High-octane canines are competing this week at the North American Flyball Championships in Indianapolis, a city that knows a thing or two about speed.
The tournament is one of the world’s largest gatherings of Flyball enthusiasts and their eager pets, who seem to love the sport as much as their owners do — if not more.
Flyball is a steeplechase of sorts: two teams of four dogs each go muzzle to muzzle as the racing dogs take turns speeding past hurdles to retrieve a tennis ball and bring it back to their owners. Penalties are applied when a dog drops a ball or is released too soon.
The dogs seem to feed off each other’s energy, creating canine chaos.
"We don’t discourage barking — that’s their way of saying, 'I’m having a blast,'" said Curtis Smith, an Alaska resident who has been coming to the tournament for seven years. "The camaraderie of the sport just can’t be beat," he said.
The sport is far from obscure. There are over 400 clubs and 6,500 competing dogs in Canada and the United States, and this particular event has attracted teams from Norway and Japan.
Participants compete for the thrill; there is no cash prize. "You don’t make a penny," Floridian Scott Earl said. "It’s all about little ribbons."
But that doesn’t stop some from taking training seriously.
"They are athletes. We do a lot of work at the house, we work on conditioning. They eat better than we do a lot of the time," Benjamin Hill of North Carolina said.
Although some owners have their dogs on strict diets and training schedules, it doesn’t necessarily take a champion to compete. "The everyday home pet can do it," Hill said.