In this Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 photo, Riley, a 3-year-old German shepherd, nudges an exercise ball toward a goal at the Teamworks Dog Training arena in Youngsville, N.C. The German sport came to this country about four years ago and is slowing catching on. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

In this Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 photo, Riley, a 3-year-old German shepherd, nudges an exercise ball toward a goal at the Teamworks Dog Training arena in Youngsville, N.C. The German sport came to this country about four years ago and is slowing catching on. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

Fans of German dog sport ask, ‘Who needs sheep?’

YOUNGSVILLE, N.C. — With shouts of “point” and “drive” from her handler, the 3-year-old German shepherd charges into the triangle of brightly colored rubber orbs, scattering them with her nose like a cue breaking balls on a pool table. Then, zigging and zagging, Riley nudges the big purple one expertly down the field and into the goal.

“There’s a good girrrrrrl,” Melissa Breau coos as she engages in a brief tug-of-war with Riley’s favorite chew toy. Playtime over, Breau calls out to the judge for the next ball color.

“Light green,” comes the shout. And Riley is off.

This is Treibball — German for “drive ball,” or more loosely translated, “ball herding”.

The sport originated in that country about a decade ago, migrating to the United States four years ago where it’s still on a roll.

“Our organization has grown literally from just a few people to a little over 400 people in six countries,” says Dianna Stearns, co-founder and current president of the American Treibball Association. Another group, the Montana-based World Treibball League, started in 2012.

Bobby Chastain, one of about 140 ATA-certified Treibball instructors, says the sport helps dogs develop focus, confidence and impulse control.

“We have a lot of reactive dogs in it,” says Chastain, whose own dogs compete. “We have a lot of shy dogs in it. We have a lot of dogs that have a tremendous amount of energy. It helps burn the energy, but also can help calm a dog with high anxiety, because they’re working.”

The sport’s creator, Jan Nijboer, a Dutch hunting and herding dog trainer, noticed his clients’ dogs pushing their water dishes around after their lessons. Realizing they still had plenty of energy, he wondered if he could teach them to play soccer, says Stearns.

And Treibball was born. The rules are pretty simple.

Eight exercise balls are arranged in a triangle at center field. Depending on the age and size division of the dog, the canines have seven to 10 minutes — dogs 7 years and up get an extra two minutes — to “herd” them toward their handler and into a goal.

Since dogs don’t see as many colors as humans do and also perceive color differently, handlers use directional commands like “center,” ‘’back” and “over” to coax the animals to the correct ball. When the dog reaches the right one, the handler shouts “push” or “drive.”

“It’s kind of a fun trick to demonstrate to people,” says Kathleen Kiernan, whose Cockapoo, Angus, competed in the “teacup” division during a recent meet at the Teamworks Dog Training arena north of Raleigh.

The ATA group held its first national competitions last year in Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina. This year, they added a fifth meet.

The sport is so new here that only three dogs have reached champion level.

“We had to have a critical mass of trainers and students who knew the game before we could hold competitions and issue titles,” Stearns says.

Two of Karen Mielke’s pups achieved that goal during the recent meet in Youngsville — Luna, an Australian shepherd, and Cheyenne, a 9-year-old German shepherd rescue. Mielke, who runs her own training business, was especially proud of Cheyenne.

“She’s very reactive to other dogs, so we’ve worked a lot to bring her down to be more calm,” she said, stroking Cheyenne’s thick brown and black coat and kissing her on the head. “She loves it. Don’t you? You like to chase those balls.”

But for most of these pet parents, it’s not about the ribbons and trophies. It’s about quality of life.

Marcia Pines’ 11-year-old Belgian Tervuren, Logan, has been a titled agility dog. The Wake Forest, North Carolina woman sees Treibball as a low-impact way to keep him active and stimulated “in his golden years.”

“He’s starting to get up there, and I don’t want him to injure himself,” she says. “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”

More in Life

Minister’s Message: The way life will be

“Is this the way it was all meant to be? Is this what God had in mind when He created us?”

Photo provided by Art We There Yet
José Luis Vílchez and Cora Rose with their retired school bus-turned-art and recording studio.
‘It’s all about people’

Traveling artists depict Kenai Peninsula across mediums

Promotional Photo courtesy Pixar Animation/Walt Disney Studios
In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Fear (voice of Tony Hale) and Disgust (voice of Liza Lapira) aren’t sure how to feel when Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke) shows up unexpectedly. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024.
On the Screen: ‘Inside Out 2’ a bold evolution of Pixar’s emotional storytelling

Set only a year after the events of the first film, “Inside Out 2” returns viewers to the inner workings of pre-teen Riley

Calvin Fair, in his element, on Buck Mountain, above Chief Cove on Kodiak Island, in October 1986. His hunting partner and longtime friend Will Troyer captured this image while they were on one of the duo’s annual deer-hunting trips. (Photo courtesy of the Fair Family Collection)
The Road Not Taken: A tribute to my father’s career choice

For the first 40 years of my life, I saw my father professionally as a dentist. Period.

Edward Burke is ordained a transitional deacon by Archbishop Andrew E. Bellisario at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Photo provided by Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church)
Kenai’s Catholic Church hosts diaconate ordination

The event was attended by roughly 300 people, nearly a dozen priests and deacons and the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau

Rhubarb custard cake is ready to be baked. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Rhubarb and running to lift the spirits

Frozen rhubarb just won’t do for this tart and beautiful custard cake, so pick it fresh wherever you can find it

Minister’s Message: Prioritizing prayer

I am thankful I can determine to pray about choices and circumstances

Will Morrow (courtesy)
The adventure continues

I rolled into Kenai for what was going to be just a three- to five-year adventure

Little Family photo courtesy of the Soldotna Historical Society
Ira Little poses in the doorway of the cabin he recently completed with the help of his buddy, Marvin Smith, in the winter of 1947-48. The cabin stood on a high bank above the Kenai River in the area that would soon be known as Soldotna.
Bound and Determined: The Smith & Little Story — Part 2

On Dec. 19, 1947, Smith and Little had filed on adjoining homesteads

Most Read