Are you ready for Mutt Madness? You can get into the fun at home by teaching your dog to actually play basketball. Move over Air Bud, your dog can soon be shooting hoops in your living room impressing all of your friends and family.
To get started teaching this trick, you will need a few things:
- Treats – pick treats that are high-value and exciting to your dog, cut into small pieces
- A ball your dog can hold – depending on your dog’s size (tennis ball and/or plush balls work well)
- Child-sized Basketball hoop. There are a variety of options that are available from small handheld hoops you can purchase at a dollar store to larger free-standing basketball hoops designed for toddlers.
Once you have all of your supplies there are three main steps for teaching your dog to play basketball:
How to teach your dog to play basketball steps:
Step 1 – Teach hold
If your dog doesn’t already know how to hold something in its mouth on cue, you’ll want to teach this cue first.
- Sit or stand with your dog facing you and show the ball to your dog. When your dog sniffs or investigates the ball, praise/click and give your dog a treat – the idea here is to reward any interaction/interest with the ball
- Next, we will slowly build up the criteria. When your dog sniffs the ball, wait until they put their mouth onto the ball before praising/clicking and give treats.
- Once your dog is putting their mouth onto the ball, start adding small amounts of duration, waiting a fraction of a second, and then a second with your dog’s mouth on the ball before you praise/click and reward with treats.
- At this stage you can introduce the verbal cue of your choice like “hold” “take” “get” etc.
- When your dog is confident at this stage, you can hold the ball out to your dog in an open hand. When your dog puts the ball in its mouth and picks up the ball, praise/click and reward with a treat.
- The next step is to put the ball on the floor and when your dog picks up the ball, give lots of praise and a treat.
Step 2 – Teach Drop
Once your dog knows hold, you need to teach your dog the cue for drop so that they can both pick up the “basketball” and then drop it into the hoop. Dogs naturally want to hold onto things that are of value to them and so we want our dogs to understand that if they drop the ball they will be getting something even more valuable in return.
- When your dog is holding the ball in its mouth, show your dog a treat they are excited about
- When your dog drops the ball for the treat, give praise!
- You can start to add in your verbal marker of your choice like “drop” “throw” “give” etc.
- When your dog is successful over several training sessions, start to ask for the verbal cue without showing your dog the treat. When your dog drops the ball, give lots of praise and treats.
Step 3 – Let’s Play Basketball
With these foundation skills in place, your dog is ready to put everything together and get started with basketball! Basketball is an advanced trick that combines both the earlier skills of “hold” and “drop,” but now adds in the precision of your dog needing to take the ball and put it into a very specific location (the hoop) which is tricky!
- Show the hoop to your dog and offer a treat for your dog sniffing or investigating it. The goal here is to make sure your dog makes positive associations with the hoop, and to ensure your dog isn’t spooked or worried about it.
- When your dog is comfortable with the hoop, have the hoop in front of your dog, and ask your dog to hold the ball and put the hoop in front of your dog’s face. For some dogs, this is easiest to start with a small handheld basketball hoop so you can help them to aim.
- Ask your dog to drop the ball when you have the basket positioned under your dog’s face and when they drop the ball through the hoop, give lots of praise and treats.
- Repeat several times and then begin to introduce a verbal cue of your choice like “basket” “hoop” or “dunk.”
- After a few repetitions, your dog will start to make the connection that a key component of the trick is dropping the ball into the hoop – but this is a difficult skill so keep your training sessions short and fun, and keep assisting your dog with aiming the basketball hoop.
- Slowly after several training sessions, you can begin to increase the distance your dog is from the basket when you hand them the ball. Start just an inch away and slowly build up the distance your dog is from the basketball hoop.
- We want to help our dogs to be successful and not get frustrated. If your dog isn’t consistently getting the ball into the basket, go back a step where your dog is closer to the hoop or where you are aiming the basketball hoop
- When your dog is consistently making a basket standing near the hoop you can begin to increase the distance your dog is from the hoop until your dog is able to go across the room to make a basket
- Instead of handing your dog the ball directly, you can begin cueing your dog to pick up the ball from the floor and make a basket.
- Practice! Practice! Practice! Remember that this is a really complicated trick. Keep your training sessions short and fun. A few minutes several times a day is going to be more effective than prolonged training sessions where your dog is going to get tired or frustrated or overwhelmed.
Watch the full video How to Teach Your Dog to Play Basketball with Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI) Sassafras Lowrey below:
Be sure to check out our latest Mutt Madness bracket and share the hype to help find homes for our All-Star dogs. Show us your dog’s basketball skills on social media using #MuttMadness and tag/follow @embarkvet. See you there!