By COLIN A. YOUNG Day Staff Writer
Mystic - My Dog's Place was a blur of activity for about two hours on Sunday night: running, panting, picking up tennis balls and barking. And that was just the humans in the building.
The Seaside Sprinters, a group of about 15 dogs and their owners, gathers here on Sunday evenings to practice flyball, a sort of advanced game of fetch.
Flyball pits two teams of four dogs each against each other, racing side-by-side over a 51-foot long course. One at a time, each dog must jump over four hurdles placed 10 feet apart and retrieve a tennis ball from a spring-loaded box. Then, after completing the four-legged equivalent of a swimmer's turn, the dog must return to the starting line (over the hurdles again) with the tennis ball in its mouth.
The team to run the course with the fastest combined time and without mistakes wins the heat.
"Dogs of any age can do this, any breed can do this," said team captain Beatrice DeGruttola, who also teaches various training courses at My Dog's Place. "The dogs get to bark and the people get to yell; we're all here to have a good time."
And earlier this month, the team performed a demonstration during the halftime of the Masters Agility Championship at the Westminster Kennel Club. The Sprinters were featured on FOX Sports 1 during the network's coverage of the dog show.
"We're kind of considered a barbarian sport in the dog world," DeGruttola said. "It was a lot of fun to be there and kind of liven things up a bit."
The Seaside Sprinters Flyball Club was founded in 2006 and has expanded to include four teams: the Salty Dogs, Wave Runners, Coastal Clippers and Beach Combers. The club sends teams to about six flyball tournaments in the northeast region each year.
The teams feature dogs of all shapes and sizes - from the long and tall standard poodle named Lucy to the short and stout Chihuahua mix named Pirate. Not only is flyball good exercise for the dogs, the owners said, but the game provides high-energy dogs with more stimulation than they might get in the backyard.
"A big part of flyball is teaching them to ignore the dogs on the other tracks," Steve Kanyock, of Mystic, said. "It's teaching control in an out-of-control way, which is good for the dogs."
Kanyock said flyball is a great activity for Addie, Kanyock's rambunctious and smart 4-year-old Australian kelpie, because it gives her something to focus on and gets out a lot of her energy.
"In here, she doesn't know anything but that box," Kanyock said.
Marge Lineweber, owner of My Dog's Place, said she suggests that dog owners who are interested in getting involved with flyball stop by to see it in person first.
"We also recommend taking obedience and agility classes first to get the dog used to being off-leash," Lineweber said. "And the dog will learn other skills so they can stay focused when you add a ball into the equation."
And though the Seaside Sprinters have won several competitions, the group's main focus is to have a doggone good time.
"That's why I've been hooked to this sport for the last 15 years," DeGruttola said. "We're all in it to have a good time."