Ep. 10: Why You Need Treibball

Mar 4, 2020

With so many different dog sports to choose from, it can be overwhelming to try to decide which ones play with your dog. But, if you are looking for something that will really take your training chops, and the relationship with your dog, to the next level, Treibball is for you!​

In this episode, we speak with Michael McManus, founder of the Treibball competition organization, PUSH Treibball, and someone who is truly passionate about this sport. Michael discusses how he personally got involved in Treibball, the history of the sport as a whole, mistakes that have been made in how people were training and how the sport itself was being described and promoted. At the core of it though, Michael breaks down the benefits of this gem of a game, why he is so passionate about it and how it is a great game for all dogs to play. You definitely need to check out this episode!​


Dianna L. Santos

Michael McManus


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Dog Sport Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things dog sports, some of the dog sports that we may cover, include agility, barn hunt, competition obedience, this dog parkour, rally obedience, tri ball tricks, and much more. In this episode, we're going to be speaking with Michael McManus, an instructor competitor as well as a tribal organization founder to talk more about the sport of tri. Before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, lemme just give you a very brief rundown about Dog Sport University. Dog Sport University is an online dog training platform. We focus on all things dog sports. We provide online courses, seminars, and webinars to help you achieve your dog sport training goals. We can help you from the very beginning steps of working on a particular dog sport, developing more advanced skills to maybe getting you ready for competition if that was something you were interested in.

So without further ado, let's dive into the podcast. We were very fortunate to sit down with Michael McManus, who's a professional instructor, trainer, trial official, and also founder of the tri Organization Push. Michael has over 10 years experience working professionally with dogs, and he's a highly sought after speaker and instructor, particularly for nose work as well as tri ball. So we're going to dive right into the conversation that we had with Michael about one of the sports that he's very passionate about ball. In this part of the conversation, Michael is explaining to us how he first heard about the dog sport of tri ball and how he got introduced to the entire concept.

Michael McManus (01:30):
There's this new sport going around of teaching dogs to herd balls instead of sheep, and they thought this might be a great thing to do to add to their ranch for the dogs who weren't good enough to herd sheep. That's kind of the way they thought about it. And since I had dogs that weren't herding dogs, I had a husky and things like this and I did other types of dog training, they were like, Hey, why don't you go and learn how to do this and come back and teach it at the ranch? So I got to go to the first ever certification program for Tri Ball. It was in Colorado, the American Tri Association hosted it, which I believe is still the largest tribal organization in the United States and took my husky and we had a lot of fun. It's all shaped. It actually has nothing to do with herding other than surface level, using the same words that use in cheap herding. And I think that's one of the big failings of the sport with which there are many, which is why the sport is dying and I'm trying to resurrect it, is that they tried to associate it with hurting too much.

Dianna L. Santos (02:33):
And that's a really good thing that you just brought up. That was one of the questions I had was whenever even I talk about it basically just lifting up some of the things that that organization brought up was like, oh, it's urban hurting. So then the question I had was, well then should people also be trying herding and would that then translate to better ball performance? Like what we see sometimes with barn height and cent work, you're able to kind of, oh, well I can make a better barn hunt dog if they also understand nose work or scent work. But you're saying basically that's not the same with tribal and herding. There are actually two separate things.

Michael McManus (03:10):
They are completely, although I would argue that the benefit you get to barn hunt from doing nose work is becoming a better handler. I think that dogs learn some skills, but I think mostly it's you learning how to read odor, which until recently really wasn't taught to barn hunt people. It was just, here's a rat, let your dog find it. And so I think the same can be said about herding and tri ball, whereas the more you do with your dog in general, the better you become as a handler. And there are some other links between the two. So for example, a dog who does better at herding tends to be a dog who's more driven in general. And so dogs with more drive are easier to train, period. So other than that, there is absolutely no link. I used to have videos of this and I can't find them anymore, but I trained my Guinea pig to do tri ball and obviously in case it's not obvious to anybody else who might be listening to this, Guinea pigs don't have herding instinct and they don't need it. It is a purely shaped behavior. There is no requirement or use for herding behavior. If anything, the herding behavior will get in the way because the dog may want to become too controlling of the ball and want to bite the ball.

