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How To Teach Your Dog To Play Basketball

How To Teach Your Dog To Play Basketball

Do you remember Air Bud?

To be honest, I don’t.

I thought it was all crappy 90s CGI effects, but it turns out, Air Bud was a real dog who really played basketball.

His owner would grease up the ball with olive oil, pass it to Bud, and he’d bounce the ball off his nose, right into the real, life-size basketball hoop.

Okay, so I may have underestimated Air Bud.


My favorite canine ball player is still Matilda.

She loves making slam-dunks into her very tiny basketball hoop.

I finally have decided to put together a tutorial on how you can teach your dog to play basketball just like Matilda.

Like most advanced dog tricks, you’ll need to break this one down into easier steps.

What You’ll Need

The idea for this trick was spur-of-the-moment when I spotted a tiny basketball hoop toy at ShopRite.

Upon reading this, you might still be able to find the same hoop at your local grocery store.

If not, you can get one on Amazon.

The one I bought came with double sided tape to adhere the hoop to the wall, but it wasn’t very strong.

I used my favorite double sided wall tape, the one I use to hang canvases and all sorts of things all around my apartment. If you, too, rent and you aren’t allowed to nail things to your walls, you’ll probably love this tape too.

I haven’t yet tried to REMOVE anything I’ve tacked up with this tape, but nothing has ever fallen down with it.

You can also use suction cups to stick your basketball hoop to a smooth wall or a glass door, or even the side of your bathtub.

The inflated rubber ball that came with Matilda’s hoop is difficult for her to carry. She’s made a few baskets with it, but I’d have to deflate it a little more to improve her accuracy. 

Instead, I just started using a soft toy ball from her toy basket.

Of course, you’ll also need some treats for motivation.

I’ve been using Whole Hearted Small Bites Dog Food, which I feed as a part of Matilda and Cow’s 50/50 raw and kibble diet.

Matilda loves food of all kinds, but if you need something more enticing, you can’t go wrong with anything from Tricky Trainers or just make turkey balls in your dehydrator.

How To Teach Your Dog To Play Basketball

Teaching this advanced dog trick comes down to breaking it into three easy steps:

  1. Teach your dog to fetch-to-hand so she learns to bring an object to a target – the easiest target being your hand.
  2. Teach your dog to put her toys away so she begins to understand the concept of putting an object in its place.
  3. Teach your dog to drop the ball into the basket, and to try again if she misses.


Teach Your Dog To Play Basketball

Teaching Your Dog To Fetch To Hand

If your dog has never fetched before, you’ll want to start by showing her how to retrieve.

Some dogs naturally like to give things to their favorite humans, so teaching fetch is very easy. 

For dogs like Matilda and Cow, who never would fetch without prompting, it was pretty much a matter of getting them in a playful mood, and heavily praising and giving treats when they happened to get the toy close to my hand. 

Over time, I had refined it. They learned to respond to me opening and closing my hand (the sort of hand signal you’d use to tell a person, “gimme”) and saying “give!”

Read more detailed, step by step instructions on teaching your dog to retrieve.

Teaching Your Dog To Put Her Toys Away

Matilda learned to play basketball within five minutes of me mounting her hoop to the wall. 

That’s probably because she was already really good at putting her toys away in her toy basket, and we had just been practicing that trick the week before. 

Putting toys away is a good prerequisite to playing basketball because your dog has a larger target. 

I went from “fetching to hand” to “putting toys in a basket” by sitting behind the basket and encouraging Matilda to retrieve a toy. 

Just as she was about to put the toy in my hand, I pulled away so it landed in the basket instead. Cue the praise and treats!

With more repetitions, I moved away from the basket and encouraged her to go towards it, rather than coming to me. 

Read more detailed, step-by-step instructions for teaching your dog to put her toys away in her basket. 

Teach Your Dog To Put Her Ball In A Basket

I would work on the above tricks for a few weeks so your dog is fluent in those skills.

That way, your dog will have a pretty good idea of what you’re asking her to do when you’re trying to get her to shoot hoops with you.

For Matilda, all I had to do was point at the hoop and reward her for going near it.

Then, I rolled the ball around so she got interested in it.

As she played with the ball, I said, “put it away!” and gestured near the hoop.

And that’s it. She got it.

When Your Dog Makes Mistakes

It’s tough to play basketball when you don’t have any hands.

Matilda has to grasp the ball from one side, so she often overcorrects herself when trying to get it into the hoop.

When she misses, I just say, “ooh, try again!” and encourage her to keep going.

After three misses, I don’t want her to get frustrated. So, I’ll do something easy, like tell her to “give” it to me instead. Make sure your dog always feels like she’s “winning!” by passing out plenty of treats, at least one every fifteen seconds.

We want to see your basketball videos! Tag @Matildawoofwoof on Instagram or post to our Facebook Page, Little Dog Tips.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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Scott Jones

Monday 13th of July 2020

Ok, so I had never heard of Air Bud before so found some videos on YouTube, I have no idea how I missed this dog when I was growing up!

Ayokunnumi A. E

Friday 17th of January 2020

Great one Pevny!

Food treats are important in getting your dog to do seemingly impossible or unusual things.

The treats doesn't have to be core dog meals. You can play around options like carrots, grapes, peanut butter.......just be certain your dog doesn't object to eating them.

Lindsay Pevny

Friday 24th of January 2020

Oh, no, grapes are highly toxic to dogs, they cause kidney failure.

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