Basics - The Push

Accurate, confident pushes are a desired behavior in the game of Treibball.

The dog first needs to learn the mechanical behavior of pushing an object. Many Treibball instructors advocate introducing the pushing skill by using objects other than a ball. The dogs are then introduced to pushing the ball once they have a good understanding of the cue and the basic behavior. 

Investing time in building the dog’s confidence with their pushing skills is time well spent. On this page we’ll show you several training tips for the Push skills needed for the skills certificate level – the foundation for all the exciting skills to come.

Basic Push Examples

The two videos below demonstrate well-performed Push Skills at Levels 1 and 3.  Notice, too, the different pushing styles of the 2 dogs.  Both methods are acceptable.

Splash demonstrates using her forelegs to push & direct the ball back to her handler, Sandy White, during her Level 1 Push Skills test. 

Lexi demonstrates the head push followed by nose pushes to quickly return the ball to Pam Mason during this Level 3 Push Skills test.

Learning to Push

The goal of Pushing is to teach the dog to using the nose, head, chest &/or legs to move the ball.  We generally begin by teaching the dog to lower his head and push the object.  From a stationary position; the dog’s head goes in low to scoop the ball forward using the top of the nose or forehead.

As an aside:  We want to note that not all dogs find this style of pushing comfortable based on their conformation or intense need to keep their eye on the handler. They will quickly shift to chest pushing or use of their forelegs to move the ball.  Any pushing style that doesn't destroy the ball, such as biting, is acceptable.

Intro to Push with Rolled Mat, Towel, or Rug

Using a Mat, Towel, or Rug to train the Push

  1. Place a fully extended yoga mat or small elongate throw rug flat on the ground
  2. Places treats in a line such that each flip of the mat or rug uncovers 1 or 2 small treats for the entire length. 
  3. Rolls up the mat/rug leaving a few treats visible at the end. 
  4. Encourage the dog to find the treats by pushing against the rolled mat to uncover more treats.
  5. Position yourself so the dog is pushing towards you.  

Many dogs treat this as a scenting exercise the first time which may appear as though they don't understand the game. By the second or third repetition most dogs understand what will happen when they push the rolled-up mat.

Above:  Monica Pielage demonstrates using this rolled mat approach to training Push.

Adding the Push Verbal Cue

Add the Push verbal cue to the behavior of dropping the head to push and unroll the mat when the dog clearly understands the game.

After the 2nd or 3rd repetition of unrolling the mat, switch to an object which easily rolls. Any household object that the dog can easily roll or move with their nose will work. Examples would be a plush toy, oatmeal cannister, or plastic bottle. Again, once the dog understands the Push cue means to move the object with their nose, only reinforce pushes after the Push cue. This helps the dog generalize the push behavior with the cue and helps teach stimulus control so they only push on cue.

Maureen Bard and Finn are shown Pushing an Oatmeal container during a class.

Introducing the Ball

Now that the dog understands the Push cue, the next step is to have the dog push a ball to you.  This is started by having the dog facing the handler with the ball right between them.  Ask the dog to push the ball into the handler’s legs & immediately reward as shown in the video below.  Initially the handler is positioned very close to the dog and the ball so if the dog pushes the ball, it will hit the handler, which is the desired behavior.

Gradually increase the distance between the ball and yourself so the dog has to push the ball a little further to get its reward.  As one increases the distance, one can make the dog more successful initially by setting up barriers to minimize the travel of the ball from errant pushes.  Hallways or a barrier & a wall both work well for this early training.

Points to remember—

  1. Maintain the criteria of marking and rewarding for the ball hitting the handler.
  2. Reward on the dog side of the ball.
  3. Keep the distance short.
  4. If the ball veers off, you can help your dog by stepping in front of the path of the ball.
  5. The Push cue is the only word you need.  Other words, even if meant to be encouraging and positive, are distracting.

When training the elements, not every send will end in a push, and not every push will start with a send.  That means you’ll need to be able to leave your dog near the ball and walk to a point where you feel the dog can be successful in the push.   Be careful not to let the act of backing up or walking away from a ball become the cue to push.  If your dog starts pushing before you give the cue to push, cheerfully interrupt them and set up again. Reinforce the waiting at a closer distance. Back up, but then walk forward again and give them a treat from the other side of the ball. Mix it up so the dog knows the best path to success is waiting for your cue.

    In this video the handler demonstrates teaching ball Pushing in a channel made from an x-pen and chain link fencing.

    The adjacent video demonstrates using expanding fence and the wall to form a channel to help make the dog successful.  This dog is a little more advanced in its training and confidently negotiates the corner in its pushing. Thank you to Tori Richardson and Brynn for sharing.

    Ball Control

    The next thing the dog needs to learn is how to control which way the ball travels. This can be taught by widening, and then removing, the channels while maintaining the criteria of the ball must hit the handler to receive reinforcement. It’s a magic moment the first time you see your dog shift their position on the ball in order to be able to push it straight to you.

    Once the dog understands that the desired behavior is for it use its nose/head to move the in the general direction of the handler, the dog will begin to experiment with his/her style.  Some dogs try steering with their chests; some dogs try to use their front paws, and some dogs use the sides of their muzzle to steer the ball.  The only unacceptable ways would be to bite the ball or forcefully hit the ball with their paw, either of which could result in a punctured ball.

    The dog can increase their pushing skills by you NOT going to meet the ball to where it’s being pushed, but asking the dog to move around the ball and do an extra push to get the ball to you. The dog learns to manipulate the ball with more accuracy as the shortest path to reinforcement.  Ask for little steps at first. Be careful not to frustrate your dog too much.

    Thank you to Kyla Smay and Rhys for the video demonstration.

    Adding Distance

    Please remember that pushing the ball is a complex skill. Progressing conservatively with increasing distance and space will produce overall success quicker than expanding too fast. Ball control is key for success at greater distances and larger areas.

    Though each dog is different, many dogs are ready to be sent further distances than they’re comfortable pushing. When sending to a ball, they have a stationary target and must only move their body into position. When they are pushing, they have to control a moving object and maintain awareness of their position in the space.

    Pushing the ball greater distances can increase arousal. Often dogs appear to be having a great time pushing the ball around the field when in reality they are over aroused and frustrated because they can't control the ball to push it back to the handler. It is then when ball biting usually starts. When that happens, move to intercept the dog and ball. Interrupt the behavior with a treat toss. Set up the next ball push much closer to reinforce the dog for calm behavior at an easier distance.

    We can’t say it enough…the more confident the dog is about their ability to control the ball, the more success you will have when increasing the distance you ask your dog to push.

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