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Treibball Basics

Last Sunday here in Colorado, the American Treibball Association held its Winter Games. Now that I’ve seen how it’s taught and what the full game looks like, I’m happy to share insights.

Step 1: Eye Contact

The first game participants played rewarded the dog/handler team that maintained the longest WATCH ME.

I found myself amused by the competitor who not only held food near his face but who held his face about a foot from his dog’s face. My first thought? “CHEATER!” But, when the dog looked away, I realized that tactic was a detriment, not a bonus, because the dog clearly felt crowded and broke off the gaze.

Step 2: What We Call POKE

Then, dogs competed to see who could POKE one of these push-on lights the fastest. It takes some solid pressure to do this, not just some wimpy poke.

Hilary Lane from Fang Shui Canines, who teaches treibball locally, says that you can also teach dogs to push doors closed with their nose to practice this skill.

Step 3: Generate Motion With Nose

This task cracked me up. Essentially, they rolled treats up in bath mats (or small floor rugs) and then encouraged dogs to push the mats open to get the treats.

Sadie (from Boulder Dog) was a total star at this game. Check out this video of Sadie rolling, rolling, rolling.

I cannot WAIT to try this with Lilly, so stay tuned.

Step 4: Targeted Away to Me/Come Bye

Essentially, for those of you with agility under your belt, this game sends the dog OUT and around one of the herding balls toward a target. It seems like some sources disagree on which phrase means which direction in herding cues.

[As we learned in Lilly’s herding instinct test, she is naturally a clockwise dog.]

Dogs got clicks/treats for going the right direction toward a target (cardboard X on the ground). Often, handlers use target sticks to extend their reach and directional instruction.

Step 5: Putting It Together

Organizers set up the various size exercise balls like you would balls on a pool table. Handlers stand in front of a goal, and they send their dogs out around the balls and cue them to push one ball at a time toward the goal. The handler really isn’t supposed to move away from the goal, so this teaches “distance work” to dogs.

Treibball Reflections

I was curious to see just how enthusiastic dogs were about the balls. Now that Lilly has seen goats, for example, I question how interesting she will find balls.

Most of the demo dogs I watched seemed fairly sedate about the task, but you could tell they were having fun. More like they were doing a trick than triggering a true herding buzz.

Then, off on the side, there was one border collie and later an aussie that were indeed pushing and shouldering the balls around like Lilly did with the goats recently.

So, I suppose it depends on the dog.

Where Was Lilly?

Because Sunday was my only day off the mountain all last week (and likely all this week), I left the house around 12:30 pm and didn’t get home until after 8 pm. That would have been a LONG day for Lilly to be out and about … and possibly just sitting in her crate in the car.

I wasn’t sure what the event would be like, but I knew that a big, metal barn with people and dogs she did not know … and games and cheering and noise … wasn’t the best situation for Lilly.

I’m glad I went with my gut and Tom’s veto of the idea.

Lilly would have been stressed out and miserable.

Like so many group events with performance dogs, there were just enough nervous/bordering on reactive dogs there that Lilly would have flipped out. There was just enough buzz in the air, dogs being fussy, leashes taunt with tension that I’m glad I let Lilly say home with the boys.

I love to have my girl with me, but it’s completely NOT fair to drag her around, if she cannot have my full attention.

And, because a childhood friend (who has a cat, no dogs) agreed to go with me, I certainly owed her my attention as well. Plus, we went out to dinner afterward.

So, Lilly stayed home.

Will she ever be able to attend a real treibball class? I’m not sure.

BUT, in the meantime, we’ll spend these cold/windy winter days playing with a few of these baseline tasks required and see if I can get Lilly to think about exercise balls in a new light.

… because until now … she only knows this ball-based trick.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Pamela - January 22, 2011

When I saw the video over at I was wondering if herding dogs would automatically get the same “buzz” from herding balls that they do from herding sheep. It’s interesting that you said most of the dogs treated it as a “trick.” I guess balls don’t have very interesting body language.

That said, it still looks like a good game to play with your dog. Thanks for breaking it down into the different steps for teaching.

KB - January 21, 2011

Wow, I thought this type of event might be great for K until you mentioned the big exercise balls. That would be a “no-go” although you’ve made me tempted to try her again with one!


Aly - January 21, 2011

One of the reasons we started Treibball is because TeeVee gets so neurotic around a lot of dogs (as you saw). He often wants to lunge at dogs or challenge them. Usually he only will do it once or twice and then he’s over it and is all play. He also will attempt to be food aggressive with a new person/dog, but then he also gets over it.

Our Treibball class size was small, so it was perfect for him and we made great progress in 16 weeks. Surprisingly, it has translated to flyball and he is much better in that because he is comfortable and knows the dogs in our club.

He’s still a bit neurotic around “new” dogs if he isn’t off leash, but he’s come a long way! Surprisingly, he does awesome at the dog park and NEVER lunges, but gets tense in classroom and event situations. Still don’t know what thats about.

Hilary - January 21, 2011

It’s me again–we teach Come Bye as clockwise and Away to Me as counter-clockwise.

But you may be learning it differently in sheepherding/goatherding.


    Roxanne Hawn - January 21, 2011

    I should have linked to the post I found that got me all confused when I tried to look it up. I’m sure you’re right, Hilary. I’ll go back into the post and revise that.

Hilary - January 21, 2011

Hi–just saw this; thanks for writing about your experiences with our Treibball games! I’m glad you got to see one of our graduates get the 8 balls into the net, too!

We were at Jeffco, but they scheduled some events during our class time and didn’t tell us, so we decided to look for somewhere else in your area. We’re looking into a couple of places! Stay tuned!

Carol's Critter Corner - January 21, 2011

Sounds like you had fun. Glad the dogs get a lot of exercise. Would’ve pooped my dogs out!

Catalina - January 21, 2011

That carpet unrolling looks like a fun trick! I think we might try that. Thanks for the video link

    Roxanne Hawn - January 21, 2011

    The rug thing is pretty funny, Catalina. Lilly figured it out right away.

Deborah Flick - January 21, 2011

Hi Roxanne, thank you so much for the shout out! Sadie and I are signing up for the 8 week course beginning this Sunday. I hope she continues to enjoy it.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 21, 2011

    That’s terrific, Deborah. I hope Sadie really loves it. We’re hoping they’ll find a place to teach classes near us. They were over at the Jeffco fairgrounds, which is MUCH closer to our canyon, but it didn’t work out.

KenzoHW - January 21, 2011

Great input to some new training trics, maybe we also even end up treibball’ing 🙂 Good you left Lilly at home, could imagine she would have freaked out in that setting.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 21, 2011

    Yes, Kenzo, Lilly would not have done well. It would have been way to tense and stressful for her. I’m glad I made the right choice.

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