Treibball: Will Your Dog Dig It?

hough, he does everything very slowly. That’s hardly a recipe for sporting success, but Chance gets to experience the thrill of competition and all of its rewards by playing Treibball, a new dog sport.

“We get retired agility dogs, dogs in wheelie carts, older dogs and owners in wheelchairs,” says Dianna Stearns, Chance’s owner and the founder of the American Treibball Association in Northglenn, Colo. “But we also get very active dogs that compete in other sports, younger dogs and younger owners. Treibball can be an all-inclusive sport.”

Treibball’s Origins
Treibball originated in Germany about nine years ago. Dutch dog trainer Jan Nijboer watched his Australian Cattle Dogs push their rubber water dishes around the field after finishing herding lessons and wondered if the dogs would also push large exercise balls around. He introduced the game to his herding students, and Treibball was an instant hit, spreading quickly throughout Germany, Amsterdam and Sweden, where the first official competition was held in 2007.

Stearns, a positive-reinforcement trainer and dog behavioral consultant, saw some videos demonstrating Treibball. “I could see its potential of being used as a positive teaching tool, in line with what I was already doing,” she says. She has since created U.S. Treibball standards, which are now shared with other teachers and players across the country.

Playing Treibball
Treibball consists of your dog working off-leash and obeying your cues, explains Stearns. Your dog uses his nose or shoulders to drive eight balls — arranged in a triangle, billiards-style — into a net goal within 10 minutes. “These are just rubber exercise balls, like the kind people use for Pilates,” says Stearns. “The dog’s nose should hit the ball midpoint, so we use smaller balls for smaller dogs.”

At the sound of a whistle, the dog is directed to what’s known as the “point ball,” which should be driven into the net first. Then the handler chooses which balls to bring in for the dog, and in what order. The game stops when all eight balls are in the net/goal and, as Stearns says, “the dog lies down in front of the goal, just like penning sheep!”

Dogs and trainers can earn or lose points throughout each round. “Treibball is all about positive reinforcement,” says Stearns, “so if an owner yells at his or her dog, the duo is disqualified.” If a dog sinks his teeth into a ball, he will also lose. “The balls come to symbolize sheep, so that would be like killing the sheep!” she says. “It’s a gentle sport, but it moves fast.”

Here’s a dog learning to play Treibball. Get more training videos on the American Treibball Association’s YouTube page:

What You Need to Participate in Treibball
Stearns says you’ll need the following to participate in Treibball:

  • A dog that loves to play chase games, is good off-leash and knows some basic cues
  • A fitness/gymnastic-type ball
  • A 20-foot-long line for distance work
  • A soccer goal or some other large enclosure as a goal to hold the balls
  • A 6-foot wooden dowel or staff to help guide the balls into a goal

The Benefits of Treibball
Treibball offers seemingly countless benefits for dogs and their owners. Here are just five:

  • Dogs of all ages and sizes can play. Stearns says that she’s worked with Cairn Terriers, Shelties, Portuguese Water DogsGerman Shepherds, Papillons, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Bull Terriers, Boxers, Border ColliesAustralian ShepherdsPoodles, Jack Russell Terriers and more. “The Cairn Terrier beat out the Border Collies and the German Shepherds,” she says.
  • Both dogs and owners with disabilities can play. It’s a great sport for people of all ages and abilities — as long as they’re interested and motivated. “I’m an old baby boomer with a bad wrist and knee, so Treibball is perfect for me since it’s low-impact,” says Stearns.
  • It promotes owner-dog bonding and builds confidence for shy dogs. Stearns says that “it can also help reactive dogs with impulse control.”
  • Treibball teaches better off-leash skills. Owners outside of the sport learn how to control their dogs from 30-35 feet away.
  • The sport complements other activities. It’s a great pair to flyball and agility, providing your dog with a well-rounded set of skills.

Treibball takes a bit of time for dogs to learn. But like many worthwhile activities, once the basic teaching sinks in, there’s happily no turning back. “At about five to six weeks, most dogs get it,” says Stearns. “You can see the light go off for them, and when it’s on, the challenge is to contain their enthusiasm. Treibball can be incredibly fun and addictive.”

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