Treibball is a canine herding sport that’s taking the world by storm!

Also sometimes referred to as urban herding, treibball (pronounced “try-ball”) is among the latest and hottest canine sports, and only several years old on this side of the Atlantic. It combines herding and obedience, but instead of using live animals like sheep or ducks, participants “herd” balls – ranging from soccer-sized to giant Pilates balls – into goals. Treibball is a great way for dogs and their people to have fun together, work on problem-solving skills, practice obedience, and form a stronger bond. It’s especially good for dogs that crave and enjoy activity and challenge. In fact, treibball originally started in Germany as a way to give bored dogs mental and physical stimulation.

In 2010, after seeing a treibball video, three American dog trainers – Hilary Lane, Dianna Stearns and Mary Manka – formed the first treibball training group in Denver, Colorado. At the time, it was one of only three in the US. But word soon spread and treibball became a fast-growing sport. “We have members in Canada, Japan, South Africa and Italy,” says Dianna, who is now president of the American Treibball Association (ATA).

Border collies, shelties, Corgis and Australian shepherds are among the 26 breeds the American Kennel Club recognizes as herding dogs. But is treibball just for them? “Not at all,” says Dianna. “We’ve had pugs, all kinds of terriers, German shepherds and mixes in class. One rescue Cairn beat out the border collies, and a Papillion has won titles too.”

Getting started

To learn the basics, you and your dog can take one of a growing number of treibball classes. “Our classes are indoors, so we have a smaller environment for the dogs,” says Kathy Thorpe, a Zoom Room dog training franchisee. “We teach them the skills so they can transfer to working outdoors. Obedience is a prerequisite to ensure you have a relationship with your dog and that he’ll listen. A good recall is important.” Obedience training is a also must because your dog must work off-leash in order to learn the sport, and because the distance between you is increased as you both improve your skills.

Treibball training is all positive, with lots of rewards such as treats or a chance to play with a favorite toy. “Clicker training is a phenomenal way to teach an ambiguous skill, like touch, at a distance,” adds Kathy.

A basic treibball class involves training your dog to go to a designated spot, to walk and wait, move left or right, stay at a distance, touch the ball with his nose or shoulder (no biting), push it in a straight direction into the goal, and to stand. “Most dogs are taught ‘sit’ or ‘down’ when waiting,” Kathy says. “In treibball, ‘stand’ is a new command for them to learn.”

“Training can be intensive at the beginning,” adds Mary. “It takes a while for the dog to figure it out and for both of you to coordinate. The hardest part for us was convincing Bizkit to push the ball instead of biting or swatting it with his paw.”

Graduating to competition

Although treibball classes start with just one ball per dog, experienced canines work with as many as eight in preparation for competition. The balls can be set up on the field in various configurations, or for more advanced work, scattered behind obstacles like rocks or trees to simulate reluctant sheep.

The handler stands near the goal and positions her dog in the field. The dog’s job is to not only bring the balls to the goal one at a time, but in order as directed by the handler. It might be all the yellow balls first, or all the small ones. Speed is also important – you and your dog have ten minutes to get all eight balls in the goal, ending with your dog in a ‘down’ position in front of the goal. You can talk to your dog during competition, and use hand signals and body language to give him instructions.

Treibball takes patience from both you and your dog. He needs to wait for your direction as to which ball to bring to the goal; and you need to learn how to keep his attention in the midst of distractions, help him figure out a way around obstacles without physically showing him, and how to relax and have a good time.

Many benefits

Treibball is great exercise for a dog’s mind and body, and is perfect for dogs who excel at obedience and love both herding and chasing. It can also help with some behaviorial issues by channeling a dog’s energy into something constructive. “Bizkit used to chew on things he shouldn’t, and get into other mischief,” says Mary. “Treibball turned his frustration into confidence and focus. He has something to concentrate on, instead of finding things to do on his own.”

Mary adds that not all dogs may enjoy treibball, and that it’s important not to force them into it. “There are other things to do, but for a dog who needs a job, like Bizkit, it’s perfect. It’s such joy to watch him think, and to figure out how much fun this is. All I have to do is glance at the ball and he’s ready for more!”

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Sandra Murphy lives in St Louis, Missouri. When she's not writing, she works as a pet sitter.