Flyball: fast, furious, and fun
Flyball: fast, furious, and fun –
McTimoney Animal Chiropractic helps keep Flyball Open World Cup 2022 canine competitors in tip top condition.
As featured in Dog Sport UK Magazine www.dogsportsuk.com/shop
Ever wondered what flyball is all about and is right for your dog? Here we learn all about flyball and hear from Emma Overend the team therapist at The Flyball Open World Cup 2022 (FOWC).
Emma Overend has been a McTimoney Animal Chiropractor for 22 years, a Clinical Canine Massage Practitioner and Small Animal Rehab Therapist. She also owns the Canine Conditioning Academy where she teaches Canine Core Conditioning providing dogs with strength from the inside out and runs canine massage workshops to show owners how to care for their own dog’s muscular health. Emma has lectured and presented at conferences and universities in the UK, USA and Europe and has been a guest presenter at Crufts on many occasions.
What is flyball?
Flyball is a head-to-head relay race consisting of two teams, a Flyball box and a ball. The aim of the sport is for each individual dog (4 per team) to pass through a set of sensor gates, jump over four hurdles, trigger the flyball box to release a ball, catch the ball and then return over all four jumps carrying said ball. Then allowing the next dog to pass, nose to nose, into the lane via the sensor gate. All the while an opposing team is doing the very same in the other lane. Each team is trying to complete the sequence, cleanly, in the fastest time possible!
Each flyball run is timed and works on a light system which counts down to a green light and this is when the first dog is released. The whole run which is all four dogs in the team running one after the other is timed from the green light coming on to the final dog crossing the finish line.
Any faults, so early start for a dog meaning they cross the start line too soon, or pass the other dog too soon, a dog doesn’t carry the ball all the way back or missed jumps means a fault light is put up and the team must run the faulting dog again to complete the race.
It is a high adrenaline, energetic, fast paced sport for all ages, abilities, and breeds.
The UK Flyball League has teams across the country who compete and train using a variety of methods with the safety and welfare of their dogs at the forefront.
Can any dog play flyball?
Flyball is suitable for virtually any dog, as long as they are fit and healthy, they will be welcomed into the flyball community to try the sport. Being correctly conditioned and fit is important and should be worked on along with the foundation flyball classes.
Different sized breeds can all take part, as all dogs compete over the same course with a concession made for smaller dogs – the jump height is lowered to the appropriate height for the smallest dog in the team. A small, fast dog can therefore be a huge asset to a team as it enables the larger dogs to run over lower jumps.
We asked Emma about her experience at the recent Flyball Open World Cup:
What was it like to be at the Flyball Open World Cup?
“The Flyball Open World Cup (FOWC) is a huge event in the flyball calendar. It was held in a large sporting stadium, in Lommel in Belgium where the atmosphere was incredible with mix of excitement and nerves from hundreds of competitors and spectators representing 10 countries. It felt like the Olympic games of flyball. I was lucky enough to join the opening ceremony procession with the 3 teams whose dogs I treat. All 8 UK teams who represented the UK wore the GB kit. This was a hugely proud moment for me as the sea of red, white, and blue flooded the arena. I must admit I had a tear in my eye”.
What was your role at FOWC?
“I take a multimodal approach to my treatments, using McTimoney Animal Chiropractic, clinical Massage therapy, Laser and ultrasound therapy, Canine Touch and small animal rehabilitation techniques. It’s my role to support the musculoskeletal health of the team dogs and reduce their risk of injury. I also proactively promote healthy functional muscle development by teaching and training specialist core conditioning programmes.
Two years ago, I was invited to join the Veterinary Advisory Panel for the UK Flyball League (UKFL) who advise on many aspects of the welfare of the dogs participating in flyball under this league. Since then, I’ve been on a huge learning curve, and now I just love this sport. It is exciting, complex, and challenging but above all great fun and has a wonderful community of people. Most importantly the dog’s welfare is at the forefront of the UKFLs ethos.
I am known for treating sporting dogs from all disciplines. However, more recently I’ve been supporting 3 flyball teams, Cambridgeshire Flyball, Tails We Win and Paws on the Run. I have treated for these teams for a few years and was delighted that they were all chosen to represent the UK as part of the 8-team contingent. My job is to support the UK Flyball league teams before, during and after competition. This involved numerous sessions during the training phase, prior to the World Cup to ensure each dog was fit to compete and that their musculoskeletal system was functioning at its peak”.
How much preparation is needed to compete at this level?
“The dogs I work with have flyball training sessions weekly and compete regularly as racing continues indoors throughout the season. They exercise to enhance cardiovascular health using a mix of on lead walking, treadmill and bikejor and controlled sprinting. They use canine conditioning exercises to strengthen the core, stabiles muscles and keep superficial muscles strong, flexible and in optimal condition. The teams I support also have weekly hydrotherapy sessions and this is generally how the top teams playing Flyball keep their dogs fit throughout the year. The dogs also have ample rest, and this is a hugely important and a well thought out part of each dog’s weekly training routine.
Nutrition is key and expertly prescribed, and each dog is individual in its needs for all aspects of their needs.
With the added physical and mental pressure of competing at the world championships this regime was fine tuned to ensure each dog was at their absolute fittest both physically and mentally.
The interesting thing for the FOWC was the jump width is narrower than the UKFL jumps here in the UK. This makes it even harder for the dogs. So, our teams had to train their dogs on the narrower jumps for months to ensure the dogs were comfortable with the width.
I treated most team dogs weekly prior to the FOWC just to support them in the same way a human sports therapist would support a professional athlete.
