Belly Ball - A game for dogs and humans

Dogs and games with humans seem to be something that has existed since time and memorial. After all a dog that tracks prey could be playing the game called survival and the prize or “goal” or reward is the food.

Dogs and humans also both like games for the sheer fun of playing an activity that we find rewarding with no apparent survival contingency.

About 5 years ago as I tossed a ball towards my dog Keyshia it went under and through her belly and I said, “Hey that could be a goal?”

Belly Ball Overview and Description video -

From there Belly Ball as it became known, was a daily minor obsession (then major obsession) with me on many levels. From my own mechanics and timing during the game as well as the dog’s behavior and training during the game I watched films, worked on moves, conditioned myself and the dogs I played with and began thinking how I could cobble out a simple, fun, challenging and functional way to play this game I was growing to love.

I practiced Belly Ball allot. As in just about every day allot. It is a great way to unwind and play with the dogs. It is a great way for me to stay in conditioning for life in general. After all dog training is a physically demanding job if one is to do it with any sort of efficiency.

My awesome doggie daughter Keyshia and my super K9 Son Mojo were only too thrilled to be part of the initial practice sessions! Mojo is now semi retired due to his age and some health issues but we still break out the baby soccer ball and play a very toned down version so he gets his mental stimulation. Big dog doing puppy play it is too cute!

Keyshia became the prototype small - ish (28 – 50 lbs) dog for the game. She is so amazing at the game and so well versed in my moves that she rarely gets scored on and has taught me lots about my own skills sets for the game.

She is also really great at just hanging out sometimes and allowing me to go through my moves in slow motion or play at a reduced intensity to work on moves or relax and think about the game. She is the best little practice buddy! We have played lots and lots and we still play lots of Belly Ball!

I wondered how would the game be with other dogs? How would it be with bigger and younger dogs? I was soon to find out.

Along came Bella Motzenbecker who is a one of my best client’s dogs - and that would be the fabulous Brian & Michelle Motzenbecker. Bella is the prototype for all big - ish dogs (50 lb. & up) that play Belly Ball. She is sleek, athletic, and has unbelievable impulse control. This dog is amazing at this game!

Bella playing Belly Ball -

I learned quite a bit from my practices with her. I found out that to really take the game to an athletic level and not just a relaxed toss around that the humans should not be; athletically challenged if they are to play Belly Ball full on at the level I play the game. Don’t, you’ll get hurt. I warned you. If you are an athletic person, still be carful and make sure your dog is fully and 1,000% ok with all aspect of the game and have at it. But again, as with ALL high impact sports take the precautions for yourself.

Tre is the newest dog on the Belly Ball “team”. All I can say is Wow! This is the dog that took my game to the next level. I discovered Tre in a class when I broke out a soccer ball and he went all crack - tastic on it! I knew right there that he had the stuff to be a great Belly Ball player.

He did not disappoint. You can see his first game and his most recent at the You Tube channel. These games are not to be missed if you want to see what I call Dogrobatics!
Tre's first game -

For quite a few years I was honing the possible ways to score points and making the game simple; yet having a bit of intricacy to it like all sports.
I am still tweaking the points scoring system but as it stands here is how that is structured.

The ball going under and through the dog’s belly from either side or front or back. It has to go under and through for a point - not just under, that is block.

The person or people playing call out “leave it’s” & “drop it’s” for a point awarded to the dog for doing one or both of those cues as needed.
All leave it & drop it criteria can be made to fit the play and tempo of the game. As I said the idea is fun, but indeed be a stickler if needed to teach the dog and to sharpen your skills in training during hectic times.

This training area of the game is flexible for a number of reasons.

1 – Level of game intensity, level of skill of dog and human. You can always work up to playing and training fast. Sometimes the game goes from slow to medium to fast, and well that is difficult for humans and dogs. So when you see me running and then I toss the ball for a score and the dog blocks it then goes to chase it and picks it up – issuing a cue is not that easy so there will be inconstancy built in unless you play really slow and focus in the training part which is great too!

It is made flexible as I could be winded, laughing, not looking in the direction of the ball or dog, I could be on the ground etc…so the issuance of the cue usually comes after the dog has already gotten a purchase or is in full stride to the ball.

The challenge when playing fast is in the human being quick – as it is in most training - and also aware of the environment - again nothing new mindset wise – but there is a new context at work here even in the familiar environment of play. That is shooting a ball at the belly area of the dog to score point. It puts a new twist on the interactions between human and dog. It gives the play a focus and a new challenge.

2 - This is a game built on a foundation of fun not a militaristic training regime or a competition between the dog and the human of how fast how often how much.

As with all sports if the fun is gone it is not really a sport anymore.

There is no competition between the dog and human, just like a game of Tug is not human vs. dog – it is human and dog working together to tug “prey” “ hey deal with it that is that is what Tug simulates….Also as in Tug the point for the dogs is to learn to leave it and drop it and stop and relax when all wound up.

In Belly Ball or even in a simple case of keep away or fetch the dog wants the ball and that reinforces all behaviors to occur during the game. Pretty simple as all the best games are.

In Belly Ball the human wants to get the ball under the dogs belly and that is challenging even if you play at a slow pace with a ball addicted dog.

