I know I’ll probably get some flack from people about this but it is what it is. I love canine sports, I love the bond it creates, I love the communication it builds, and I love the positive outlet for natural drives. I think sports are so great for the canine human relationship but I think that there can be a cost with some sports.
I don’t mean to pick on flyball, because it’s a sport I’d really like to try with Rio, but the level of drive/stress/anxiety that some competitors push the dogs into is a little concerning. I don’t think it’s all of flyball or anything like that but it is incredibly common to have dogs screaming, lunging, wailing while waiting their turn to run. All of this “drive building” is not only encouraged but is seemingly required for high level of performance.
Getting dogs jazzed up within reason is one thing. I mean, before I go out to play frisbee with the dogs I will play some tug, get rough with Shayne, and tease Rio a little by fake tossing. The dogs get bouncy start focusing in beautifully and become ready to roll. What I don’t see is non-stop barking (well, except from Rio but he does that anyway), no screaming of excitement, no lunging and other seemingly out of control over the top behavior. I don’t think frisbee lends itself to that type of drive building since I need the dogs to be able to work with me and respond to cues easily because if my dog blows off a back vault to just barrel through me to get the disc, we both could be really badly hurt.
My concern with the level of intensity they push their dogs to is that we know how stress effects the body. Stress is stress…. good stress or bad stress, they both have the exact same chemical responses in the body. What we also know about stress is that chronic stress absolutely has some physiological effects on the body. Chronically stressed animals may succumb to illness more easily (lowered immune response), have gastrointestinal problems, have coat problems, unexplained weight loss, and of course behavior problems. I really do get concerned seeing some of the extreme stress (generally good stress, the excitement of the run) these dogs are pushed to on a regular basis. I really do have concerns about the physical (and behavioral) well-being of dogs who experience this extreme level of stress on such a regular basis. I really don’t like writing that but the more I read about the effects of stress on the body the more I kept coming back to flyball as something that made me concerned/uncomfortable.
I still really want to try flyball with Rio because I think he would LOVE it, but I am really not comfortable pushing him to that level of stress. Now, I absolutely know there are teams out there that do not advocate that same level of intensity/drive/stress/anxiety etc. but I suspect they may be a little harder to find.
I do not think it’s possible or ideal to live a stress free life–simply anticipating something good in the future can cause stress but that’s good stress. What we want to try to avoid is the chronic and elevated stress levels that can be found in some canine sporting events. I don’t have any flyball specific firm data to reference but what I’ve learned about canine stress over the last year has really made me think about the risk/benefits of starting flyball with Rio.
Again, I’m NOT trying to say that dog sports (or flyball) are bad… I think training for canine sports is an amazing experience for dog and handler. I’m just hoping people think about this for a moment and maybe consider some of the side effects of chronic stress.