Dianna L. Santos (04:26):
So that's a really good thing for people to understand that they don't have to run out and find a herding instructor. If they also want to do well in tri, they can actually do these two things separately and if you don't have access to a herding instructor, you can still play the game of tri

Michael McManus (04:40):
Ball. Yes. And also on the flip side of that coin, sadly, if you have a herding dog that has needs of expressing that herding instinct, tri ball is not going to get you there.

Dianna L. Santos (04:51):
And that's a really good thing to I think, emphasize. Could you talk about that a little bit more?

Michael McManus (04:56):
Yeah, so I get this all the time. It's like, oh my dog. It always wants to herd things. And another thing is most pet people don't know what herding actually is. So they think a dog who chases squirrels is herding. It's like, yeah, no, that's not hurting. Herding is the desire to control. So if your dog stalks squirrels, that's getting closer to herding, but that by itself still isn't hurting. But I'm a big believer in facilitating the dog's expression of their natural instincts rather than trying to suppress them. So I'm all for, you got a herding breed, you need to express that herding instinct. And herding is, in my mind, actually the only way to do that. I know some people seem to get away with just doing toy work with their dogs, but I think there's something fundamentally unfulfilling about that. So anyways, that's a side point that tri ball is not going to tap into your dog's herding instinct at all because in order for herding instinct to be activated, you need a prey animal that moves. And if you make the ball move in that way, your dog will want to bite the ball, and that's going to be very hard to fix.

Dianna L. Santos (06:13):
Okay, so that makes perfect sense. So basically if you try to say, okay, well I have a border Collie and my border collie needs to herd, but I don't have access to sheep, I'm going to try to use tri as an equivalent or a stand-in, then basically you're creating more problems for yourself than solutions,

Michael McManus (06:30):
At least if your goal is to play the sport of tri ball. If you just want to throw a toy in the backyard. That's the other thing is there are safer and better toys for that purpose. Learn how to play with your dog with a toy. That's a great thing. I'm all for that. But an exercise ball, it can pop and either startle your dog or hurt your dog if the piece of the plastic gets caught in their mouth. It's not a safe toy to let your dog play with. So if that's your goal, tri ball is probably not the right way to do that.

Dianna L. Santos (07:02):
And I think that's a really good thing for people to understand because it is still fairly a new sport. There's still a lot of people who have no idea what it is. So there's a lot of misinformation and I probably have been one of the people who've been saying the wrong things about it. So I appreciate any clarifications that you can provide.

Michael McManus (07:18):
No, sure. So what

Dianna L. Santos (07:19):
Would you say would be a helpful way for people to really understand what this is, which dogs should play, and the best way for them to go about it?

Michael McManus (07:28):
So I break dog sports into two basic groups. I call one group working dog sports, and those are all the dog sports that have to do with a dog's instinct where you're basically allowing the dog to be a dog. And that would be herd hunting, nose work, those kinds of things. And then the other side you have mechanical dog sports or training dog sports or whatever you want to call them. These are things like obedience and rally and agility. Tri ball fits into that. And what Tri Ball offers that the others don't is a higher level of communication. The level of communication you don't see until the very advanced levels of obedience and that very few people ever do an agility because you can get away with agility with just body language a lot of times, and unless you're doing advanced distance where you don't move and you're just signaling log which way to go, that kind of distance work, you can do that in tri ball without too much distance.

That's the beauty of it. Your dog doesn't need to be able to work 30 feet from you, although you can build that if you want, you don't need it, but you do need to be able to direct your dog left, right, backwards, forwards and have a very clear communication system with your dog and relationship with your dog. That's what I love about it so much is it really puts your ability to communicate with your dog to the test. There's not really a dog it isn't good for, it's great for young dogs, it's great for old dogs. It's not as hard on the body as agility is, and it's not as frankly boring as obedience is for a lot of dogs. A lot of dogs get, I love obedience and my dogs love obedience, but it takes a lot of work to make obedience fun for your dog if you're not already in that mode. But ball is pretty much instantly fun, constantly doing different games, different setups. It provides a lot of variety.

