Push the Ball

Teaching dogs to push round objects with their noses is often such a fun training exercise and game.  The Advanced class had a great time with it last night, and as I just typed the instructions for it up for their homework, I thought I’d share it here as well.  These exercises are great mental as well as physical exercise.  Most dog’s history with round ball type things involves grabbing them with their mouths.  With these exercises we are asking them to think about ball type objects in entirely new ways!

Zora and I practicing her pushing a large grey physio-ball in the yard last summer


Exercise 1:

  1. Start with a dish with a couple of round ball type objects in it.  Usually tennis ball size is great.  You want a dish with a high enough lip that the balls stay contained within the dish easily.
  2. Place a few treats under the balls in the dish, and have a number of treats in your hand ready to go
  3. Let your dog begin to sniff out and eat the treats under the balls
  4. Each time your dog’s nose pushes a ball out of the way praise and drop a treat into the dish further encouraging more pushing of the balls with their nose
  5. As your dog gains confidence shoving the balls out of the way with their nose, gradually remove balls one at a time until just 1 ball remains in the dish and your dog is consistently pushing it around the dish.  Again reward with a dropped treat into the dish for each nose to ball shove.
  6. You can place your treats strategically to encourage more pushing if that helps your dog.
  7. If your dog picks up a ball with their mouth, it’s ok, simply place the ball back into the dish and sprinkle some treats under it once more.  Then make sure you have a very fast, very high value treat to toss in the moment your dog’s nose makes contact with the ball.

Exercise 2:

  1. You will need a ball about a soccer or basket ball or a beach ball size, and a dish.
  2. Place the dish so the ball rests on it as a pedestal.  Most dishes this means you flip it upside down so the bottom is facing up
  3. Place a treat under the ball, positioning it at first so it is easy for your dog to smell and know is there, then progressing as your dog is successful to the treat harder to know is there and more a reward than lure for pushing the ball.  You can stabilize the ball by resting your finger on the top of it
  4. As your dog pushes the bottom 1/3 of the ball with their nose to get the treat, the ball rolls forward.  The first 1-2 reps you can help the ball roll if your dog needs as your dog’s nose makes contact.  But if you do that only do it 1-2 times then progress to your dog doing the pushing without help
  5. After your dog is consistently pushing the ball off the pedestal by pushing the bottom 1/3 of the ball cleanly with their nose and muzzle (no feet, no teeth) begin to add your verbal cue as they make contact with the ball.  Mine is ‘push’ but you can use whatever makes sense to you
  6. You want your dog to push the bottom 1/3 of the ball as it helps discourage the dog from trying to bite at the ball.

Exercise 3:

  1. Using a yoga mat, towel or bath mat, roll the mat with treats embedded in each roll
  2. Encourage your dog to push the mat open using their nose
  3. As your dog pushes the mat unrolls revealing treats
  4. After your dog successfully unrolls the mat a few times and is understanding then do a repetition using your ball.  Have the mat fully rolled out and your dog pushing the ball the length of the mat.  Place a treat under the ball for each push to begin with.  And use your ‘push’ cue
  5. Vary between your dog unrolling the mat and pushing the ball the length of the mat
  6. The mat exercise can help the dog build up sustained pushing and strength to the push

As your dog understands that push is to make a round object move forward with their nose, vary the objects you have them push.  You can use different size or type balls ex: tennis, racquet, beach, yoga, softball, etc, or things like soup cans, get creative!

Work on generalizing that ‘push’ means to use their nose to shove an object.  You can even use this cue to teach them to turn on light switches, push the switch up.  Or to shut a door or drawer.  Push the door/drawer forward to close it.

Work on cue discrimination.  If you cue ‘push’ you are asking the dog to push the ball with their nose.  “Take it” or your grab cue means to grab it with their mouths.  “Chin” to rest their head on it.  “Kick” to use their feet to move the ball.  And so on.

Also work on direction of the push.  You can set up a couple of cones or other markers and teach your dog to push the ball through the ‘goal’.  Or to push it directly to you.  Or up a ramp.   Your dog will be a soccer star in no time!  😉


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