Herding Balls for Dogs

These balls are for dogs that prefer to push and chase balls than to play fetch and for dogs with herding instincts but no livestock in sight.


A herding ball is a large, sturdy ball that is designed to be pushed around – not picked up – by a dog. Herding balls are not meant to be fetched, though there is a sport that rewards a dog’s ability to intentionally direct the ball toward you, or into a goal, on your cue. Dogs may use pressure against the ball with their noses, mouths, paws, and/or legs to send the balls rolling across a field at top speed, or by using their shoulders or hips to body the balls around turns, through gates, or into a soccer-net type of goal. The activity can be fantastic fun for athletic, energetic dogs.

However, you may not be able to accurately predict whether your dog will enjoy a herding ball; I couldn’t! It turns out that Woody, my fetch-obsessed Pit/Lab-mix, could not care less about balls that are too big to pick up and carry in his mouth.

The moment Boone touched a hard plastic herding ball and realized he couldn’t pick it up in his mouth, he grabbed at it in playful frustration. The harder he tried to pick it up, the faster it rolled away from him, which prompted him to chase it. And the faster and more wildly it rolled, the more ways he found to push it – with his nose, his open mouth, his chest, and the front of his legs. In contrast, when my other dog touches these balls and learns that they can’t be picked up in his mouth, he immediately and completely loses interest in them. What will your dog make of them?! Photo by Nancy Kerns

In contrast, Boone, my fuzz-faced mutt who fetches only in order to run away with the fetch item, hoping that someone will chase him – that dog developed new life goals within a millisecond of coming in contact with a herding ball. (He aspires to set land-speed records for ball herding and ball-herding obstacle courses.)

What’s even more extreme than “obsessed”? That’s Boone and herding balls – and you know how it is when someone you love immerses himself completely in a new hobby? – you get some real enjoyment from indulging their newfound passion. I’ve been buying all sorts of herding balls for Boone to try out, and together we’ve developed some strong opinions about these toys.

Here’s what I’ve learned about herding balls over the past month of spoiling Boone with a wide variety of the toys:

How are herding balls made?

Boone stands between a 34-inch and an 18-inch exercise ball (an 8-inch ball is in front of him). Boone is about 24 inches tall at the shoulder; if he were competing in Treibball (a herding ball sport), he’d play with the biggest ball here. Photo by Nancy Kerns

Herding balls are made with a variety of materials – and it’s likely that your dog will strongly prefer some materials to others. Some herding balls are made with hard, impervious plastics, in order to make it impossible for a dog to pick up the ball in his mouth (herding balls are meant to be pushed, not carried!). But even different types of hard plastics have a different feel – a slightly different hardness, if that makes sense. Out of two top-selling hard plastic herding balls, Boone has developed a passion for one ball and utter disdain for the other; go figure. You can guess what your dog might like most, but you’ll probably have to try a few to find out.

Hard plastic herding balls are not inflated; they are molded in a globe shape that cannot be compressed. They roll faster than balls made of other materials. They are highly resistant to damage from the dog’s teeth and claws (and crashing into brick walls and sidewalk edges), though the softer hard plastic can develop gouges and micro-ridges that are sharp enough to cut a dog’s nose, lips, or tongue as he pushes it at speed. I’ve occasionally had to use sandpaper to smooth the surface of Boone’s favorite.

This is a 6-inch Virtually Indestructible Ball with 5lb. Samson. As small as this ball is, it’s hard! The kind of tough herding balls that are ideal for larger dogs who like to herd are not particularly safe for tiny dogs.

Other herding balls are made with a thick, dense material that has a rubbery feel. Like the hard plastic balls, these balls are not inflated, but they can be grabbed, picked up, and compressed by a big dog with a strong jaw; fortunately, they pop back into a globe shape immediately upon being dropped.

These balls don’t roll as quickly as the harder balls, but neither do they develop the kind of scratches and gouges that the hard plastic balls do. If a big dog who aggressively chews toys was left alone with one of these balls, it could get chewed up.

The last type of ball is the only one used by dogs in herding-ball sports, though they are not made for this purpose. Rather, they are the kind of large, soft, inflatable balls that are used for human exercise and yoga. Some dogs enjoy pushing these bouncy, slightly yielding balls to the exclusion of all others – and some dogs can’t resist biting (and popping) them. I’m looking at you, Boone!