Dianna L. Santos (09:16):
Perfect. And I think that's a fantastic explanation of it. So hopefully that explanation spreads out a little bit more so that people can have a better appreciation for what this really

Michael McManus (09:25):
Is and my version of the sport, because there is various ways people have tried to implement tri into competition venues and stuff. My version of the sport is very much focused on strategy and in the moment communication with the dog. So I like to compare it rather than to herding or to soccer, which is what a lot of people compare it to. I like to compare it to billiards where you have to think about your shot, plan it out carefully, and then execute it all in an instant. And that's my way of thinking about things and it's really fun if you can do it right.

Dianna L. Santos (10:04):
I also like that analogy. I think that really can help people kind of wrap their heads around it a little bit more and using the right terminology and the right type of imagery I think can really help, particularly when people have no idea what we're talking about. Definitely. So since this is such a newer sport, it seems to have shifted or changed or it's still in the process of doing so from when it very first started years ago. What would you say are some of the biggest changes that have been as far as either the concept itself or how people are going about training it?

Michael McManus (10:37):
Yeah, sure. And it might be useful to outline a little bit of the history of the sport so that you can understand why these shift have happened. The sport kind of came out of Europe. There was a Scandinavian dog trainer who happened to train in Germany. His name's Jan Nebo or you can still look him up online. He still has DVDs that are widely distributed and it was kind of an outlet for his dogs' energy. They liked chasing these barrels around on his ranch. His dogs actually did herding and he used herding commands to control their pushing of these barrels. Now, barrels don't pop like exercise balls do. So it was a very different thing in its infancy. It was more like herding and directing a dog of how to chase a barrel around a ranch. And he thought it was a good way of exercising that.

And over time, probably because he ran into a lot of dogs that didn't have herding instinct, it evolved to exercise balls, which were easier to find and cheaper to buy. And since their exercise balls now, we can't have the dogs biting them, so now we need to teach them to push in. So it evolved just right in the beginning fairly quickly. Then the next step was for American trainers to start seeing videos of tri ball being done in Europe. And they said, okay, this is cool. We want to do this. They contacted European trainers and at least for a year, nobody heard anything back from any European trainers. We don't know why exactly, but they didn't tell us. So American trainers just started reverse engineering it. And this is the number one problem I still see is most people who know about ball saw it online, went home and tried to train it.

And when you reverse engineer tri ball, what happens is the most obvious thing that you see is a dog pushing a ball. So you go home and you teach your dog to push. Now if you've trained with me, you already know this is the exact wrong way to go about it. What you want to do is teach the dog how to control that instinct first. So you want to teach them how to line up so that when they push it, they push it the right direction. And you want to put in all of this detailed control work in first before you allow the dog to ever push the ball. And that's because the way the sport is developed, it has developed from a sport where a dog just chased a barrel around the ranch to a sport where we might want the dog to be able to take an exercise ball around a difficult course or pick exactly which ball in a group of balls that we want the dog to select and push to us or push away from us or do any number of things to it. As we layered on complexity, we had to add more and more control. If it's just pushing a ball, you don't need a lot of control. If it's just chasing sheep, you don't need a lot of control. But if you want a herd sheep, you need a lot of control.

Dianna L. Santos (13:25):
And that makes a lot of sense. So having been one of these people who blindly played with this, one of the biggest things that I had was just being able to myself be able to figure out where the hell this ball was going to go. Because even if I had thought and I didn't, but I thought that the dog was lined up correctly, they would try to push it and the ball would go flying off in some other weird direction. And then the dog and I are both frustrated now of course it's in a corner or it's up against a fence or whatever. So can you talk about that element as well? That, and also, and this is why I think a lot of people that Elise I've talked to find tri ball to be so frustrating is there's no easy part to this. Everything can be complicated if you're not coming at it from the right perspective. So if you can just talk about the whole ball part of it, that'd be great.

