If you’re looking for something fun to do with your dog at home when the weather is nice, these Treibball-inspired games are a great way to give them some physical and mental exercise. Even if your pup doesn’t have any natural herding abilities, these games will still get them up and moving!
What is Treibball?
Sometimes called urban herding, Treibball is a herding-inspired sport where dogs push large inflated balls into a goal. In the actual competition, dogs are herding eight large balls as directed by the handler in a certain order. Not surprisingly, herding breeds do very well with this sport because it taps into their natural instinct, but dogs of all breeds can succeed at it. If you’re interested in learning more about getting involved with competing in Treibball, it’s a good idea to work with an American Treibball Association trainer in your local area.
Depending on the size of the ball, you can play it inside, in a park (be sure to follow leash laws), or in your yard—even small yards can work well. Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:
Treats: Small pieces of treats that your dog loves.
Balls: Large playground balls, or beachballs available from the outdoor or toy section of most stores, work well for small dogs. If you have a larger dog, yoga balls work really well and you can purchase them relatively inexpensively in a variety of fun colors on Amazon. You only need one ball to begin with, but if you want to expand upon the game, you can add more balls in.
Goal posts: You’ll need something for your dog to push the ball between. You can use anything you have around the house, including boxes, buckets, or cones or uprights from jumps if you have those from other sports that you play with your dog. A kid’s toy soccer net works well too.
To begin, you want to make sure that your dog has an understanding of nose-targeting or touching something with their nose on cue. If your dog already knows how to nose-target, do a short practice session to refresh their memory on the skill. If your dog doesn’t yet know how to nose-target, you’ll want to start by teaching this skill.
Step 1: With treats ready, hold your hand out flat in front of your dog.
Step 2: When your dog sniffs at your hand, praise and treat.
Step 3: Repeat this exercise until they’re consistently sniffing at your outstretched hand.
Step 4: When your dog is consistently touching your hand, you can introduce a verbal cue of your choice like “touch,” “boop,” or “target.”
Push the Ball
Once your dog is consistently responding to the verbal cue, they’re ready to transition the nose touch onto objects like a ball.
Step 1: Ask your dog to touch your hand again to remind them of this trick, then praise and treat.
Step 2: Hold the ball in your arms and use your verbal cue for a nose target. When your dog touches the ball with their nose, praise and treat.
Step 3: Each time you work on this skill, move the ball (still held in your arms) lower until it is resting on the ground. Ask your dog for a nose target on the ball and praise and treat when they touch the ball.
Step 4: You can also begin to introduce a new verbal cue at this time (if you want to use something different from your target word) like “push,” “ball,” “soccer,” etc. This is the cue that you’ll use whenever you’re asking your dog to push the ball.
Step 5: When your dog is consistently nose-targeting the ball as you hold it on the ground, put the ball in front of them and ask them to nose-target the ball but let go. This time when your dog touches the ball, it will move. Praise and treat your dog after each push.
Troubleshooting Tips: If you find that your dog is pushing too high up on the ball to get it to successfully roll, another option for teaching this skill is to use a small, flat treat and place it just under the ball. Your dog will naturally push low on the ball to get to the treat. Repeat this method several times and then introduce the verbal cue of your choice, right as your dog’s nose touches the ball and gets the treat, then ask them to push the ball without putting a treat under it. When your dog noses at the ball, praise and treat.
Pushing the Ball Into the Goal
Now that your dog is comfortable with the basic idea of nose-targeting the ball, it’s time to start building the strength of their push so they can start pushing the ball toward and into a goal.
Step 1: Introduce your dog to what you are using for your goal (buckets, boxes, or uprights from jumps, etc.). Show your dog the goal to make sure they aren’t nervous about it and praise/treat your dog for any engagement with the goal.
Step 2: Next, place the ball right in front of your goal and ask your dog to push the ball. When your dog pushes the ball and it goes through the goal, give lots of praise and treats.
Step 3: With each repetition, slowly move the ball slightly farther away from the goal so that your dog has to push the ball a couple of times to get it through the goal. Increasing the distance slowly will help keep your dog focused, successful, and motivated. For an extra challenge, you can also ask your dog to push the ball to the goal from a distance and from different positions, such as you standing behind your dog or inside the goal.
To get your dog into position for starting to pushing the ball toward your goal, you can lure them with a treat or you can teach them to go to a ground target. For this target, you can use anything relatively flat like a towel, a plastic lid from a large yogurt container, or foam baseball bases, which you can usually find in dollar stores or the outdoor toy section of most stores.
Step 1: Put a couple of treats onto the target.
Step 2: When your dog goes to investigate the treat, their front feet will touch the target. When your dog’s feet reach the target, praise and reward.
Step 3: Repeat this step and introduce the verbal cue of your choice, like “feet” or “target.”
Step 4: When your dog is confidently running to the target to get their treat, put a treat onto the target and gently hold your dog back a few inches away and use your verbal cue for the target. Release your dog and praise them when their feet get to the target and they eat the treats.
Step 5: When your dog is comfortable with these steps, start asking them to go to the target without placing a treat first. Set your dog up just a few inches away to start and when they go to the target, offer lots of praise and treats.
Step 6: Repeat until you can send your dog to the target from a distance and then begin to incorporate asking them to go to the target and then to push the ball.
This Treibball-inspired game is low impact, so dogs of all sizes and ages can play. A fun idea for puppy kindergarten graduations, dog birthday parties, breed club summer picnics, or other community events is to have a competition to see how quickly each dog in attendance can push the ball through the goal. You could even challenge your friends online and share videos of your dogs pushing the ball into goals!