What is Treibball for Dogs?

Developed as an answer to those people with herding dogs, but no sheep or cattle, treibball has been sweeping the dog sports world since 2008. This fun game provides the high-intensity mental and physical stimulation that all dogs need to stay happy and healthy. You can train your dogs to play treibball on your own, however, which is what my Border Collie’s Nyxie, Bandit, and I have been up to these past few months (my Red Heeler Ruby does not approve!).

So, what is treibball for dogs? It is a competitive dog sport that requires teamwork between dogs and their handlers. Together, they must drive large balls into the goal in a set amount of time. Handlers can only use whistles, hand signals, and verbal commands to provide direction to their dogs and play their part in the game. Variations of the main game exist as well, spicing up competitions held all around the world

Both easier to learn and less expensive than herding livestock, treibball is well worth the effort in getting started. As it is a relatively new sport, training and event opportunities are relatively limited. To begin playing this game, use this guide to learn all you need to know about this exciting herding dog ball game so you train and play with your dog.

History of Treibball: A Herding Dog Ball Game

How did Jan invest this herding game?

As far as dog sports go, treibball is one of the newest ways to play and compete with your pups.  Acclaimed dog trainer from Natural Dogmanship, Jan Nijboer, came up with the idea in the early 2000s as a way to get rid of his Australian cattle dogs’ excess energy.

Jan Nijboer, dog trainer who invested Treibball

Even after completing their intensive herding lessons, his dogs would have the energy to run the field, pushing their rubber water bowls all along the way. As he watched, the idea came to use large exercise balls in the place of livestock for herding games. Upon directing his dogs to move the balls into the pens, he created this fun herding dog ball game for the ages.  

Now an official dog sport

After Nijboer taught his herding students how to play treibball, it swiftly spread across Germany, the United States, and beyond. Local and national competitions quickly followed. And by 2007, the first international treibball competition was hosted by Sweden, making this an officially-sanctioned dog sport.

Treibball associations

Within no time flat, treibball associations started popping up all around the world, including the:

These organizations focus on helping people get into the sport and hosting competitions all across the globe.

The other names for the game of Treibball

In defining what is treibball for dogs, people often refer to this herding dog ball game as push ball, urban herding, or tri-ball in addition to its official name.

An Overview of Treibball for Beginners

Treibball mimics herding in that dogs must drive their targets into the pen within a given length of time. The difference is that the targets are exercise balls, not sheep, cattle, and other livestock. So, if you do not have a large yard or a lot of room to train, no worries. You can still play this fun sport.

In the main game, dogs have to push eight balls into the gated area, one by one. They must closely follow commands given by their handlers who have to stay within the goal area. When competing in official events, each pair is given seven to fifteen minutes to get all the balls into the goal, though casual games can take as long as you want.  

Although treibball was developed for herding dogs, all breeds and sizes can train, play, and compete. In competitions, mixed breeds and purebreds often participate side by side, showing off their skills without worry about pedigree. Even Chihuahuas and other tiny dogs can get the lightweight herding balls moving in the right direction with a bop from their nose.

Not all dogs take to this sport, however, as I found with my dear Red Heeler dog Ruby. Rather than push the ball, she would rather nip its “heels” or wildly bark in its general direction, in hopes it will drive itself to the goal.

Treibball How to Play the Main Game

Compared to all the other dog sports, treibball requires minimal equipment and space to play. You can get started indoors, in a small space outdoors, or even at your local park. Here’s how to jump into this game.

Equipment

To get started in playing treibball, you will need:

  • Eight exercise balls
  • Two goal posts or a three-sided goal
  • Food rewards
  • Timer.

In official competitions, the goal is eight feet tall by 24 feet wide, but any size will do for training and casual games at home.

As for the balls, they should be the right height for your dog’s size. Measure your dog at the withers, and then use this chart to find the ideal ball size range for your pup.

Find your ideal Treibball ball size

Dog’s Height at the WithersIdeal Ball Diameter
9” to 14”7” to 11.5”
14” to 18”11.5” to 15.75”
18” to 22”19.75” to 23.5”
22” to 26”23.5” to 27.5”
Over 26”27.5” to 31.5”

Once you have these items on hand, you are ready to get set up and start playing treibball with your pup.