Michael McManus (14:17):
So that is another significant change. So when you're first starting to look at tri ball and you're reverse engineering it with no support group of people who've been doing it a lot longer, so you go out to the store, you buy a ball and you buy the cheapest ball you can find probably because you're not taking this that seriously yet. If you were taking it seriously, you would be working with a trainer or calling a trainer about how to do it. And so that means you came home with a non weighted typical exercise ball. And that means when you teach a dog to push it, it flies around the room because those things are really, really light. And so that's one of the things that you'll learn when you come to my classes is we never train with an unweighted ball until the dog is super, super advanced and learning very advanced control work because they're harder to control.

We use weighted balls and if you've ever handled the weighted ball, they don't roll very easily. They're hard to move, and if you physically roll it, it'll roll once and then stop, and then you have to roll it again and again and again. So I consider that the weighted ball is one of the most fundamental parts of training in the beginning in order to get teacher dog control. Then the next thing you say about rolling into a corner or rolling into a fence, these are all specific problems that we work on in the class before the dog's introduced to pushing. So we teach the dog how to orient opposite the ball from us. That's the very first thing we learn in the class is teaching the dog just to align their spine from their nose to their tail in front of the handler. If the nose and tail are straight alignment to the handler, then if you say push, they're going to push it towards you.

More often than not, unless there's a slope or something like that, we have to teach the dog to compensate with for that later. So we teach them to automatically what we call balance, which is a herding term automatically balance to the handler. No matter where I move or how far I am, the dog automatically rotates around the ball and you can see videos of that pretty easily. If you look online or you look at my videos in particular, you'll see it more then. And then from there, we teach the dog. We proof that. So what happens if I put the ball against the wall? Can my dog still figure out how to get to the opposite side of that ball even though there's all this pressure? Will my dog squeeze in between the fence in a ball? We try to figure out all the ways that this could be difficult, and if you can't think of be creative and think about ways, it's going to be difficult. Don't worry. Because when you get to competition, they'll happen to you just like you said, the ball rolls into a corner. Well, that's how all of us learned at first is it happened on accident. And then we had to figure out, okay, what do we do? How are we going to fix this? And we trained our dogs to do it, and now you can benefit from our past struggling learning by doing it right in the beginning. After all of that's done, then we introduce pushing later.

Dianna L. Santos (17:15):
Perfect. And I think that's the ideal way to do all kinds of dog training, right? Is there's no need to recreate the wheel. I suffered under making a whole lot of mistakes and learned from them, and now I get to pass my knowledge onto someone else.

Michael McManus (17:28):
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Dianna L. Santos (17:31):
So speaking about your journey through all of this, you've also started your own competition organization push. Did you want to talk about that at

Michael McManus (17:38):
All? Yeah, yeah. So I really like this dog sport. I think it's really special and there is a dedicated core group of people who really do think it's special. It is not as hard on the dogs. It's more interesting and complex than a lot of other dog sports. We allow you to use food in the ring. Every venue that I'm aware of allows you to use food in the ring. So it sits in this position out there that I think isn't currently occupied by any other dog sport on the market today except for nose work, which is also super easy, not very strenuous, and you can take treats in the ring. So if your dog is you have difficult building chains of behavior without food, you can still participate. So it's been very sad for me to watch the sport slowly die, a death of a thousand cuts because of, in my opinion, the way it was marketed and the way the competitions have been set up.

So it was marketed as hurting, which we've already discussed. It's not. And then the competitions were set up in such a way that they wanted you to have 12 basic skills taught before you competed. And it was like a year to get to competition from starting from nothing to competing. Even if you were a dog sport person, you'd done dog sports before and you have a fairly well-trained dog, it would still take you about a year to get from basic to competition level. And then the competition itself was just go out and bring 15 balls into a goal. It doesn't matter what ball you bring in order, except that there's technically a point ball that you get extra points for bringing that first, but you're not disqualified if that doesn't happen. You've got a really long time limit to do that whole thing. It's really, actually, sadly it's boring by the fourth ball, your dog will be like, oh gosh, another one, another one.

