Do you have an energetic herding dog you need to tire out? Or maybe you are looking for a new interactive toy for your pup who is left home alone?
A herding ball may be the perfect toy for your playful pooch.
All up, we tested over 11 different herding balls, spending dozens of hours watching our hyperactive dogs chase them around the yard.
Here are a few of the different herding balls we reviewed:
We observed their durability, ease of pushing, and suitability for different breeds of dogs. All to answer one single question:
Which herding ball is best for your dog?
Want the answer? Then read on.
Our Top Choices
- What is a herding ball and does your pooch need one?
- The dangers of herding balls
- The best herding balls
- The herding balls that didn’t make the cut
What is a herding ball and does your pooch need one?
A herding ball is an interactive dog toy. That is, a toy that can be played with by dogs who are home alone. Interactive dog toys are an essential part of any doggy toy box. They stop your pup from becoming bored and depressed while you are away from home.
As the name suggests, a herding ball is a ball that is too big, heavy or difficult to be picked up and carried by your dog. They don’t bounce and can’t be kicked. The only way to play with a herding ball is to push and chase it. And as you’ll soon learn, dogs love them.
Herding balls are used in the sport Treibball (pronounced tri ball), where dogs herd large balls into a pen. As per the rules, a herding ball should be taller than your dog’s shoulders.
This makes it easier for your dog to push with different parts of his body. The larger your dog, the larger the herding ball needs to be.
For backyard play, herding balls typically refer to large, hard plastic balls. They don’t bounce and can’t be carried. These solid balls must be pushed around by your dog instead.
Herding dogs, in particular, will excitedly play with herding balls for hours at a time. There is a good reason for this…
You see, herding dogs were bred to work on farms. They are incredibly smart and spent their days moving livestock such as cattle, sheep and even ducks from one location to another. In fact, herding dogs are considered to be among the smartest dog breeds.
A few popular herding dogs include:
- Australian Cattle Dogs
- Border Collies
- German Shepherds
- Old English Sheepdogs
- Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties)
As you can imagine, herding animals was an exhausting task. These dogs required plenty of energy to chase after animals across wide open farmland. Not only that, but dogs were required to think about their task and react according to how the livestock moved – herding is a stimulating and rewarding job!
While herding dogs can still be found on farms, they are most commonly found in suburban homes. I don’t know the last time you stepped foot in the suburbs, but I’ll tell you right now homes do not have rolling acreage for dogs to roam or sheep to chase.
And, those herding dogs living in the heart of the city have it worse…
You see, these herding instincts are strong.
Your dog wants to herd. But modern living doesn’t provide the outlet needed to act out these natural instincts.
Like with any dog, a lack of stimulation or entertainment can lead to problem behavior such as…
- Chasing cars, bicycles, cats, dogs or people
- Nipping at the heels of other dogs at the dog park or even people
- Trying to herd people through doorways while blocking them from entering others
The last three, in particular, are closely related to herding behaviors.
By giving your dog a herding ball, you’re letting your dog explore these natural herding instincts – chasing and moving objects, without negatively impacting others.
Don’t worry, giving your dog a herding ball doesn’t mean your dog will do more of it. Instead, it gives your pup an appropriate outlet to exercise his natural instincts – kind of like letting your teenager participate in boxing or MMA.
Herding balls have an added bonus of tiring out your pup. It’s no secret that herding breeds like Border Collies and Australian Cattle Dogs have limitless energy. They go and go and go…
A herding ball is immediately available for your dog to push and chase, helping your pup burn off some of that excess energy – even when you are away at work.
If you have a herding breed, I highly recommend grabbing a good herding ball. As a way to practice their natural herding instincts, it’s almost essential. In fact, many owners consider herding balls to be the best toy for herding breeds.
However, other breeds can benefit from herding balls too, but it’s a little hit and miss.
During testing, we noticed that some dogs without a strong herding reflex didn’t understand herding balls.
In fact, two French Bulldogs from the same litter were the perfect example. One of them loved to push the herding ball around the yard while the other tried to carry it in his mouth a few times before giving up and wandering off.