Setup

The game starts with the goal at one end of the play area and the balls in the center of the field. For the original game, arrange the eight balls in a triangle pointing away from the goal, much like setting up for a game of billiards. Variants may use a different starting shape, such as a diamond, depending on the rules of the game.

This image is courtesy of the American Treibball Association

As the handler, you will stand within a few feet of the goal throughout the game. Your dog will start in the lie-down position alongside you in front of the goal. Once you are both there, you are ready to play.

Playing the Game

Upon hearing the starting whistle, you can send your dog out to begin retrieving the balls. You must stay within a few feet of the goal while using verbal commands, whistles, and hand signals to guide your dog.

As this originated as a herding dog ball game, herding commands, such as come bye and away to me, are used to guide the dogs across the field. Only positive reinforcement is allowed, so offer gentle guidance plus plenty of praise and rewards for each ball placed in the goal.  

You will first need to send your dog past the balls in an outrun, and then instruct them to lie down to await the next instruction. At that point, you are free to tell your dog to bring the indicated ball to the goal.

Your dog will need to only use their nose and shoulders to push the ball, not their teeth or paws. You will need to provide instruction on which ball to push into the goal, as the point ball must come first. After that, your dog can bring the balls back in any order.

When playing casual games together, every time you get all the balls in the goal, you’ve won. In competitions, however, judges score each pair on their teamwork and timing, issuing penalties for:

  • Excessive barking
  • Use of paws or teeth to move the ball
  • Handler entering the playing field
  • Dropping food on the field
  • Giving treats too often or in the wrong spot.

The rules for each competition vary quite a bit. So, if you are thinking of competing, pick up a rulebook from your preferred treibball organization to learn about all their specific rules, procedures, and more. Many offer members a chance to run their own events as well, as long as an approved official oversees the competition.  


Popular Variations of Treibball

To spice up the base game even more, people all over the world have come up with fun and exciting variations of treibball. This means there is more than one response to the question “What is treibball for dogs?”. As your dog gains skill on the field, increase the difficulty with the following game variations.

Balls in Order

Balls in order is one of the most popular variants of treibball as it reinforces the importance of communication between dogs and their handlers. With this rule change, your dog must bring in the point ball and then retrieve the rest in the predetermined order. You will need to clearly tell your dog which ball to grab next and how to drive it to the goal to play this variant.

treibball-for-dogs
Treibball Demo of Balls In Order at Bogart Park, California

Obstacle Course

In the main game, dogs just have to push the ball across an open field and into the goal to score. This variant places an obstacle course on the field that the dogs must navigate on their way to the goal. Your dog will need to move each ball through gates and other course elements before hitting the goal to score points.

Hide ‘n’ Seek

Hide ‘n’ seek treibball requires a little extra setup before you can get going.

Simply hide a few balls out of sight and send your dog to find them.

Once they find them, direct them to bring the ball back to the goal, and then send your pup out to find the next. This variant keeps going until all the balls are found and returned to the goal.

Team Treibball

If you have two dogs to work with, you can play team treibball together after mastering the basics.

For this game, you will need a long agility tunnel and a small ball that will fit inside.

Set up the tunnel in an arc and roll the small ball just inside.

Then, roll a large ball out onto the field at least 10 feet in the distance.

To play, you will need to direct one dog to retrieve the large ball while the other works on pushing the small ball out of the tunnel.

The large ball must hit the goal before the small ball for the team to score a goal.   

You can dream up any game imaginable using the resources you have on hand. As long as you can effectively communicate the objective to your dogs, you can go wild in creating your own treibball games. You will just need to complete a little bit of training to establish strong communication lines and set your dog up for success on the field.

Importance of Treibball Training for Dogs and Handlers

Since there are no livestock, you can easily train and play treibball indoors, making it an excellent wintertime activity when dogs are normally quite bored. Even though it does not expend a lot of physical energy, my busy herding dogs still tend to get tired out from all the thinking and collaboration.

There are many important foundational skills dogs need to have before training for this sport. Once they are adept in those skills, you both can work on learning all the commands needed to play the game.

