How to Train Your Dog to Push a Ball

Medium
1-2 Weeks
Fun

Introduction

Got a herding dog and nothing to herd? How about a dog with so much energy you just don't know what to do? Tired of throwing a ball to play fetch for your ball-obsessed dog and looking for something else to break up the monotony?  

Training your dog to push a ball may be just the ticket. You can train your dog to push a ball to play a game like soccer, or check out the new doggy sport, Treibball, where your dog pushes a large yoga/sport ball with his nose under direction from his handler. These activities not only give your dog great exercise, they promote the relationship between you, and your dog by reinforcing off leash commands and allowing you to spend quality time with your dog in a fun, positive way that your dog will enjoy. You might even get a little exercise too, or meet some new people if you choose to get involved in organized dog sports!

Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog to push a ball with his nose or paw, so that your dog can play doggy soccer or Treibball, is fun for your dog, and for you, and is a great relationship enhancing activity. If you are interested in playing Treibball with your dog, you can search for organizations with other dog owners in your area to connect with and play competitively. Treibball is played with 8 balls that are placed in a triangle, with a soccer goal on one end of the playing field. The object of the game is for the handler to direct their dog to push all 8 balls through the soccer goal,  and then return to and lie down in front of the handler in under 15 minutes. Dogs may not bite the ball, and handlers may not punish dogs. Less formal games of soccer can be played by teaching your dog to push a soccer ball around a field, and even through makeshift goals made with pylons or other obstacles.

Getting Started

Treibball is played on a field 100-164 feet long and 50-82 feet wide. The ball must stay in bounds. Soccer can be played anywhere: in your backyard, on a soccer field, or in a park. Large yoga or sports balls can be used, or smaller balls such as soccer balls, volleyballs, or any recreational ball large enough for your dog to push with his nose. You may use treats to encourage and shape ball pushing behavior. Some dogs are so excited by just pushing the ball that the behavior is self-reinforcing. Remember this is supposed to be a fun game, there is no need to yell at or punish your dog. Training your dog good off-leash recall and other commands before introducing pushing a ball will make training go much faster, and be more fun for you and your dog, as your dog learns to use his off-leash commands to accomplish a fun task.

The Lure and Shape Method

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Step
1
Put ball on dish with treat
Start on a carpet or mat so the ball does not roll far when your dog first pushes it. Put the ball in your dog's dish with a treat underneath.
Step
2
Put ball on floor with treat
Let your dog figure out how to push the ball with her nose or paws off her bowl to get the treat. Now place the ball on the carpet with a treat underneath, let your dog roll the ball off the treat to get it.
Step
3
Lure with treat in hand
Once your dog is used to this, place the ball on the carpet. When your dog pushes the ball to see if there is a treat there, give her a treat from your hand.
Step
4
Lure and direct ball pushing
Repeat standing in front of your dog in the direction you want your dog to move the ball, as she moves the ball towards you, treat. Direct her to a location between two goal posts. Reward when she gets the ball there.
Step
5
Provide verbal commands
Add verbal commands such as 'forward', 'right', 'left', 'away to me', or 'come by', to teach your dog verbal directions associated with movement of the ball.
Step
6
Practice
Start providing verbal commands while standing away from your dog. When he responds correctly, reward,. If he is confused, return to directing and luring him until he understands verbal commands.
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The Target the Ball Method

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Step
1
Present ball
Hold the ball in front of you and have a clicker and treats available.
Step
2
Reinforce touching the ball
When your dog investigates the ball, click and treat. When your dog touches the ball with her nose, click and treat.
Step
3
Shape touching the ball
Put the ball down on the floor and hold it in place with your hand or foot. When the dog touches the ball with her nose, click and treat. Reinforce the dog touching the bottom of the ball, click and treat. This is how your dog will later move and control the ball's direction.
Step
4
Place near goal
Place the ball directly in front of the goal and hold it in place. When your dog touches the lower part of ball, click and treat. Release the ball, and when the dog pushes the ball with her nose through the goal click and treat.
Step
5
Reinforce goal
Start delaying the click and treat to occur after the ball goes through the goal, not when your dog's nose touches the ball.
Step
6
Increase distance
Start moving the ball farther from the goal, allowing your dog to manipulate it to the goal and through with multiple pushes before being reinforced.
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The Verbal Commands Method

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Step
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Tech commands on leash
Teach your dog verbal commands on a leash: 'come by', which is a clockwise circle around you, 'away to me', which is a counterclockwise turn, and 'down-stay', all on a leash in close proximity to you, the handler.
Step
2
Teach commands off leash
Take your dog the commands off leash, and start giving these commands from a distance.
Step
3
Reinforce touching the ball
Teach your dog to target a ball. Hold the ball and reinforce when the dog touches the ball with his nose, paws, or chest.
Step
4
Reinforce pushing the ball
Put the ball down on the ground, reinforce pushing the ball with nose, paws or chest.
Step
5
Combine ball and commands
Add verbal commands to provide direction as the dog manipulates the ball. Add a goal if desired, and provide commands to get your dog to manipulate the ball through the goal.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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