Does your dog possess untapped talent as a world-class footballer? In honour of this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, I am writing this article about my dogs whom I trained to ‘dribble’ and kick the ball with their snout as well as score goals  against human goalies. -by Paramjeet Singh Dhesi

I got started when Elite Squad’s Hunter (Caucasian Ovcharka – imported from Ukraine) was a puppy. The only toy that I got for him was a soft soccer ball. It took him a little while to figure out what to do with it, but soon he wanted to play all the time. Dogs get obsessed with it. I did a little research on Caucasian Ovcharka in the beginning and realised that they’re the breeds who need to feel like they have a job to do. Soccer is perfect for them because it’s a playtime, but there is also a goal that they need to accomplish. Soccer is a great activity for dogs — they love it and it gets them a lot of exercise. Pet parents can also get a lot of exercise and you can make the exercise as strenuous as you’d like. Multiple breeds, not just Caucasian Ovcharka, can play soccer — any dog who is ball-motivated. I’ve trained Dogo Argentino, Presa Canario, Rottweiler, Central Asian Shepherd, Kangal, Tosa and also Gull Terrier to play soccer.

Teaching basic soccer skills
The process starts with finding out if your dog is ball-motivated or getting a dog who is. I encourage people who don’t have a dog to go to a rescue shelter to find a dog who is ball-motivated to adopt. The secret to finding a ball-motivated dog is to bring a ball with you to the shelter and his from kennel to kennel bouncing the ball.
A dog who is ball-motivated will look interested, his eyes will light up and his ears may even perk up. If they don’t show any interest, then soccer probably won’t be their thing. After that, it’s all about spending a lot of time with them and playing with the ball. It’s important not to kick the ball at first, but let them show interest and encourage them to bring it to you. Eventually, it’ll click and they’ll want to play all the time. No treats are needed for this training either; they are very motivated by play.

Strengthening dog-human bond
Playing soccer is a great way to form a close bond with a dog. They adore playing and you end up spending a lot of time together. Every day I play soccer with Hunter (Caucasian Ovcharka) and Heyna (Dogo Argentino), and both never get tired of bringing the ball to me. That’s just the way that dogs think; they never get tired of play. It’s very engaging for them because it’s an activity both you and your dog can participate in. They crave that constant interaction, they just love it and it’s what they live for.

Dog proof soccer ball
For starters, you don’t want to give your pup a regular soccer ball to play with—at least not while unsupervised. Most dogs big enough to get a regular soccer ball into their jaws have the strength and dental daggers needed to rip it apart pretty easily. Instead, you need to give your dog a soccer ball designed especially for dogs— these balls are extra tough and will be more liable to withstand your pup’s tough teeth. While you’ll still need to exercise good judgment when letting your dog play with any toy, most of the soccer balls designed for pups are relatively durable and likely to stand up to your dog’s destructive instincts. It can be hard to tell whether a given toy will hold up to your dog’s teeth, and you’ll never be certain until you toss him the ball and see how it goes. Nevertheless, there are a few characteristics that normally indicate that a given toy is well-built, safe, durable and fun.

Made with safe materials
Most dog toys manufactured by reputed companies are made from non-toxic plastic or rubber. But many companies use proprietary plastic blends, it can be difficult to determine what these materials are and verify their safety yourself. The best way to stay safe is to select toys made in the USA, Canada or Western Europe, where safety standards are high.

Soccer training tips
Work with them in a hallway because the ball goes forward and backward more than all over the place. You do not need a large yard; your soccer dog just needs a lot of exercise. Using an empty or near empty room works great too. You stand in the doorway and let your soccer dog bring the ball to you. If the ball gets past you, your dog has scored a goal.
The most important training objective is to get your dog to bring you the ball. Give them a lot of praise when they bring it to you. If you continue to go to the ball and kick it, they will think that’s what the game is and they will not learn to bring the ball to you. Be patient and encourage them to bring you the ball. If your dog is excited about playing with you (KEY – excitement) they will figure out how to move the ball around without picking it up in their mouth. Be patient, do not move around. The more your dog touches the ball the better their soccer skill will be.

Advice to help avoid problems
Never leave your dog unattended with a new toy: Don’t bring home a new toy, toss it to your dog and then head back out of the house – you want to be able to monitor him in case something bad happens. If your dog has been playing with the same toy for a month and hasn’t yet damaged it with his mouth or become stuck, it is probably alright to consider the toy safe for unattended use – just be sure to inspect it periodically.

Always take away broken or punctured toys:
Once a dog compromises the integrity of a toy, total destruction is rarely far away. Only allow your dog to play with intact toys

Buy toys of the proper size:
Obviously, you never want to give your dog a toy small enough to be swallowed. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines whenever buying a new toy, but be sure to err on the big side, if there is any ambiguity.

Stay safe during play time:
Dogs often get tunnel vision when immersed in play, which subsequently make them run in front of speed cars unnoticed or meet other accidents. Always keep your dog on a leash when not in an enclosed space and be extra vigilant while supervising your lost-in-the-moment pooch. Of course, a fenced-in yard is the best and safest location for this activity.

Be cautious in toy sharing: Some dogs can become aggressive when forced to share their toys with other dogs, so treat carefully in this regard. Watch for signs of aggression and don’t be afraid to remove the toy (or your dog) from the equation if canine conflict appears imminent.

Play on very short grass: It’s best to play soccer with your dog on very short grass lawn, as it is difficult for the dog to nudge the ball if the grass is too high. The ball moves fast and smooth on short grass. You may need to experiment with the surfaces to see what works best with your dog. This is a great exercise that makes sure to tucker your pup out. So, if you notice he is wearing down, make sure to let him rest to avoid injury.

Bonding with kids: Having your kids with their little buddy through the course will help them both get some needed exercise as well as strengthen the bond between them. Kids playing with dogs offer multiple benefits including exercise, teaching responsibility and forging a strong bond between them. By encouraging playtime every day right after school, a new, healthy and fun routine will blossom!
I guarantee you that playing soccer with your dog is a blast. Oops! I think it just infected both of you with the Football Fever.

(Paramjeet Singh Dhesi runs ELITE SQUAD KENNEL (www.EliteSquadKennel.com) in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is an avid dog lover who imports rare breeds to India. Follow @EliteSquadKennel on Instagram)