Foundational Skills

Even though you’ve seen there is more than one answer to the question “What is treibball?”, you and your dog need to master some foundational skills.

Your dog must be able to reliably work off-leash in distracting environments to participate in treibball games and competitions. Use long line training to build a strong recall and get your dog used to respond to commands off-leash.

Treibball games also require impulse control and distance work. To teach these things, work on teaching a strong stay command while steadily increasing the distance between you and your dog. If your dog has a hard time staying in one place, use a barrier at first as a reminder. Alternatively, you can use a mat or other marker, though your dog will eventually need to work without one when on the field.  

Strengthen impulse control by only allowing your dog to touch the balls on cue. Work on the touch command well before introducing the exercise balls to prevent them from popping them in their excitement. Remember, it is nose only (though shoulders are permitted), no paws and teeth allowed. Reward and praise lavishly when they show restraint around the balls and follow your commands.  

At competitions, your dog will need to remain on a leash or crated when not on the field, so work on those skills as well to ensure the experience remains positive always.

Important Commands

Once you have basic obedience out of the way, you can focus on learning all the commands that will come in handy during your treibball games. Here’s what you need to work on to prepare to play and compete.

Push

Most dogs need to be taught to move the exercise balls with their nose using the push command. This is especially true for dogs who love to bite and paw at the ball, as that is not allowed on the field.

If your dog is a bit too enthusiastic for this herding dog ball game, teach them to push their nose against your open palm first. Some dogs, like my Border Collie Bandit, will attempt to bite at an open palm rather than simply push. To get past this behavior, only reward the nose touches, as there are no teeth allowed on the playing field.

After teaching the push command, strengthen it by having your dog close a door or cabinet with just their nose. This task teaches them that they can use their nose to manipulate many different objects around them. And it forces them to put a little more force into their push, which will help them get the ball rolling across a grassy field.

Once your dog shows their understanding of this concept, you can introduce the balls and start teaching them how to move them around. If your dog still wants to bite or paw the exercise balls, go back to the doors and work on the touch command more before moving on.

If they are ready to move forward, gently guide your dog toward the goal as they push the ball around. Reward big when your dog pushes the ball into the goal, and then instruct them to leave it and move onto the next ball.

Outrun

The outrun is an important part of treibball training and gameplay because it aids in communicating with your dog and shows off their impulse control. This herding term means to send out your dog past the livestock, ball, or other target and have them lie down. Your dog should stay in that position until released with the next cue.

You will teach and request outrun using two commands:

Come Bye

Come bye is the cue you will use when you want your dog to circle around the target clockwise. Start training this command with your dog on a long 20 foot line, leading them around the way you want them to go.

As you go, provide the come bye command and praise like wild as they move in the right direction. When they are in the ideal position behind the target, give the lie-down command to halt their movement. Repeat until they master this task and can complete it off-leash.

Away to Me

If you want your dog to go in the counter-clockwise direction instead, you will use the away to me command. As with come bye, teach your pup to go into a down-stay upon making it behind the target.

You do not need to use a ball as the target for these exercises, as any object will work, including footrests, planters, and cardboard boxes. Once your dogs have both commands down, you can introduce the balls to the mix and practice using them as the target. Keep the confusion down by only using one ball at this stage, though you will introduce more in the next step.

Slow Down and Stop

After learning how to send your dogs out behind the balls, you need to work on slow down and stop to direct them to the correct targets.

You will start the training process without the balls in sight, and then introduce them later as before. As long as they know how to walk nicely at a heel on a loose leash, your dogs can learn these tricks in a couple of days.

Slow  

Start off walking at a brisk pace with your dog at a heel, then issue the slow down command. When your dog slows their pace to match yours, provide lots of praise and food or toy rewards. Repeat until they can reliably slow their speed on command whether they are by your side or across the field.

Stop

Working with your dog on a long line, walk with them through the yard or house for a moment. As you stop walking, tell them to stop as well, which they will likely to naturally do. As their feet come to a halt, but before they can do any other actions, provide tons of praise and rewards.

Repeat until they understand that stopping in place earned them the treat, reinforcing the command. Couple with stay from time to time to keep them in place as needed to offer additional instruction or direction.