Although these dogs are professional sporting dogs, they are also loved pets and are treated as such so have lots of time cuddling on sofas and having fun on walks – so it is not all work!! However, you just have to watch a flyball dog enter the ring to see how they absolutely love their sport – they light up like a firecracker as the fun begins”.
What is it about the treatment you provide that specifically aids the performance of these dogs?
“McTimoney Chiropractic technique is vital to keep these dogs aligned skeletally, and their nervous system firing as it should. My soft tissue techniques ensure their muscular, tendon, ligament and fascial systems are supported and even the smallest injury is detected early and addressed before it becomes an issue.
The McTimoney technique works by stimulating the nervous system which is the central regulator of the whole body. In every vertebrate animal – us, dogs, horses etc., the spinal column runs from the head to the tail and through the middle of this runs the spinal cord of the nervous system. The spinal column is made up of individual vertebrae, and these have individual range of motion. Each vertebra is able to move independently of the one in front and behind it and it is at the junction of these individual vertebrae where the spinal cord sends nerves off to the rest of the body so the brain can tell each area of the body what to do.
Occasionally individual vertebrae can get stuck or have reduced range of motion, so they are unable to return to the neutral position in a straight line with the one in front and behind it. If this happens then the nerves exiting at this point can become affected resulting in the body not receiving the correct information. This is known as dysfunction within the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and the body as a whole cannot operate to its full potential. We then see symptoms of discomfort such as flinching from touch, asymmetrical movement, changes in behaviour and even lameness in the dog which when investigated by the veterinary team, has no clear cause.
The McTimoney treatment itself is a gentle, hands-on technique which uses light and fast adjustments, not force, to help encourage the vertebrae to return to the neural position. By putting energy into the joint the muscles holding the vertebrae in the wrong position are reminded to relax and allow the joint to return. By using our hands for this we can tell how much energy is required to make this happen and can adjust for more sensitive or more painful areas.
We had some injuries prior to the FOWC and some dogs needed rehab therapy including laser and therapeutic ultrasound and I am happy to say these dogs are now fit and well and will be heading to the UKFL Championships in August.
One of the competing dogs had a collision with another dog in training prior to the competition which created misalignments in the spine and pelvis. This impinged the neural pathways leaving the dog with muscle spasm and pain along the back. He was also short striding in the right hind limb. For misalignment I used McTimoney Chiropractic adjustments which alleviated the symptoms almost immediately and allowed the dog to compete as planned”.
How did the GB teams get on?
64 teams competed in the worlds. Each team was divided into 12 groups on the first day (Saturday) They had to race other teams in their ‘group’. The results of this determined which division they would compete in on the Sunday. There were 7 divisions in total on Sunday, so those 64 teams split over 7 divisions. Division 1 had all the fastest teams competing against each other and in ascending order of speed down to division 7 with the slowest teams competing against each other. This system makes it very fair and gives all teams a chance to race against teams running similar times.
“Tails We Win flyball team” came 2nd place overall in the whole competition, which is an outstanding result against the world’s best and fastest teams. Tails also hold the UK, UKFL and European record of 14.53 seconds. Tails were just pipped to the post by the host nation Belgium’s very own “Road Runners Flyball Team”. Who also won Crufts Flyball this year so a huge congratulations to them.
Paws On The Run came 15th overall. Their fastest dog was out of the competition on the Saturday giving slower times for the team which sadly took them out of the higher divisions so gaining 15th place was a huge achievement. Paws recently ran an official race time of 14.95 seconds. Only 4 teams have achieved runs within the 14 second bracket in the UK and this puts them within the fastest teams in Europe. Paws also have the world record holding dog “Fume” who ran a breath-taking individual time of 3.40 seconds. With many talented young dogs this is a team to watch out for.
Cambridgeshire Canines Flyball team, after receiving a devastating blow on the first morning with one of their team dogs out with injury still came home 39th. “Zola” who had never run with this line up stepped in and stole the show on the Saturday not missing a beat – (See his little face of determination in the photo), but on Sunday he felt he had done enough and decided to take it easy. So, beaten by just 0.004 seconds, Cambridgeshire missed out on a place in division 2 on the Sunday.
Each of the teams I supported helped Team GB earn a 2nd place podium position for their country ranking.
The dogs ran their hearts out and loved every minute and the teams were elated with the UK coming 2nd overall. All 8 of our teams did us proud – all in all a successful event for Team GB Flyball!”
How do you recommend keeping a sporting dog fit and healthy to compete?
“Flyball is a tough sport but no tougher than agility, working trails or in fact many of the wonderful sports that are available to owners and their dogs today. All sporting dogs need to be physically fit and conditioned to perform the sport they do to the best of their ability and to reduce the risk of injury. Conditioning dogs is a science and should be done correctly to ensure the dog has strong stabilising and core musculature and strong elastic superficial muscles to allow for correct movement.
Seeking professional advice from a qualified Canine Conditioning Academy Coach is something I would highly recommend. There are lots of off the shelf exercise ideas, using wobble cushions and peanut balls which can be dangerous and are contra-indicated to enhance sporting dog’s performance. This equipment has its uses in Physiotherapy rehabilitation but not fitness. Regular treatment should be a part of every dog’s life, and particularly those dogs who we ask to perform in sports.
Human athletes have musculoskeletal therapists caring for them regularly and this should be the same with our sporting dogs”.
How can people get involved in Flyball?
The UK Flyball League (UKFL) welcome enquiries through their website. www.ukflyball.org.uk
A team of regional mentors are located around the UK and are ready to match you with a local team.
Emma Overend – McTimoney Animal Chiropractor
Canine Clinic is in Little Addington Northants
If you would like to know more about how to train as a McTimoney Animal Practitioner, please visit the McTimoney College of Chiropractic at