How to Teach Your Dog a Circus Trick

Behavior & training

A dog trainer I know requires all of his students teach their dog at least one trick to graduate from dog training classes. His theory is this: If your dog knows a few tricks, then he is confident that you will continue training your dog – if for no other reason than to show off your brilliant dog to family and friends when they visit.

When she was a puppy, my Border Collie and I graduated with her jumping through a hula-hoop and crawling on her belly. Since then, she has learned many, many tricks. Putting away her dog toys  – in a trick we call “Clean up!” – is probably my favorite, but this circus trick is pretty neat too. It also makes up for the fact that I never quite taught her properly how to ride a skateboard.

Teaching Roll It!

In this trick, the dog pushes a fairly large ball (like the inflatable ones used for exercise) with his front paws while walking behind it. Smaller dogs, obviously, would need a smaller ball.

You have to teach it in several steps, though. Using a clicker makes this process much faster.

Part 1: Putting front feet on the ball.

Brace the ball between your feet or wedge it in a corner so that it cannot move. Use food or a favorite toy to lure your dog into an upward body position. Pat the top of the ball and use encouraging to get your dog to put his front feet on top of the ball.

Because we’d played the clicker training game called “101 Things to Do with A Box,”  my dog already knew a cue called “front feet,” so I was able to encourage her to transfer the ability of putting her feet on or into a box to the ball pretty quickly.

Click and reward your dog any time his front feet touch the top of the ball. A verbal marker word like YES! works too.

Part 2: Moving the ball a little.

Once your dog consistently puts his feet on top of the ball on cue, lure a more vertical body position by holding a piece of food or a toy higher than and in front of your dog’s head. Gently move the ball a little bit and reward your dog for keeping his feet on the moving ball.

Dogs often fall to their elbows on the ball when it moves because it feels more stable, and you want to encourage front feet, not elbows, but if you have to start with elbows until your dog learns to trust the ball’s movement, that’s okay too.

Part 3: Getting the dog to move the ball a little.

It really helps if your dog already happily wears a harness of some sort because it gives you something to help steady him as he begins pushing the ball. Choose a less slippery surface as well so that your dog is less likely to fall. Carpet works well. Grass works even better because it helps keep the ball from popping loose.

Again, use food or a toy held high and encouraging words – while walking next to your dog to steady him. Reward him greatly for any progress of pushing the ball with front feet and walking behind it with the rear feet.

Part 4: Going greater distances.

Over time, your dog will need less support to keep balance and will be able to push the ball greater distances.