Interestingly, the French Bulldog that played with the herding ball also flung her plush toys around the home, then chased after them, which is almost herding behavior.
Herding balls are especially unsuitable for dogs who bite, scratch and chew large balls. As you will soon learn, herding balls can be dangerous for these dogs. You might want to consider a good chew toy instead.
With patience and proper training, these behaviors can be discouraged. Considering training? Check out our guide on the best dog clickers.
However, if your dog is addicted to herding, then a herding ball is the perfect toy for your pooch!
The dangers of herding balls
Like all toys, herding balls can be dangerous when not used correctly, especially if your dog is a biter.
When you first buy your dog a solid plastic herding ball, the surface is smooth and round.
But if your dog aggressively pushes the ball with his teeth, bites into it, or scratches it with his paws, the surface will become rough and irregular. Eventually, your plastic herding ball will look similar to this…
See those scratches and raised pieces of plastic?
When the ball rolls at a high speed, the coarse surface becomes as abrasive as an orbital sander. I’ll bet you can imagine what happens to your pup’s teeth when they come into contact…
Yep, they get worn down. This is particularly noticeable on the lower canines (the pointy teeth that stick out).
But don’t panic just yet. There is a good chance that your pup won’t experience the same teeth damage – none of our testers did.
After interviewing many owners who attributed their dog’s damaged teeth to a plastic herding ball, we noticed a trend. Dogs that experienced teeth issues herded the ball with their teeth.
They would run alongside the ball with an open mouth, attempting to push or grip the ball with their teeth.
If your dog herds the ball with his body, feet or nuzzles the ball, then I have some good news for you:
Your dog won’t experience the same teeth wear.
But if you notice your dog’s teeth continuously coming into contact with the herding ball as he pushes it along or bites it, then remove it. You don’t want a trip to the vet and neither does your dog.
Some dog owners we spoke to remove the scratches and bite marks using sandpaper regularly. First, they use coarse sandpaper to get rid of the ridges and raised pieces before swapping out to a finer grade of paper to make the ball smooth and ready for playtime.
To minimize the likelihood that your dog will bite the herding ball, choose a ball that is as large as possible. This will make it easier for your dog to push with other parts of his body.
Like all new toys, herding balls should be given under supervision. If you notice your pup using the ball incorrectly, remove it. Don’t worry! Not every toy is going to be perfect for your dog. Why not give your furry friend a chew toy or indestructible dog toy instead?
The best herding balls
In our hunt to find the best, we tested and reviewed over 11 different herding balls. It was a long journey, but we eventually narrowed down the competition to 3 winners, each great in their own way.
To start, I’m going to share the best herding ball for most dogs. From there, I’ll recommend the perfect herding ball for small pups and even an extra-large pick.
1. Best all-around herding ball
When it came to price, performance and suitability for dogs of all sizes, only one herding ball could be declared the winner – The Jolly Pets Push-n-Play.
Made right here in the USA, this hard plastic ball comes in a range of sizes. However, when it came to herding, two sizes performed better than the others:
|Large||10 inches (1.4 pounds)|
|Extra-Large||14 inches (2 pounds)|
At 10 inches, and roughly the size of a basketball, this heavy plastic ball is perfect for pushing and nosing around the yard. The hard plastic surface means that dogs of all sizes are unable to pick it up in their mouths. Instead, they have to push the ball around to play with it – much to the delight of our doggy testers.
It took some testers a while to figure out what they were supposed to do with the ball. This is understandable since it’s so different from other balls that can be carried around. We found that pushing the ball around with our feet quickly caught our dogs’ interest. Once they saw the ball in motion, they couldn’t help but play with it!
When placed on a flat surface, medium-sized breeds and up had little difficulty bumping the ball with their nose and paws, chasing after it as it rolled away. Smaller breeds found herding this ball a little more difficult. If you have a tiny pup, check out our next recommendation.
Even our largest tester, a clumsy Mastiff, happily chased the ball around the yard. Although I must admit, his sheer size made even the 14-inch Push-n-Play look comically small. This Mastiff is well-known for destroying any toy you give him. However, this herding ball held strong even after weeks of him batting the ball around the yard.
