Foundation Skills

The foundation basic skills presented below are some of the most important for successful teams in Treibball. We strongly recommend that those starting Treibball have completed a good basic obedience class. After all, it's the foundation for everything we do with our dogs. As always, we only promote force-free training methods.

Our goal here is not to replace that basic obedience class but rather to augment how to teach or strengthen the skills helpful for Treibball. We also include some skills not generally taught in basic obedience. The Skills we cover on this page are:

  • Eye Contact
  • Down
  • Go to Mat
  • Fading the Mat
  • Recall
  • Rewarding

As a bonus we offer some advice on choosing verbal cues wisely!

Eye Contact

Having your dog's focus on you is important for many activities.  In the adjacent video Monica Pielage demonstrates one method for teaching the dog to focus on the handler via eye contact and ignore distractions like hands with treats.


The dog performing a Down stops the time for most Treibball games. It is obviously a critical skill to have. There are various methods for teaching the down depending on the age and size of the dog and what other sports you may compete in with your dog. To the right are some options for teaching the Down.

Thanks to Chris Roeder for the first video and Sandy White for the second one.

Go To Mat

An indispensable skill for the dog is loving to Go To Mat. Mat training is one type of target training. It's a visual cue to help the dog know where we would like it to go.  The mat is a place the dog is highly rewarded, so they want to go there. It's a great aid to have behind a ball when we start to add distance to encourage the dog to go further out on the field.

NATE devoted an entire Clubhouse Chat to The Power of Mats. This recording has a group discussion on using mats led by Chris Roeder. The primary discussion starts at the 20:36 min mark. The discussion portion on Fading the Mat was excerpted as its own video in the next section below.

NOTE:  Personal preference plays a part when teaching the mat game. You can choose to train your dog to stand, sit, or lie down on the mat.  There is no requirement for any particular position when your dog runs out behind the ball, so train what works best for you and your dog.

In the adjacent videos, Monica Pielage shows how she introduces a dog to the value of a mat and then adds a cue. 

In the second video she adds distance by rewarding the dog behind the Mat.

The Lilly Pad Game helps to reinforce following the handler's directions to move from mat to mat. This foundation exercise is a fun game to help the dog learn to go to a mat. As with any game, five repetitions is enough to start with and then take a play break. Soon your dog will be running to the mats with more distance and speed. Eventually, the ball will become the target and the mat will be faded out. Add this to your early training or go back and play it if you see your dog slowing down. You can play it with any number of mats 2 to 10.  Thank you to Sandi Pensinger for submitting this video.

Fading the Mat

At some point as training advances, one will need to 'Fade the Mat'.  This is most readily done by having mats of various sizes smaller than the initial training mat. Start substituting a smaller mat during the training sessions.  Even experiment with removing the mat entirely and see what happens. 

A second method is to slowly phase out the mat by alternating runs with and without it. For instance have it present for 2 runs then remove it for a run. Replace for the next 2 runs.  Gradually work up to having more runs without a mat than with it.

There will undoubtedly be times when bringing the mat back will be advantageous as when the dog has regressed a bit in their training or when training in a different location. The mat will add back some confidence.  Mats can also be useful when moving up a level and requiring the dog to work at greater distances.  Just be careful not to rely on the mat for too long once the dog has demonstrated they can comfortably work further distances.

The video below is an excerpt from the January 2021 Clubhouse Chat on The Power of Mats, specifically addressing the how and challenges one may encounter when fading the mat.


Such a simple thing, yet it can be very useful to be able to recall your dog without pushing a ball. Reasons include the need to settle your dog, send to another part of the field, or get a better approach to the target ball. This short clip by Monica Pielage featuring Zelda and Abby demonstrates one approach to train the Recall.

Orient to Handler

Most NATE games begin with the dog moving out on the field to orient directly behind a ball relative to the handler. This section shows one method for achieving that goal.

