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  • Writer's pictureTeaching Tails

Ball Games

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

To fetch or not to fetch? That is a great question!

Read some of the reasons why I don't play fetch that often 🎾

For some dogs and owners playing fetch is their favourite pass-time. They spend endless hours throwing, chasing, and retrieving. While a little fetch can be fun I want to share with you why it's a game I avoid.

Physical Strain - Dogs chase a ball at really high speeds twisting, turning, sliding sometimes jumping in attempts to catch it. While dogs are pretty agile and robust they usually go into this high-intensity workout with no opportunity to warm up putting them at risk of injuries. Repetitive daily ball chasing with no opportunity for muscles to recover could contribute to long-term joint and muscle damage. Another concern is that dogs that prioritize fetching a ball over any other reward can become so excited and filled with adrenaline that they will continue pursuing the ball even if injured.

Obsession, Some dogs have a strong fixation on playing with a ball, to the point where nothing else seems to matter. These dogs can seem almost mesmerized, with their eyes fixed on the ball and exhibiting anxious behaviors like panting, spinning, vocalizing, mouthing, or destructive behavior when the ball is taken away or they can't play with it.

No Exploring - Their obsession with the ball affects their ability to learn about the world around them. The lack of opportunity to scent and visually explore their surroundings including interactions with other dogs and people means they may not develop appropriate coping strategies to deal with new situations.

Guarding - If the ball is your dog's life, there is a very good chance that they will not want any other dog or human taking it away. This may lead to aggressive responses to other dogs or people who get too close to this prize procession.

Stress - When you throw a ball and your dog begins to chase, their body gets a boost of adrenaline, the same as it would if they were on the hunt. Repeatedly throwing the ball keeps the body exposed to adrenaline which triggers it to produce cortisol, a type of steroid. Both these are produced as our dogs prepare for fight or flight. They help power the body making them faster and feel stronger which, is excellent for hunting and emergencies. It will help the dog catch prey or escape danger. A dog would then normally have sufficient time to rest to allow cortisol levels time to reduce.

The ball chaser does not get this opportunity prolonged exposure to adrenaline can cause heart damage, insomnia as well as anxious jumpy behaviours. Cortisol can cause more frantic behaviours. It can take days for cortisol levels to return to normal and prolonged exposure may have a damaging effect on long-term health. Living with increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol can cause some problematic behaviours, for example, having no off switch, struggling to cope with challenging situations, and an increased chance of being reactive.

Exhaustion - We play fetch to take some energy out of our dog. Like any athlete, the more they train the fitter they become meaning you are now living with the canine version of Mo Farah. You will need to throw that ball for longer periods to be able to tire them out. No doubt they return to the house puffing, panting, and utterly exhausted. It is worth noting that there is a difference between a physically exhausted dog and a calm tired dog.

I am not telling not to play fetch ever.
I am going tell you how to do it safer. I am also going to give ideas of games to play with your ball.

Here are a few ways you can make fetch safer.

  1. Start by warming your dog up and go for a walk first.

  2. Do short low throws to warm up muscles.

  3. Dont play on slippery surfaces

  4. Use a lightweight ball.

  5. Reduce the distance you are throwing and the length of time you play.

  6. Keep throwing low to reduce the risk of jumping.

  7. Try random throws throughout a walk allowing the opportunity to naturally explore.

Think about your breed!

Herding Breeds love to control movement. So teach them to catch the ball or place a ball on the ground a lightly kick it forward they love stopping it. This will provide them with a dopamine hit without risking damage.

Gundogs love retreiving. Hide that precious ball then send them out to find it. When they do let them carry and parade it around. They will love it!

Terriers are fast and will love the chase. Why not get a Pawsmade tug toy? These are made with fake fur and come with a long handle and a ball attached to the bottom. They could do a short chase of the ball the reward for bringing it back is the opportunity to grab the tug and then have a good rag on it.

Sighthounds are quite the hunters and they tend to chase after anything that moves. You can throw out a clam toy filled with treats and a ball slinger. Allow them to run after it and enjoy their reward once they catch it. Sighthound owners are aware that a just few sprints can exhaust them, making them ready to go back home and relax on the sofa.

All dogs enjoy scent work and games.

  1. Try simply hiding the ball around the house and garden. Starting off by hiding it in plain sight as you teach the find-it cue.

  2. On your off-lead walk casually drop the ball then send them back to find it

  3. Hide and seek, one human hides with the ball and the dog gets to find them getting the ball as a reward.

  4. Playing catch

  5. Use the ball to practice impulse control and reinforce eye contact. By asking the dog to stay while you place down, throw, or hide the ball. They need to look at you before you you let go get that precious toy.

  6. Switch your ball for a Kong. As most dogs use them they are already super familiar with the rubber odour making it perfect for search games.

The blog is not intended to tell you never to play fetch it is to make you a little more mindful of the impact it could have physically and mentally on your dog.

TOY DISCOUNT If you are interested in any of the toys mentioned in the blog you will receive a discount if you put teachingtails10 in at the checkout. I do not receive a commission on these items I just adore the quality of the product.

Please enjoy your ball games responsibly.

Cathy & Chester

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