Oh my goodness. And that to me was a waste. So I started push because I thought everything could be brought down to a much simpler level that to the point where if you have a dog that you've been training in other dog sports and you want to try tri ball, I can get you competition ready in three months. And the reason is because I made the trial level a little bit easier, let's say, so you don't have to work at such great a distance. The furthest ball in the normal trials is like 20 feet away and there's nothing further than 15 feet in my organization. 15 feet would be the absolute max distance at the highest level, the lower levels, you're usually only having to work six feet away from your dog, which is not too bad, maybe 10 feet. And then instead of focusing on just the pushing aspect of it and push into a goal, we focused on the balancing aspect of it.

So selecting which ball to push and what direction and doing courses there were, I think there was one or two organizations out there that have little courses that you take your ball and dog around like a herding course, but that hasn't been leaned into as a major part of the competition is one of the major parts of my venue. It's all about obstacles and having your dog work through an issue they've never seen before, which is something I love about nose work is that you haven't necessarily always trained for the situation you're in and you have to work through it in the moment. I know a lot of people hate that, especially if you're an obedience person, you want to have trained exactly the thing you're going into compete in and tri ball is not going to be like that. It's here are the fundamental pieces, balancing and pushing, and now let's apply them to a situation you might not have seen before and how well do you work through that? That's what my venue's all about.

Dianna L. Santos (21:26):
And that all sounds really interesting and it sounds as though it's been very thoughtfully put together as far as getting into a little bit more of the weeds. So if I wanted to compete with push, what type of dog would be qualified to play? Meaning are there any breed restrictions, age restrictions? What about reactive dogs? How many dogs are playing at the same time? Can you talk about those kind of details?

Michael McManus (21:50):
Yeah, so there are no breed or age restrictions as of yet. I'm kind of a minimalist when it comes to rules and that kind of stuff. Like my rule book I think is three pages long and is mostly comprised of how the games work, not the little details like whether your dog spayed or neutered or in heater. I want to delegate that out to hosts and let hosts deal with that. If you have a club and you have a dog who's in heat, do you really need it in writing that that dog needs to run last? I don't think so. So anyways, not too many restrictions there. If you have an aggressive dog or reactive or a fearful dog or whatever label you want to put on them, that again is something that I delegate out to the host of the club. So if you've got a group of people together, and most people who are competing in this sport are competing locally with people they know, people they've trained with, so you can set up your trial in such a way that let's all put our dogs away while this dog runs.

And the standard rule is don't be a jerk. And we may have games in the future that ask for dogs to work brace. So two dogs working simultaneously and you don't have to sign up for that class if you don't like. But as it is, the games and tests that we have organized are one dog out at a time. There may be a dog working in a warmup ring, just like an agility trial. So if you can handle an obedience or agility trial with maybe one dog running in a ring that's maybe not too far away, you can probably do tribal no problem. And if you have issues with that, then depending on your club that you're a part of, you can advocate for stricter rules on those kinds of things.

Dianna L. Santos (23:35):
That all makes sense. So what are your plans for push for 2020 and beyond?

Michael McManus (23:41):
Yeah, so my plans are to get more areas where competitions are happening. We have a group in California that's going with it. We have a group in the Pacific Northwest that's trying to get stuff together. And then me and I've just moved to Missouri, so I'm trying to work out the Missouri area. So that's three areas that are going to have competitions and we want to get as many people competing as possible. We want to show them that it's possible. We want to get physical competitions out there. There is Nate, the National Association of Tribal Enthusiasts. That's another competition venue, but it's an online venue, so there's not a lot of visibility out there. And I think it's a whole different thing when you get together with other people and compete that builds that community. And that's kind of what I want to do. And so I need judges to certify and judges to certify. You don't need experience beforehand. If you're interested, contact me and I'll try to get you up to the level as quickly as I can. And if you're interested in growing the sport with me, let me know because I'm trying to grow as many people as possible. So that's my main goals right now is try to get as many little communities of competition, tri ball going as possible.

Dianna L. Santos (24:53):
That all sounds great. Do you have a website or social media accounts that I will be able to direct people to from our podcast replay page?