Once you teach your dog these commands, you can start practicing with the exercise balls and the goal. You will use the outrun, stay, and touch commands to direct your dog to the correct ball and tell them to bring it into the goal.

Once you have the game down, you can sign up to compete through your association of choice. Before competing, you can prove your skills through the Skills Certificate Program offered by the National Association of Treibball Enthusiasts.

Considering Treibball Classes?

So far in this article about what is treibball for dogs, we’ve addressed the different varations of this herding game as well as the foundational skills and important commands required. That’s certainly enough to get you and your dog started to learn and play treibball.

To ensure everything comes together properly and in record time, consider going to treibball classes to learn the basics and practice the game. Official classes will also help you get familiar with the gameplay as it will occur in competitions. You will learn all the local and international competition rules, helping you minimize faults that could steal your win.  

Often held at dog training facilities, treibball classes cater to dogs and handlers of all skill levels from beginners on up. You can find where to learn how to use a herding ball by checking in with your local treibball organization. They often provide the resources people need to get started playing this awesome herding dog ball game.

Not all areas have treibball classes. It can be a challenge finding those with hours compatible with your day. If you find that is the case, tackle treibball training on your own and see how far you can get. As this sport increases in popularity, finding training and events will likely become much easier — and you will be well on your way to winning by that time.

My Tips For Beginners

Like agility, flyball, frisbee and the many other dog sports, treibball requires your dogs to exhibit control of their bodies and impulses. They cannot wildly run the ball off course or bite at it to get it going in the right direction. Your dogs must bump the ball with their nose while regulating its speed and keeping it on course.

All this is much easier said than done with busy border collies, cattle dogs, and the like. The key is getting my dogs in the right mindset for treibball.

And this is what I found most important when training my dogs with treibball: run out all their excess energy with fetch or other fun games first, then get to work on the herding game.

I am strict too! If either Nyxie or Bandit get too feisty with the balls, they are put away and we go back to training nose pushes only for a little bit.

They quickly learned that biting will not be tolerated and the games end when they push the limits.

This approach works for training out all the different faults, including excessive barking.

Since dogs are dogs bound to get overly excited at some point, I always use the cheapest exercise balls I can find. Five Below actually carries $5 exercise balls that work well for this purpose, so you can get your whole set for under $50 shipped.  With my dog Ruby, we actually worked with a hard plastic herding ball instead, as she would pop any soft ball she got near. She is not a fan of pushing with her nose, so this is likely not the sport for her. I’ll keep trying her, however, in hopes that she will come around!

The amount of training each dog needs varies, so be patient and keep working on the foundational skills and important commands each day to make progress. Before you know it, your dog will be pushing the balls across the field and into the goal like a pro.

Related Questions

Where can you treibball in Denver?

As it is a relatively new sport, not many dog training facilities in Denver, Colorado, offer treibball training and games. Only Noble Beast Dog Training and Waggin’s West Dog Training currently have classes and participate in local competitions. For private training, check into the trainer recommendations from the American Treibball Association.

Where can you treibball in San Diego?

Few dog training facilities offer opportunities to learn and play treibball in San Diego, California. Smrtdog is the only local facility currently offering private courses and their group classes were recently discontinued. The American Treibball Association does not list any private trainer recommendations for California.

Where can you treibball in Seattle?

Several professional training facilities offer treibball training to the public in Seattle, Washington, including:

  • The Puppy Perfectors
  • Four Paw Sports Center
  • A Savvy Dog Training.

Only one private treibball trainer is listed for Seattle by the American Treibball Association.


Author - Marie

With 2 Border Collies (Nyx and Bandit) and a Red Heeler (Ruby). With no livestock, Marie spends most of her time outdoors with her dogs, letting them release all their energy as farm dogs. They are fiends for fetch - even in the snow. Marie has started formal flyball training with Nyx, with the other dog likely follow. Marie is also interested in joining dock diving, sheep herding, and agility activities so that her dogs can burn more energy. All three are adept trick dogs with the ability to wave, shake hands, roll over, sit pretty, walk like people and much more. She has much to share with this community of outdoor dog lovers.

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