Home » Library » Teach » Fun & Handy Tricks

How to Train Your Dog to Play Soccer

Filed in - Fun & Handy Tricks


Here's a trick that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser—and your dog will have good fun with it, too! Teach your dog how to play soccer (or "football" if you prefer).

Begin by defining the behavior, and then split the behavior into parts. Keeping the training as simple as possible makes it entertaining and a fun challenge for your dog. There's no need for any special equipment; a soccer ball or similar sports ball and a chair for the goal are plenty. For the goal, you can drape a towel around the legs of the chair, leaving one side open. (A tip for owners of dogs with strong jaws and a penchant for popping balls—pump the ball up very well before you begin, just in case.)

holding soccer ball above dogs head

The two likeliest ways for the dog to "kick" the ball are by using his paws or his nose (across the top of the nasal bone is best). While some dogs are particularly skilled at using their paws to propel a ball with accuracy, the easiest way to train most dogs is to teach them to use their noses. Many dogs will already know how to nose target, and that's a very good start.

A goal is the goal

Soccer is more fun to watch when someone kicks a goal, so the soccer-playing behavior should involve a goal kick from at least three paces from the goal. Make the goal kick the finished behavior, more specifically, using the top of the nasal bone to "kick" from three paces directly into the goal.

Some dogs love batting and nosing the ball. It is tempting to just let them play with the ball, and then shape the desired behavior from there. If you're very confident doing so, then go right ahead. Some people can train this way, but in most cases it's probably not as efficient as it may appear.

Many dogs will already know how to nose target, and that's a very good start.

If you let the dog play with the ball, it is possible that he will pop it—and that ends the game! Try to avoid any popping or chewing of the ball. If the nose "kick" is the desired behavior, then it is best to avoid pawing at the ball, too. Another reason to avoid popping, chewing, and pawing the ball is that these behaviors are self-reinforcing and difficult to extinguish later.

Target, with reasonable expectations

A simple way to narrow the dog's options for interacting with the ball while, simultaneously, encouraging interaction with the ball, is to present the ball as you would a target stick. Be careful not to "shove" the ball toward the dog's face—just hold it in front of you within the dog's reach. Click and treat any attempt to touch the ball with the nose. If you present the ball and nothing happens, don't leave the ball in that position for too long. After a few seconds, move the ball away, pause, and then present the ball again.

The instruction "click and treat any attempt to touch the ball with the nose" really does mean to click and treat any attempt to touch the ball with the nose, even if the attempt is only vaguely in the right direction. If you have never taught a dog to target, or if your dog isn't naturally curious, you might be surprised by how little you can and should accept in the very early stages of shaping this behavior. A glance in the direction of the ball is clickable, a sniff without any movement is clickable, and an adjustment of weight on the paws is clickable.

One of the biggest mistakes made while shaping a new behavior is to "lump"—to expect too much behavior before clicking. Set your criteria low enough so that, on average, you can click every two to three seconds. Sometimes the process slows down, and sometimes it runs very quickly and smoothly, but if you're stuck, investigate the possibility of lumping. Count up the number of treats and set the clock for a two minute session. At the end of the session, count the remaining treats and calculate your rate of reinforcement. If your rate of reinforcement is less than one treat every three seconds, then you're probably lumping.

One of the biggest mistakes made while shaping a new behavior is to "lump"—to expect too much behavior before clicking.

Nose touches

When your dog is touching the ball with his nose reliably, kneel down, place the ball on the ground, and place your hand on the ball so that it doesn't move. Click and treat any nose targeting on the ball. If you've got a creaky back, place your foot on the ball instead, and click and treat any nose targeting. Keep the ball stationary at this stage so that you don't have to keep chasing the ball while you shape the correct positioning of the nose. Dogs used to playing with balls or dogs that enjoy puncturing balls can't easily indulge themselves if the ball is held still.

Start to reinforce touches where the dog's nose touches the lower half of the ball. Why? These touches naturally put your dog's nose in a position where the top of the nose is in contact with the ball and could push the ball away (although at this stage you are holding the ball in place with your hand or foot).

dog gets reward

When your dog is touching the lower half of the ball reliably while you hold the ball in place, move the ball to a position immediately in front of the "goal" (chair legs). Hold the ball in place, and click a few more accurate nose targets on the lower half of the ball.

Next, move your hand away just as your dog goes to target the ball. Click and treat when the ball enters the goal (which should be almost immediately after your dog targets the ball, as the ball is just outside the goal).

Congratulations—your dog just kicked his first goal!


Take note of the timing. At this next stage, you want to click when the ball enters the goal—not when your dog touches the ball. Although there is probably only 0.0001 second between the two events, a goal is the desired result. In successive trials you will be placing the ball further and further from the goal. How far? Just far enough so that in ten trials the ball goes through the goal eight or nine times. Any less and you are placing the ball too far from the goal, any more and you are placing the ball too close to the goal.

Remember to keep the ball under your control in order to narrow your dog's options for playing with the ball.


And there you have it—a simple plan for teaching a dog to play soccer. Creative dogs can find ways to foil your best-laid plans, but the basic structure of the training has been presented. As long as you put the important steps in the right order, you should be able to work through any hiccups along the way.

Remember to keep the ball under your control in order to narrow your dog's options for playing with the ball. This sets him up for success—and before long, your dog will be playing his own Football or Soccer World Cup in the backyard!

About the author
User picture


Great idea! Fun for both the dog and owner once learned!

Train Your Dog To Play Soccer

Perfect Aidan! Have just returned from Kathy Sdao's 2-day seminar, "I-Cue" and am anxious to get back to training. Amazing how much you learn what you don't know and thought you did!

My 4yo grandson is learning to play soccer and he and Ochipa are best buds. It will be fun teaching them to kick a goal together.

Thanks for the inspiration!


Post new comment

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <embed> <object> <div>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readable fashion or (if JavaScript is enabled) replaced with a spamproof clickable link.

More information about formatting options

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.