617 Beagle Squadron

617 Squadron are commonly known as the “Dambusters“, and that’s the inspiration behind the name we chose for our two-Beagle team in their first ever flyball competition at Caird Park (Dundee) on Saturday. I think it’s fitting – first there’s Biggles’ obvious RAF/flying connections, and then there’s the fact that when they’re bounding over the jumps on the way to the ball they look kind of like tricolor bouncing bombs (albeit with big ears).

We got there early and quickly met up with the others from the Lomond Flyball club. From what we’ve heard pretty much all dog competitions (probably all competitions period) involve lots of waiting about for your turn. And so it was with flyball, but it wasn’t too bad. Firstly, the competitors’ “camp” was a couple of minutes walk from the arena; it was calm, quiet and shaded by trees. The perfect place to chill out on a blanket and share a Coke or two.

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There was room enough at the camp to put our two on long lines and kill some time with training and ball games. Then when they were ready for a quiet nap in their crates, we headed over to the arena to watch some of the action. The first thing that struck me about competition flyball was how high-tech it all is. The starting line is guarded by motion sensors that take the guesswork out of deciding whether a dog crossed the line too early, or which team finished first.

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The high-tech start line

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But methods for catching your dog after a run are refreshingly low tech.

The second thing that struck me about it is that it can be very noisy. Some of the teams wailed like banshees as their dogs were queued up for their runs. Supposedly it’s done to psyche the dogs up and make them run faster. I don’t know if it works, but to me it just sounded like they all needed to switch to decaff and avoid orange juice for a while.

Before long Lomond Flyball Club’s main team got to do their thing. They’d already had some runs before we arrived and had won them all. Clearly they were still in fine form, because they won this round too!

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And the video of the Lomond Raiders in action:

Still with a couple of hours to go before our turn, we killed a bit more time watching a football match on a pitch that sat directly between the camp and flyball arena. Now I’m no football fan so I can’t comment on the standard of play, but I’ve seen enough TV and films over the years to recognize bad acting; every time the slightest contact occurred between players one of them ended up rolling on the ground in agony as though he’d been disemboweled with a blunt penknife. I’ve seen more convincing depictions of pain from William Shatner in Star Trek the Original Series (and yes I am including even the more embarrassing episodes in that assessment).

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Another medical emergency on its way

Finally we heard over the PA system that the main competition was nearing its end, meaning that the newbies or “starters” would be getting their turn soon. We roused Beanie & Biggles from their peaceful slumber and put them on their long lines for a warm up.

When we’d first arrived it had been a clear, sunny day. Now it was cloudy and uncomfortably close – conditions that often seem to make scents and other distractions more appealing to our two. We started having concerns about the flyball arena – it wasn’t completely fenced in, and there was a busy road running along the side of the park. What if our pups got wind of something they wanted to chase and darted out towards the road? Our fears soon faded away though; they were fantastically well behaved on their training lines and gave us their full attention. I started to get the feeling that this could go well!

We headed over to the arena and officially entered our dogs in the Starters  competition. As we watched the first few runs and waited for Beanie & Biggles to be called up we both confessed to feeling a little nervous. It was silly really Рwe were surrounded by familiar faces from the club and club instructor Jennifer was handling the flyball box at the end of the run. The only way it differed from a normal training night (apart from there being lots of spectators) was that our two would be running in quick succession one after the other.

The Starters competition worked like this: each team got a practice run up the course, then three official runs against a rival team in the other lane. The team with the most wins would go through to the next round. As it turned out our first round was against another Starters pair from our club, and they were good – much faster and more experienced than us. That didn’t matter a jot to us though; we just wanted to get one clean run from our two doglets to prove that Beagles really can do flyball.

In view of this, our strategy was really simple:

  • Biggles would go first in each run, otherwise he could get distracted by his sister running past him on her way back with the ball. Beanie on the other hand was much less likely to get distracted.
  • I’d hold Biggles just a couple of yards from the start line and not release him until I saw the green light on the board. That may seem like a no-brainer, but in fact experienced teams usually start further back from the line and release their dogs before the green light. That way the dog is at full speed and about to cross the line just as the light turns green – thus eliminating the initial start up delay.
  • Susan would stand with Beanie close behind us and wait until Biggles was out of the course and on his way to me before letting Beanie run. Again, this is the opposite of what experienced teams do; they release the next dog before the first dog has returned across the line. If they judge it right, the first has just made it out of the course as the second dog enters, already running at top speed.

Here is the result: our first ever round in a flyball competition:

Despite a little hiccup in the practice run (by Beanie!) our brilliant little Beagles completed every official run cleanly. We didn’t win our round of course, but who cares! We saw all kinds of mayhem with some of the other Starters teams but our two did it right every time, and that made every minute of waiting worthwhile. As we headed out of the arena we could hear comments about Beanie & Biggles’ great performance – I don’t think anyone had seen an all-Beagle flyball team before.

We hung around for the rosette and certificate presentations. The main Lomond team did very well, coming second in their division. Here are some more piccies of the team in full flight:

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After the long drive home Susan let our flyball pros into the garden while she prepared their (rather late!) tea. I couldn’t help commenting on how proud I was of little Biggles in particular. He’s been going through a bit of a teenage rebellion lately but we’ve persevered with his training and it’s amazing how much it’s turned him around.

When Susan called him in for his nosh, he took his new found obedience to the next level. You see, just as his bowl was being filled he was busy squatting for a number two, but when Susan called him he came without hesitation. Any less obedient dog would have finished what he was doing before heeding his owner’s call, but not our little boy! He trotted straight into the kitchen with an extra brown tail still dangling from his bottom.

Is that a well behaved Beagle or what?