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Midvale Journal

Thunder Paws provides haven for flyball enthusiasts

Nov 29, 2016 03:53PM ● By Travis Barton

Bandit, a Jack Russell terrier, leaps off the springboard during practice. Thunder Paws competes in competitions in Las Vegas and Hurricane. (Nikelle Perkins/Thunder Paws)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Flyball is a dog sport and Thunder Paws, a local club, is aiming to take flyball by a storm. 

The sport sees teams of four dogs compete in a relay race. Dogs jump over four hurdles to a spring-loaded pad where the dog releases a tennis ball for them to catch and return over the hurdles to their handlers. 

“I just love working with the dogs. You become close to the dogs, you feel their passion,” said Jenny Woods, president of Thunder Paws. 

Thunder Paws holds practices every Sunday at various parks. The location generally rotates between Midvale City Park, Bluffdale Park in Riverton, Browns Meadow Park in West Jordan and at one of the member’s houses in Herriman. During the winter the club utilizes space in the Intermountain Therapy Animals building in Holladay for practice. The team also goes to competitions in places like Hurricane and Las Vegas. 

Dianne Roberg is the Thunder Paws vice president and has been involved with flyball since 1998. She said they discovered it at a National Guard event before the club’s founder, Lori Thomson, eventually started Thunder Paws. 

“We just started it as something fun for us and our dogs,” said Geri Rich, whose participation also began in 1998. 

The club was officially put together as a nonprofit about five years ago with Woods becoming the president. Woods initially got involved in the sport due to a rambunctious blue heeler named Ralph. 

“(Ralph) was a fruitcake, a nut job and drove us crazy. He wouldn’t settle in the house and I thought, ‘this dog needs a job,’” Woods said. Members said the sport is great for canines with a high drive and boundless energy.

“It gives the dogs something to do,” Rich, who’s had four dogs participate, said. “You get these high-bred dogs where they have to have something to do or they get destructive. To them it’s like a job and they thrive doing it.”

Woods said the sport can go against typical obedience training, but it is useful for herding breeds. 

“(Normally with obedience) you’re all about keeping them quiet and mellow and calm. Here we’re building up their energy, then they’re tired at the end of the day,” Woods said. 

Nicky Perkins is new to flyball with her Australian shepherd, Callie. She said Callie fell in love with the sport the first time she did it. 

“Running and balls is perfect for her; it’s everything her world revolves around,” Perkins said. 

A bond is forged through the sport between owner and dog. Woods said flyball helped her develop a stronger relationship with Ralph. 

“It’s with dogs that will drive you crazy, but it unites you so you learn to really love your dog. That’s how it was with Ralph, but by getting into this I learned to love him,” Woods said. 

It’s not only herding breeds or dogs with high energy that participate in the sport. One dog, Apache, is deaf and does the sport by seeing hand signals from his handler. Poodles, dachshunds and Shar-Peis have participated with the Thunder Paws. Perkins said it doesn’t matter if it’s a purebred, rescue, tiny or big dog. Any kind can do it, even breeds typically known as lap dogs.  

“If I can teach my little Chihuahua to do it, any dog can. It just depends on your dedication,” Woods said. Woods has four of her five dogs playing flyball. 

Woods said the experience can be a really good way to bring rescue dogs out of their shells. It helps them build confidence and get used to random people. Dogs are kept in kennels when not participating to avoid disruptions. 

“It’s a good way of getting dogs to socialize with each other without forcing them all to be together,” Woods said. She added that it doesn’t require dogs to be super obedient, but it does help if they have a good recall or if the dog comes when called. 

Originally invented in the early 1970s in Southern California, flyball became official when the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) was established in 1984 with its first official rule book written in 1985. Thirty-one years later, there are more than 400 active clubs and 6,500 competing dogs. 

Thunder Paws has about 15 members with about 30 dogs. It’s that team spirit that Woods appreciates. 

“I like that it’s a team event rather than just you and your dog. I like the team camaraderie with everyone,” Woods said. Sunday afternoon practices can serve as a dog community with the animals and their owners. 

“It’s fun to do with my friends and make new friends and seeing all the dogs,” Perkins said. 

Woods said people are always welcome to come watch and they’ll even work with anybody’s dog for three free sessions. In order to maintain equipment, which includes hurdles, gates and springboards, the club has a yearly fee of $75. 

“Come out and watch, see what your dog loves to do. If they love balls or if they love to run or tug, you can come see if you like it,” Perkins said. 

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