In the adjacent videos Monica Pielage demonstrates how she starts teaching her dog to understand the value of lining up behind an object. Notice she does not start with a ball.  Using a bucket, cone, basket or some other similarly sized object helps keep the dog's focus on the orientation lesson and not on pushing.  As a bonus she also shows how to teach waiting behind the object in the first video. 

The 3 videos are a progression of training.


How and when you reward your dog can make a difference on how quickly one progresses in their training. Rewards can take the form of verbal praise, food or toys/play time. It's important to know what your dog considers a high value vs low value reward.  However, depending on the exercise it is also important to consider how the reward is delivered. The best delivery method may determine the best type of reward for the situation. 

In May of 2020 NATE held a Clubhouse Chat devoted to Rewards.  A full 1 hr recording of that session is shown to the right.

Much of Treibball involves sending the dog to a specific ball or location on the field.  In the beginning the handler is generally close enough to reward the dog from their hand. As teams progress and move further out, it is tempting to call the dog back for a reward. That can be counterproductive. Some people are very accurate throwing a treat to the dog (e.g. rewarding the dog in place for lining up behind the correct ball).  In the second video, Carolyn Bigley demonstrates using a lotus ball for distance rewarding.

Choosing Verbal Cues Wisely

When choosing cues for the behaviors you’ll train in Treibball, try to choose words that are easily distinguished from cues you have for other venues. Often using unique words that you don’t use in other venues or even just around the house will give you the opportunity to keep the behaviors clear within the context of the game. In Treibball we are able to use quite a bit of body language and movement to help support our verbal cues. Yet it is a good idea to think carefully about what verbal cues you’ll be able to remember and will be unique for your dog. You may be able to use some of the same cues you already use in other areas, such as Down, as long as your dog is clear about what is expected. You’ll want cues, physical and verbal, for the behaviors listed below.


These are often borrowed from the herding world. Popular clockwise directional cues are Go Bye, Come bye, On Bye, and Left. You can also be inventive! For example, we know of people who use Clock for clockwise movement.

Popular counter-clockwise directional cues are Away, Away to Me, Right, and Counter.


These cues are used when sending the dog directly to a specific ball, and it doesn’t matter which side of the ball they move around.

These are usually combined with some body language to point out the desired ball. Popular choices are Go, Out, Go Out, and Back.

If there are multiple balls on the field, it can be helpful to have a cue that tells your dog when they have reached the correct ball to push. Yes, There, and Wait are common. You can also just give the push cue when the dog is focused on the correct ball. 


Some people have cues for their dog to face them when behind the ball if it appears they are lined up in the wrong direction after the initial send.  Popular cues are Line Up, Center, and Point.


Push is a common cue for telling the dog to push the ball to you. Some people use Drive. If you opt to train in Urban Herding you will need cues for pushing the ball towards you and another for pushing the ball away from you.


Sometimes you will need to move your dog from one to another ball. You can use body language and directional cues. Common cues are Leave It, Over, Slide, Move, or Walk Up/On.


Being able to stop your dog is really handy when they are pushing a wrong ball, are heading to the wrong ball, or you just need a moment to think! Stop, Leave it, Wait, Halt, Freeze or Whoa are some possibilities. Be careful to make Whoa  distinct from Go.


Unless you obtain a special performance modification, your dog will need to Down at the end of each run to stop the clock. You can use a verbal cue and body language. 


Urban Herding is a relatively new game that requires the dog to push the ball away from the handler at times.  In herding, pushing the sheep away from the person is called a drive, so Drive seems a logical choice for a cue as long as it doesn't also mean to push the ball TO you.


At the varying levels of Urban Herding the dog will be required to retrieve balls from pens and put balls into pens. You can incorporate the directional and driving/fetching cues above with penning cues such as Pen or Home.


For the fine tuning of moving balls from behind panels and into a specific path of travel between fence panels, you may want some cues that indicate how hard you want the dog to push.  You can vary the meaning with vocal inflection and gestures, and also use new cues such as Tap or Nudge.

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