How big are herding balls?

boomer ball
This is the Boomer Ball from Company of Animals. It’s made of “virtually indestructible” polyethylene. These balls are highly scratch-resistant
– but the hardness made them less appealing to our canine tester (your dog may have a different preference)

Herding balls are made in a variety of sizes – and the size of the ball affects how safe it is for your dog to play with. In the sport of Treibball, where dogs push soft exercise balls toward their handlers on cue, care is taken so that the balls used do not measure less than 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) below the dog’s shoulder, in order to prevent injuries. It’s thought that dogs are subject to far more injuries when they are bending low to push the balls.

However, the balls that I give to my dog for unstructured play are nowhere near that size – and, as I watch Boone careen all over my property in wild pursuit of the ball, I can see how the activity could lead to injury. Chasing the small herding balls definitely poses a risk of injury to dogs like Boone; you will have to decide whether the fun and exercise is worth the risk for your dog.

I’m not sure I would want a very small dog to play with any of the hard balls, no matter what size. If even a very small hard ball bounced and hit my friend’s 5-lb dog Samson, I think he’d get hurt.

Rewarding fun

This is the Bounce-N-Play ball from Jolly Balls. It’s made of a material that feels like a cross between dense foam and rubber. Dogs can puncture
this material, but the ball pops back into shape afterward.

If you have a sturdy and energetic dog who likes to chase things and play with toys – particularly, if you have a dog who is a herding breed or a herding breed-mix, consider buying him or her a herding ball for recreation and exercise. Bringing my dog and one of these balls to a large, grassy sports field is now our favorite thing to do.

In fact, Boone is having so much fun with these toys that I am now using play time with one as a reward for his quick compliance with other cues. When he’s barking at a passerby at the far end of my two-acre property, nothing gets him back to me faster than the words, “Hey Boone! Where’s your ball?!”

Material TypeProduct Maker / Name Maker’s WebsitePrice Sizes/ColorsNotes
Hardest plasticBoomer Ball
Company of Animals
Broomfield, CO
$15 to $35 from Amazon.com4 sizes (4", 6", 8", 10"), 2 colors, (blue, red)Made in China of “virtually indestructible” polyethylene. These balls are highly scratch-resistant – but the hardness made them less appealing to our canine tester (your dog may have a different preference).
Hard but not impervious plasticVirtually Indestructible Ball
HT pet
Bellevue, OH
$13 - $40 from ht-pet.com3 sizes (6", 10", 14"), 3 colors (blue, orange, red)Made in USA of a hard but unnamed plastic. These balls do scratch and need occasional sanding to remove sharp ridges that can develop from biting and rough play. Boone has been playing with the 10-inch ball for a month solid; this is his absolute favorite toy.
Hard but not impervious plasticPush-n-Play
Jolly Pets
Streetsboro, OH
$11 - $49 from jollypets.com4 sizes (4 1/2", 6", 10", 14"), 3 colors (blue, red, purple)Made in USA. 10-inch and 14-inch sizes are made with a plug that allows you to fill the ball with sand or water, to make it heavier and harder to push. These, too, are made with a hard but not scratch-resistant plastic. Maker notes, “Excessive use may cause tooth wear” (that’s wear on the dog’s teeth!).
Thick, rubbery “Jollyflex” materialBounce-n-Play
Jolly Pets
Streetsboro, OH
$13 - $23 from jollypets.com3 sizes (4 1/2", 6", 8"), 3 colors (blue, bubblegum, orange)Made in the USA of a material that feels like a cross between dense foam and rubber; the maker says it’s recyclable. Dogs can puncture this material, but the ball pops back into shape afterward.
Thin, flexible, rubbery materialExercise Balls
Made/sold by countless companies
$20 to $85Any number of sizes (about 20" to 38"). Any number of colorsWhen buying, look for product claims that the ball is made in a way that is “burst resistant if punctured” and “deflates slowly.” One we bought (Trideer Extra Thick Yoga Ball/Exercise Ball) made those claims, and while it popped/tore more easily than we thought it would, it didn’t explode or scare the dog when he bit and punctured it.


  1. Our Chocolate Lab Ouzo (RIP) was also obsessed with a hard plastic ball, “dribbling” it back and forth all over the yard until she would drop from exhaustion. We loved watching her, until we realized that she had broken two of her fangs in half in the process 😱! So much for that great fun.

  2. A really good herding ball that you missed is the Collieball. It is an inflatable, heavy rubber ball inside a heavy fabric shell. The ball can be inflated very firm inside the shell so that a dog can’t get a grip on it with its teeth. It can be much firmer than the human exercise balls. It is also soft unlike the larger hard balls that you reviewed. The way our guy interacts with those hard balls worries me as I can hear him hitting them with his head. He goes crazy for the collieball.