As far as the dog can tell we are just running around and tossing the ball.

At first any way, then some things start to take shape, the human just tossing the ball turns into the human is tossing the ball most of the time towards the open under carriage area and the dog starts to compensate in a myriad of ways.

The dog figures out where the ball is most likely to go based on the human’s consistency. So there is most assuredly a learning aspect to the game beyond the training cues and time outs that are issued.

This is an unbelievable thing to witness and have a hand in shaping, yes shaping. I know it looks like I am running around and not “working”, but in my case you’d be wrong to assume that.

I am working during Belly Ball make no mistake about it. I am working very hard as a behavior technician during those games. Some things are just occurring for me as I play with dogs as I always have, and other moves have been practiced and some things are being developed in the moment.

Much like in other dog-training environments, especially hectic environments we are learning many times in the moment as it happens.

Like all action sports many of the best lessons are taught during the game not at practice. Belly Ball is no different for me in this regard.

One of the first real significant signs early on that this could be a game was when my dog Keyshia bent down with and blocked the ball! With her body to stop a ball tossed at the under carriage! Of course the behavior geek in me noticed this and I pondered, “hmmm… let’s proof it.” Sure enough she does it all the time in the game!

What is also interesting to note is that the third game I played with Tre he started the bend down to block ball behavior as well. The dog’s behavior is a result of the humans shot selection, the angle and the tempo of the game, just like in other sports just as basketball or rugby, which are both influential in the core make up of Belly Ball.

Impulse Control is a large part of the game. It has to be. The dogs that play Belly Ball at a really fast pace need very reliable drop its and leave it’s so the game has a flow. If the dog is not as focused and it is just a toss around game it will be easier to work on the drop it and leave it cue as you play.

However when you ramp it up as with any play with dogs when the environment gets hectic and the training is more challenging as there are larger bits of environmental stimuli for the dog.

Always create the pace you are comfortable with so the dog and the humans are safe and having fun.

In addition we use “time outs” of the ball and stoppage of play for infractions such as not dropping or leaving the ball, steal attempts when the game has stopped and “after grabs”. An “after grab” is when after a leave it or drop it has been adhered to then the dog grabs it after the drop or leave it.

We routinely stop mid game and ask for sits, downs, waits and stays of varying length. We do this as a way to take a break, wipe down the ball, get a bit of water and or simply to think about the game for a bit and plan. Sort of like a team taking a huddle.

Structuring the game was a challenge. After years of playing with about 6 – 7 dogs of various breeds and size and ages I felt one hour with 4 10 minute rounds could accommodate the needs of any dog or human to play at any pace and have a good time.

However I do caution that not all dogs are equipped to play at a tempo of all out for an hour even with breaks. I have tired dogs out with Belly Ball that I thought would not tire. Always judge the game’s pace on how the dog feels about it. Always.

The floor or ground surface is very important. I play mainly on a floor with tenderfoot rubber mating that is made for dogs.

Watch out for the dog’s paws if you are playing on anything other than a floor built for gymnasium style play – rubber matting. Even then not all paws are created equal. Some dogs paws are more tender than others.

ANY sign of pain, fear, stress or duress on the part of the dog and the game stops and the dog gets checked out. So far I have been injured worse than any dog has during the game.

I highly suggest using soccer balls. They are the most durable. They have three layers and can deal with the inevitable tooth snags and bites that will occur.

• If you have a dog that is obsessed with a tennis ball or chuck it ball and will carry it no matter what and they are soccer ball addicted have the dog take the small ball to carry and you have soccer balls last longer! My Keyshia is like this and I save many soccer balls from an early demise when she plays.

I have a game length; a structure and I have a points system. I have a criterion for penalties. I have the type of environment and the pace of the game all set.

Belly Ball was going along just fine and all worked out but something needed to be added to give the game a larger purpose than me running around with dogs. As fun as that is the game required something else.

Then it came to me make the points into dollars for dogs. Belly Ball is now a way for people to take notice of causes or organizations that need help and for them to donate and match my scores.

So it was born this year 2012 - Belly Ball became a functional fundraising tool!

We have two local live games on the schedule in May 2012.
May 11th Tre & I play a game for Pick Your Paw Rescue of NJ

May 25th Tre & I play a game for Home Free Dog Rescue of NJ

Check out those Facebook pages for those events for more details and how to donate by matching my score or attending the games!

Remote Fundraisers – What is this?

I just did my very first “remote fundraiser” for Carolina Care Bullies Spidey’s Fund on March 23 2012. I played a game with Tre and filmed it. You can view it here and match my score with a donation of your own. Watch to find out how much!

Check out Carolina Care Bullies Facebook page here -

Find out how more about Spidey’s Fund here -

I’ll be playing regular games from here on in both live with an audience at the Urban Dawgs facility in Red Bank NJ as well as doing remote fundraisers filmed then posted at the You Tube channel for organizations and causes all through 2012 and beyond.

Try the game at your pace and the pace your dog finds comfortable, film some of your games and post them, join the Facebook page!
Belly Ball Facebook page -

And subscribe to the Belly Ball You Tube channel -

You never know where you might see Belly Ball being played in the future so stay tuned!

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