Despite its weight, this herding ball can float in water. However, be mindful that your dog will not be able to retrieve it on his own. Because your dog can’t carry this ball in his mouth, he will need your help to get it if the ball falls into water, such as your swimming pool.
An interesting feature is that the Jolly Pets Push-n-Play has a hollow center, which can be filled. Simply remove the plug, and add water or sand to add weight to the ball.
I’m going to be honest… We tried this a few times but soon gave up. Not only did this make the ball harder to push, but it wouldn’t roll as far when on flat ground. Apparently, our team of doggy testers felt that the extra effort wasn’t worth it and were less likely to play with the ball when weighted down.
My only complaint is that the Push-n-Play is not suitable for indoor use. This heavy plastic herding ball is like a bowling ball as it rolls around your floor, crashing into chair legs and off walls. Outdoor play only.
But if you are looking for a durable herding ball at a reasonable price, the Push-n-Play is unbeatable. Highly recommended.
2. Best herding ball for small dogs
We stumbled across the Jolly Soccer Ball while reviewing the best soccer balls for dogs. Turns out, it’s actually the perfect herding ball for small dogs, roughly up to the size of a Corgi.
The number one benefit the Jolly Pets Soccer Ball has over a traditional herding ball, such as our top pick, is its comparatively soft rubber surface. It doesn’t matter how much your tiny pup tries to bite or carry the ball – it won’t harm his teeth.
The Jolly Soccer Ball is available in two sizes:
|Small (6 inches)||Large (8 inches)|
At 8 inches, the Jolly Soccer Ball will be too large for most small dogs to wrap their jaws around. To play with it, your tiny pup needs to push, roll and chase the ball around – just like a herding ball.
Being made of rubber, the Jolly Soccer Ball has an additional advantage – you can kick it and have your small pup chase after it. The plastic herding ball I recommended earlier is too hard to kick.
This is also one of the few herding balls we tested that is appropriate for indoor play. The rubber ball won’t make loud thuds as your dog herds it around your home.
Best of all, this heavy-duty herding ball can take a beating. Even if your small dog prefers to herd using his teeth and sharp paws, you can be confident that the Jolly Soccer Ball will hold strong.
Check out this Jolly Soccer Ball at the end of our testing:
Admittedly, most of this damage was caused by an overly enthusiastic German Shepherd. But if she couldn’t destroy it, then I’m confident your small dog won’t be able to either!
For small dogs, there really isn’t a better herding ball available than the Jolly Soccer Ball. Highly recommended.
3. Largest herding ball
I’m going to be upfront with you. This is basically just an extra-large inflatable exercise ball. The same as the ones used in yoga stretches…
But don’t run off and buy one just yet. We tried that. We bought three different exercise balls, a budget one from Walmart and two more expensive balls that advertised themselves as “anti-burst.”
All three balls popped within a few days. It turns out that exercise balls are not made for outdoor use. Outside there are plenty of pointy things just waiting to pop them. We lost one exercise ball when it scraped along a branch, and another got a splinter from our fence and slowly deflated.
The Mega Ball was the only exercise ball to last over our month-long testing. Well, almost. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Why did the Jolly Mega Ball outperform other exercise balls? Based on our observations, it all came down to the Jolly Mega Ball being made from a thicker material, which was more resistant to popping and tearing.
It’s creator, Horsemen’s Pride, originally developed the Jolly Mega Ball as a horse toy for them to push around their enclosures. I don’t know if you have ever met a horse before, but they can play just as rough as dogs.
Now, that’s not to say this ball is invincible. It certainly isn’t. And if your dog is a rough herder, then I highly recommend you check out my previous picks. But if you want the largest herding ball possible, then this is as good as it gets.
The Jolly Mega Ball comes in three different sizes:
|25 inches||30 inches||40 inches|
At a whopping 40-inches tall, the largest Jolly Mega Ball dwarfs all but the largest dogs.