Michael McManus (25:01):
Yeah, there's a push tribal Facebook page that's the best one to follow. We do have a website, but it's kind of out of date. We need to update it.

Dianna L. Santos (25:11):
Okay, perfect. Was there anything else that you wanted to add about overall what people should consider before they start making the plunge, when they should start making the plunge? Anything else that you wanted to share about Tri Ball?

Michael McManus (25:23):
I'll say this about Ball. The first part of Tri Ball, which is teaching the dog to balance in front of you. That is the hardest part. Once you do that, everything else is pretty much easy. So if you're going to give Tri Ball a try, which I highly recommend you do and do quickly, don't think about it. Just do it and give yourself two solid weeks where you're going to do tri ball for 10 minutes every single day and don't give up before that point. It's not like nose work where you can take a class once a week and coast along and get to elite level that way. I love nose work for that reason. You don't have to practice that much to do really well, but it's not like that. You've got to train a little bit every day and then you get to a point about two to three months in where you can switch it over to a maintenance program. But if you don't like it after two weeks, then I understand. But give it two solid weeks before you give up.

Dianna L. Santos (26:19):
Perfect. Well thank you so much, Michael. I really appreciate you talking to us about this, clarifying what tribal really is to myself. So I'm making sure that I'm not relaying the bad ways that we've been talking about this sport. It sounds like it's something that again, the majority of dogs would really enjoy. Like you said, it is building on those communication skills. It's helping people become better trainers and communicators with their dogs. It's allowing their dogs to think and the way that you've organized your organization sounds absolutely spot on. So I'm really hoping that it's very successful in 2020 and any information that you can provide for us on how we'd be able to help promote it and any information about content information for people who may be interested in starting up their own clubs or be interested in judges, by all means, just forward those along.

Michael McManus (27:08):
Awesome, thank you.

Dianna L. Santos (27:10):
And right as we were getting ready to end our conversation, I remembered a very important question. Are there any size requirements for this, for training? So let's get into that answer that Michael provides. Is there any kind of size requirement as far as space? Because you have some people who live in apartments or they may just not have a large yard. Is this something that they can actually do inside the house, or do they really need to do this

Michael McManus (27:33):
Outside? Yeah, so actually that's one of the things that I've tried to address with my venue is that this is supposed to be an alternative to herding. And just like nose work, it's supposed to be an alternative in some ways to tracking. In the other sense, sports, and it will fail if you require that people have space. If they had space, they would just do herding. So I've reduced everything down in terms of training. You don't need anything bigger than your living room to do the training. I can do, I would say a 10 foot sendout from one end of my house to the other end of my house. If you can get a 10 foot sendout on your dog, then you're fine. Now you need to be able to extrapolate that to new locations and be able to work outside and be able to work off leash and that kind of stuff. So if you only train in your living room, you will train all the skills except for reliability in new environments. So there's that, but you don't need anything, any extra space. And for my competition venue, you don't need a lot of space either. You could do it in just a big garage. You could have a competition in there. And I think we need 30 foot circle around, which isn't that big.

Dianna L. Santos (28:48):
And that's good for potential hosts to know so that they can say, oh, I don't need to rent out a tracking field for this. No,

Michael McManus (28:56):
No, not at

Dianna L. Santos (28:56):
All. Okay,

Michael McManus (28:57):
Perfect. Yeah, if you have an obedience ring, you can do tribal.

Dianna L. Santos (29:01):
Perfect. So we were very fortunate to have this conversation with Michael where he was able to really clarify what the sport and activity of tribal is really all about. Able to clarify and answer some of those questions that we had, that tribal could really be beneficial to all dogs and all handlers. It can really help improve the communication between handler and dog and also that it's not overly demanding as far as space. So even if you don't have a lot of space available to you, you can still do this activity. So make sure that you check out our podcast replay page, we'll provide all the links for push as well as all the other resources that Michael was speaking of. And if you are interested becoming a club or becoming a judge, we'll have Michael's content information in there as well. We hope that you enjoyed this podcast and we look forward to having Michael on for more happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.