramp can be easily propped up against low objects or a wall at varying angles.
Make sure to place a jump or board in front of the ramp. This encourages your dog to jump onto the ramp as opposed to placing his feet on the ramp. You can then change the distance between these two things to shape your dog, depending on how he’s jumping towards and onto the ramp.
To start teaching your dog to jump on an incline, you want that incline to be very low, almost flat. Then you’ll go through this progression of behaviors described in the next section.
Note that when you have your dog jump onto the ramp, always encourage the direction and turning that you would later on with the box, and it’s as follows: Towards the ramp in a straight line, and then turning in your dog’s turn direction (as determined in the previous article on jumps), and then straight back towards you. You should be calling your dog as you would in a recall (as explained in the earlier article on recall).
To get that proper tight turn, you may need to lure your dog a bit at the beginning.
Increasing difficulty on the ramp
- Start by placing a jump next to the ramp, and have your dog jump over the jump and onto the ramp, then back over the jump to you (remember to encourage the proper body positioning as explained in the previous section).
- Gradually increase the incline of the jump by a couple inches at a time.
- While increasing the ramp, focus on your dog’s rear feet position: the rear feet should push off the ramp when returning to you.
- Increase the speed of the jump through enthusiasm: amp your dog up.
By the end, your ramp should be propped up against a wall at a 45 degree angle, and your dog should be jumping into the center of it with all four paws and pushing off the ramp to return to you.
Adding a word to the jump
You can choose to add a word to this behavior once your dog has it down. We chose the word “hit it” for the act of jumping onto the ramp, combined with pointing at the ramp itself. Having a word will help with the next step, which is transferring this behavior onto a flyball box.
Adding a ball to the ramp
Once your dog is easily hitting the ramp at an angle, you can add a ball to the ramp. To do so, find some velcro, and attach a piece of the “hook” tape to the yoga mat (you can find square patches of adhesive-backed velcro at most large stores or any fabric store). A fuzzy tennis ball will stick to the velcro.
You need to stick the velcro on the appropriate side of the mat, and this depends on the turn direction of your dog. Facing the board: If your dog turns left, it should be on the left side. If your dog turns right, the right side of the mat.
Taking the ball off the board
Now you can practice having your dog hit the board and take the ball. This should be a fluid motion, although many dogs will start by plucking the ball off the board without combining it with the jump.
It helps to use some momentum to teach this new combination of behaviors. If your dog tends to pluck the ball, go back to some simple hit its, and then quickly add the ball in and keep the momentum going and your dog might naturally jump off the board and grab the ball while doing so (which is what you want).
In next week’s article, we will talk about using a flyball box. Your dog is now hitting a ramp, and you will transfer this behavior to the flyball box.
An Introduction to Flyball! What’s on deck for this series
This series will include:
- An introduction to Flyball
- Recalls and Ball retrieve
- Learning to use a ramp (this post!)
- Box work
- Working with other dogs
- Finding a class, team, equipment, and resources
So make sure that you subscribe to the DOGthusiast newsletter and follow Training Tips Tuesday to learn more about Flyball and whether it’s in store for you and your dog!
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