Repetitive ball throwing: facts and alternatives
Not sure what might be bad about repetitive ball throwing? Read and learn some more appropriate ways of exercising and bonding with your dog.
“A tired dog is a good dog” - perhaps, but we are really happy that more and more dog owners are becoming aware of a potentially bad outcome from repetitively playing toss & fetch with a ball.
Not only can the activity be dangerous for the dog’s limbs, especially the ligaments in the toes, wrists and knees, but if the ball is bouncing off in unpredictable directions we are also risking injuries to other parts of the body (bones, ligaments, joints and muscles).
Moreover, the majority of ball-throwing enthusiasts are not properly warming up their dog before the activity or cooling them down afterwards, and this, in addition to imposing excessive stress on body structures due to repetitive movements, certainly increases the potential risk of injury or the development of chronic issues in the long term.
Repetitive ball throwing also increases the dog's arousal state and adrenaline level, which can actually take up to a couple of hours before it drops again, and dogs often demand and need more and more of it as time goes by.
For a dog to be calm and cool at home, there is no need to overtire them physically; in fact, this can be counter-productive.
So in hopes that you will replace your ball-throwing activity with some perhaps more appropriate way of exercising and bonding with your dog, here are a couple of suggestions as an alternative to playing fetch!
Replace Toss & Fetch with Tugging Games
Playing tug with our dogs is a great interactive game, and it helps them to build a much stronger bond with us compared with tossing toys.
Dive in and play a game of tug with your dog! Figure out what kind of tugging toys he likes, and what kind of tugging game he prefers - more soft and careful, or perhaps more wild, long toys, fluffy toys, the variations are almost unlimited! ;)
You will be amazed by how powerful a “weapon” a dog’s nose can be! Scent work is a fun way to give your dog mental stimulation and you might be surprised by how quickly it can actually tire your dog ;)
Toss some treats in the grass and let your dog sniff them out
teach him to find a favorite toy (yes, this can really now be a better way to put your beloved ball in use again!) that you hide in long grass or woods
If you want to take scent work to another level, you can also teach your dog to find certain smells, your personal items you accidentally “toss” somewhere in the area (a glove or a hat, for example), or even other people. If you have company on your walks, you can ask a friend to go hide and let your dog find him! Works best in high grass or in the forest!
Teach your dog to run around a tree and grab a toy from your hand on his way back towards you.
A great way to add in some action, but at the same time avoid picking up the ball from the ground at full speed. Tossing a frisbee or toys that roll on the ground and can be picked up during running can be a good option, but only if you are trained to toss them correctly. Another great running alternative is practicing recalls from a stay!
Implement Training Activities
Practice some recall skills, obedience skills, teach your dog new tricks or behaviors that will enrich your time spent together. Spend some quality time also doing a couple of fitness exercises during your walk outside and help with improving overall body condition! :)
Find New Places for Your Dog to Explore
New environments will provide a new form of mental stimulation for your dog and make walks even more fun and interesting. So, put your ball chucker away, and instead spend quality time outside with your dog doing activities that are safer, but just as fun!
Final Note: Keep in mind that each dog is an individual, and some dogs appear to be more or less careful than others when playing different games. In any case, sufficient warm up should be provided before any exercising (gradual increase in activity over 5 or 10 min), and cool down after (again a gradual decrease in activity over 5-10 min). Keep activities adapted to your dog’s abilities. Even if some dogs are able to do something, it doesn’t also mean they should. ;-)
AUTHOR: Jana Gams, DVM, CCRP