When Malamutes Play Flyball...

Artistically blurred picture of a malamute jumping
A phone call the other day got me thinking...The caller wanted a Malamute to teach it flyball because she enjoyed dog activities. I knew this person had not researched the breed well, and she apparently had no clue about Malamute temperament or motivation or she'd have never considered a Malamute as flyball condender! Not that they can't do it, but the difficulty of training a laid-back independent minded Malamute to do a reflexive hyperactive activity like flyball is...well...though not impossible...VERY difficult. That got me thinking - WHY don't you see Malamutes do flyball? Speed seemed like the obvious answer, but the more I thought about it I think it's a motivation issue. You see them occasionally do obedience, you see them do agility, they are great at sledding but rarely do you see Malamutes do flyball. I think it's because they have their OWN agenda and it doesn't include running, jumping and catching for no apparent reason. Imagine this:

Objective of Flyball: the dog quickly runs down a narrow isle over several jumps, pounces on a spring loaded box and a tennis ball is ejected that the dog is supposed to catch. He runs back (jumping the jumps again) and the next dog goes in relay fashion. This is a timed event and the fastest team wins.

Superman doing flyball:

Waiting for flyball to start, he pounds his crate so hard it's in a tangled mass of pieces on the floor, but he still has energy to work the crowd.  He finds a ball and dribbles it (tossing it up and letting it bounce once before he catches it) around the room showing off and being the ultimate ham.  The barriers?  They are just neat obsticles to make it more fun to toss and catch the tennis ball over.

Simone doing flyball:

Crashing wildly though every barrier, she would work the crowd then run for the nearest exit.  If someone blocked her way she would be like a giant ping pong ball racing around the building with people falling over themselves trying to catch her.  Hours later (and the damage in the millions...) she would lie down as if to say "is that all there is to it?". 

Theodore doing  flyball:

He would try...but he'd trip over his own feet trying to go over the barriers.  They would go down like a stack of dominoes...but he'd return with the ball...smiling and proud of himself.

Pod doing flyball:

After she realized what was happening and got over all the strange dogs and people in the room, she would leap over the barriers like a gazelle - run all the way down, grab the ball, run all the way back - almost -stopping only to drop it mid jump. She'd then return, without the ball. Lets do it again!

Chevy doing flyball:

Flyball? What's flyball? I think I'll go over here and see what this is...and this...and this...and maybe I'll wander over here....oh gee, time for a nap, I'm tired.   Seems like someone mentioned flyball...wonder what that is?  Maybe I'll look over here...and here...ouch, bumped my head....over here....

Jazzy doing flyball:

Oh mommy, I can't do that!  She stands beside me looking clueless - tail between her legs and inspecting everyone's shoes.  Chase a BALL?  WHY?  I don't really see the point in this - can't we just go home.  I would really rather snarl at that dog over there... he's looking at me.

Mula doing flyball:

She's probably the only one that would "get it".  AFTER she was done playing the crowd and saying hi of course.  Maybe we'll try it some day - I'm just not ready to be embarrassed yet!

Hoover doing flyball:

He gallops down the isle, knocks over the equipment, carefully steps on the box, finds the ball after it rolls under a barrier, gallops back with a happy look on his face (no tennis ball in sight but it's in his mouth), knocks over 3 people and hands you a slobbery ball.

Penny doing flyball:

After bribing her to move (you throw a treat). She'd slowly walk to the first jump, stop, turn around and just LOOK at you - "What is the point of this? This is stupid" - staring and never moving again...it would take three people to drag her off the runway complaining.

Shadow doing flyball :

He sprints for the box going around the jumps, looks under the box, steps on the box by accident as he tries to figure out how to get the food that MUST be inside, catches the ball as it bounces off his head. Inspects the ball to see if it's eatable. Finally he runs back at a gallop with the ball. He stops just out of reach - "chase me!" and takes off. You never find the ball, he's eaten it.

Star doing flyball:

She dallies down the isle, casually jumping one or two jumps, stopping to say hi to every person and growling at every dog on the way, chases and almost catches a little dog. Finally makes it to the box and stands there. If she accidentally triggers the ball, she catches it expertly then lets it drop at her feet and wanders away looking for someone eating a snack to mooch from.

Homer doing flyball:

He would saunter down, knocking over and going around the jumps, steps on the box with one big paw.The ball drops at his feet. He picks up the ball, but instead of bringing it back, takes it to his crate to be part of his collection of balls and toys.

Holly doing flyball:

She acts like she doesn't know how to jump (she does) then finally flies over some jumps if you pretend not to look. She pounces on the box. "Hey, cool - a ball flies up when I hit the board!" So she keeps hitting the board, collecting a dozen balls. She can't decide which one to pick up so picks up each in turn only to drop one to pick up another. She spends 40 minutes doing this before she returns without any ball.

Gracie doing flyball:

She'd enthuastically leap over the first jump but would get distracted by everything. She detours over to visit the toddler on the sidelines, a new friend, the dog next door. After you've yelled her name a dozen times she finally looks at you and comes bouncing (4 feet off the floor) back. You try again, she leaps the jumps easily but you discover it's to give someone she knows a hug, then trips over her own feet as she picks up the ball. She decides this is silly and looks for more people to say hi to while you sigh in exasperation.

Nova doing flyball:

She wouldn't move. She'd lean against you really hard. "Lets go HOME, these other dogs are out to get me, I say let'em have the ball, you can't eat it anyway." Then, when everyone left the arena and we were the only ones left, she'd bring a ball so we could play catch.

Riggs doing flyball:

Riggs would try really hard to do flyball - he might even succeed if he weren't so big and sweet.  But he's such a loveable lugg, he would probably stop midway to get a Malamute from a spectator, mooch a child's ice cream cone while asking for a hug, then go around the jump (too much effort to jump it) before losing interest.

 Max doing flyball:

Max would trot from one hurdle to the next, and would inspect each one thoroughly.  If he saw a friendly dog, he'd be ready for a friendly game of chase with the tennis ball...all the time going UNDER the hurdles - oops, I don't fit! 

So, unless you are an above average trainer, it can be difficult to motivate a Malamute to do a pointless sport like Flyball (pointless in the Malamute's view). It makes much more sense to let them do what they were bred to do. I suppose the ones that don't mind jumping could eventually be trained to do it, but I do wonder why anyone would bother since speed and accuracy is so important, as well as being a team player. I suspect a Malamute on a flyball team would not be welcome very long since they have a long history of embarrassing owners in the obedience ring with their off-the-wall silly antics and lack of reverence for the sport - imagine the fun they could have at flyball! Many good trainers have trained Malamutes to do obedience, agility and even herding, tracking and other sports - and I'm sure some have done Flyball - but it's an unusual Malamute and excellent trainer that does. For the rest of us, there is always competitive TV watching and Olympic food mooching.