New game lets dogs 'herd'
An area animal trainer is on a mission to get local K-9s involved with a new and rather unconventional sport.
The name of the game is treibball, and Fargo-Moorhead pet trainer Stevie Mathre is working with local dogs and their owners to learn the basics behind the sport, which was developed in Germany in 2003.
Mathre, owner of All Smart Pets Training, in Fargo, began teaching treibball at the Lucky Dog Boarding and Training Center in Detroit Lakes on June 4, and will continue to give lessons throughout the summer.
"This sounded like a fun activity," said Mathre last week when she visited the Training Center, which is located at 1478 Mallard St., near the Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp. in Detroit Lakes. "It's something any dog can do."
The trainer of 14 years said so far, six local pet owners have entered their dogs into her 6-week program, which takes place every Saturday on the grounds north of the Lucky Dog building.
According to Mathre, treibball has gained much of its popularity through video-sharing websites, such as Youtube, and a number of dog training organizations.
Mathre also said, as a sport that benefits "shepherds who don't have sheep," treibball is also being referred to as "ball driving" or "urban herding."
Essentially, the goal in treibball is for a dog to work off-leash at a distance from its handler by pushing eight 45-75 centimeter exercise balls into a soccer goal.
Mathre said the dog has 15 minutes to move all the balls into the goal without biting or pawing at them.
The handler's job is to stand near the goal and use verbal communication skills to direct their dog to each of the balls, which are initially organized in a triangle formation, facing away from the goal.
The dog starts off by positioning itself opposite its handler on the pointed side of the ball formation. From there, the dog must begin moving the balls, one at a time, into the goal, starting with the ball that is farthest away from the goal.
Mathre said "a lot of communication" is needed between the handler and the dog when playing treibball.
Interaction with other K-9s is what makes Mathre eager to work alongside treibball participants. She admits that she still has room to grow in the sport.
"It can be a fast moving game," Mathre said. "I need to get better myself."
Mathre clings to modesty when she talks of how far she and her own dogs have come in treibball. However, her 4-year-old smooth collie, Kiernan, was in the zone when she worked with him to demonstrate how the game is played.
As Mathre softly voiced commands, Kiernan successfully moved a practice ball to key areas around the Lucky Dog practice grounds.
But Kiernan's skills have not come easily ... or quick.
"We teach them very slowly," Mathre said.
It is easy to see that Mathre finds joy in working with animals. She said that her newly found passion for treibball has strengthened her relationship with the dogs she works with.
Judy Wick, of rural Fergus Falls, and her carrie blue terrier, Meghan, are currently attending Mathre's treibball classes. After attending the first session, Wick said she cannot wait for the next.
"I'm learning a lot," Wick said. "I think it will be fun."
Wick also said that Meghan, who is a little more than one year old, has proven to be somewhat of a natural with the new sport.
"It's kind of in her breed," Wick said. "She's doing very well."
A six-week session of treibball lessons costs $65. If any dog owners are interested in getting involved, they are asked to call Mathre at (701) 412-6375.
While there are currently no treibball competitions set up in the lakes area, Mathre believes that the sport could take off for Detroit Lakes in the future.
"It's still in development," Mathre said.