The ball arrives deflated, so you have to pump it up to its maximum size. While a foot pump is included in the box, I recommend using an electric air pump instead. You’ll have the ball inflated in half the time.
Once it’s inflated, step back and watch your dog go nuts. Our Australian Shepherd and Border Collie testers enthusiastically pushed and rolled the ball back and forth. The light weight and large size allowed them to push and guide the ball much easier than the smaller herding balls we reviewed.
These two dogs played with the ball until they were lying on the ground exhausted and panting but noticeably happy! Their owners reported that it’s one of the few times they have actually seen their high-energy pups tire out.
The larger the dog, the more enthusiastic they were to play and chase the ball around. Due to its large size, it’s a unique toy that dogs don’t otherwise get to experience.
Unfortunately, this large herding ball isn’t for everyone…
Our smallest tester, a French Bulldog, had great fun pushing the ball around. That is until it bounced off a wall and came rolling back straight at her. She managed to avoid it, Indiana Jones style, but since her narrow escape, she wouldn’t go near it again.
As you might expect, these balls are strictly for herding only. While there are covers available for extra protection, non-herding behavior will soon see it deflate. Because it’s inflatable, the Jolly Mega Ball just doesn’t have the same protection that a smaller rubber or plastic ball has.
Our Jolly Mega Ball finally met its end when our Great Dane tester attempted to jump on top of it, scratching hard in the process. But for the 10 minutes he did get to play with it, he had the time of his life.
We also don’t recommend this herding ball for those with lots of sharp objects in your yard, such as pointed rocks, sticks or rusty metal. If your yard is a minefield of sharp objects, use this as an indoor toy instead, as long as you have the room to spare.
Alternatively, you could do what we did and take the ball down to the local soccer field. It gave our dogs plenty of room to push the ball around without the risk of snagging sharp objects.
Gentle is the name of the game. If your pup is a pusher, and not too small, then he will adore this herding ball.
The herding balls that didn’t make the cut
The following herding balls fell short in one way or another when compared to our top picks.
That isn’t to say that these are bad products. I mean, herding balls are a simple product – it’s a ball that rolls when pushed.
However, when compared to our top picks above, we see little reason to recommend them.
I personally loved the Varsity Ball. It’s essentially a perfectly round version of our top pick, the Push-n-Play, without the raised lettering and plug. To be honest, it’s very well-made, as you would expect of any product manufactured here in the USA. Unfortunately, the price was its downfall. For the cost of a single Varsity Ball, we could buy almost three 14-inch Push-n-Play balls. If you are looking to upgrade, then the Varsity Ball is worth checking out. But for those looking for a more affordable option, you might want to give it a pass.
The appropriately named Virtually Indestructible Ball was another herding ball that was very similar to the Push-n-Play. The 10-inch model is comparatively priced, and if you are looking for a plug-free plastic herding ball, then this would make a good alternative. It was let down by the 14-inch model because it was considerably more expensive.
We found that the Boomer Ball was similar to the Jolly Pets Push-n-Play. We rejected it because dogs tended to bite the dog motifs and brand name that were recessed into the hard plastic. However, Boomer Ball makes the largest plastic herding balls available, and these don’t feature the same motifs. But be prepaid to pay. A 20-inch Boomer Ball will set you back close to $100. However, if you want the largest, unpoppable herding ball possible, this is your only option.
We also tested three exercise balls:
- A budget-priced exercise ball from Walmart with Calm branding
- Dyna Pro Exercise Ball
- Live Infinitely Exercise Ball
No exercise ball lasted more than a couple of days when used as a herding ball. This wasn’t surprising because they are not designed to be used as dog toys. However, if your dog has been trained to play Treibball, then any of these would make an appropriate Treibball ball.
Phew, if you made it this far, congratulations! You now know which herding ball is best for your dog.
A recap of our results…
The best herding balls we reviewed:
- Push-n-Play – Best all-arounder
- Jolly Soccer Ball – Best for small dogs
- Jolly Mega Ball – Largest herding ball
Which herding ball does your pooch play with? Let me know in the comments below!