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Balls!

Are they great? Or are they a problem?


I've posted on them before, and I've included the links to those posts at the bottom of this blog to give you a visual, but lets talk about the pro's and the con's.


“My dog loves a tennis ball.”  Do they? Is it fun? Or is it an obsession?


Little Popi loves a tennis ball, but she is a tad obsessive over them.  Despite her significant issues with breathing if a ball is thrown she will try to get it.  I imagine she would probably do that until she passed out. Prior to her illness deteriorating we did play ball, and I used it to help with her resource guarding behaviours. But when all a dog can think about is the ball.....it IS a problem! Popi would probably put a ball over her ability to breath now.....to put the need to do something above your need to survive…….is that healthy? 


I love wolves, but I’m not going to go and sit with a pack of them.


I love chocolate….and yea….i am going to finish that bag….then feel blegh…..is that love or is it more than that?


For the record, I am not ANTI tennis ball, I use them depending on the dog as you will see. This blog is just here to get you thinking beyond the chase.


Everything in moderation.  But, some things are very addictive!


Is obsession an addiction?  I’d say so!


Dictionary definition of obsession is – an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a persons mind.


Dictionary definition of addition is – a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming….behaviour or activity…

 

Not much between them really except the definition of addiction was much more detailed.  With both, the “thing” continually occupies or intrudes on their lives. Neither is healthy!

 

Tennis balls specifically can create lots of positive feelings and I don’t want to be a party pooper, I just want you to really think about it!


Its scent and texture, its bounce and ability to chase and catch it.  The ability to carry out a full predatory sequence of see, chase, catch, destroy…..over and over and over again.


Its great fun! Right?


For some, a ball is just a toy, its just something they will run around with and chase a few times but it doesn’t take up all their brain space.  They will go and sniff, they will interact with their owners and other dogs.  It isn’t their world. For these dogs, continue using them.


However, for some dogs, the sight or the smell, or even just the situation where that ball has appeared previously can become an obsession.


If they don’t have eyes for anything else.  If they chase it over and over and over again without taking a minute to sniff. 


If they start demanding it or becoming so incredibly focused on its location nothing can distract them, its probably not healthy and may be causing issues in other areas.


Something else to consider…..if your dog chases other things….bikers, joggers, dogs, squirrels…..how do they know the difference between them and the ball?

 

Balls! Didn't think of that!

 

Why do we like a ball?


Its great fun, they are playing, they can burn off some extra steam and they really seem to enjoy it.  And most do. It’s easy for us especially if mobility is limited or free running is a problem.  But when can balls become an issue?


Firstly, just consider how much exercise they are getting in one fetch cycle?  Think about the speed of the chase, and the handbrake turn.  Are you creating an athlete when actually your lifestyle doesn’t really want an athlete?  We want them fit, but do you want them THAT fit?  Like with us, the more you go to the gym, the more you need as your body builds strength and duration. Does that level of athleticism suit your lifestyle? If you don't have time to play fetch what happens?


The handbrake turn, or nose slam as they grab the ball often has many physiotherapists cringing.  That hard and fast stop repeatedly isn’t great and yes, can cause injury – short or long term.


Also, do you warm them up first? If we are going to go for a run (ha, like I’m gonna do that, but lets pretend a minute) you need to warm up your muscles first.  If you don’t it causes pain….cramps, tense muscles, spasms, injuries…..I’m sure those of you who run can clarify this.  I’m allergic to running (unless I’m messing with the dogs)! Are their bodies warm and limber before you start chucking that ball? Often people don’t consider this.  Before any bursts of energy or activity like this, it is important to make sure their bodies are all warmed up and ready to run.


Their pads, some dogs really tear up their feet, even on grass, from slamming on their brakes.  Similarly their nails may wear down beyond what is comfortable.


Are they exhausted, tongue lolling out, slowing down in their charge, a little drunk…..but still wanting to chase?  They can over exert themselves but the neeeeed to chase that ball overwhelms all other signs telling them to stop.  A bit like me with chocolate….whats one more? (or that shot when you’re out with your mates? Everything says noooooo……but yet you are reaching for that glass!)


Tennis balls can also wear down their teeth which may cause issues later.


Just a side note, if your dog chases people, dogs, bikes…..do you really want to encourage chase? Similarly…..if their recalls are….poor…..do you really want the reward to be alllll the way over there?



Here's me having a short game of swap with Popi before her lung fibrosis started having an impact. Something else to consider is the impact fetch or squeaky's (in this case) is the affect it can have on other dogs. Fudge was quite happy mooching around on the other side of the gate until he heard that squeak....he then started getting frustrated and wanted to come and join in. (Fudge is also a rescue and a 13 year old IVDD warrior with quite a challenging past). As I don't tend to use squeaky toys, his change in behaviour was something I noted when it comes to addressing his issues.)


Continuing on from that brief interlude......


Do we just ditch the ball?


Hmmmm, I’m cautious to do this with dogs who are genuinely obsessive.  I’ve seen dogs become fixated on other things when the ball activity just disappears.  So a slow approach may be needed.  Some dogs are absolutely fine, but others take it to a whole other level of tail chasing and attacking their tails to find an outlet. If you think this may be your dog, PLEASE seek veterinary and behavioural support. It may seem minor right now but compulsive type disorders in dogs can be detrimental to everyone's health!


Here’s some things to try, rather than just removing it completely. But if your dog is really obsessive, I would honestly work with someone as chances are this is not the only issue at play.


1.        Try not to get irritated with them.  They have learnt that whatever behaviour they are showing is what gets the ball.  We did that (oops).  Try to remain calm and try to find a calm activity to do instead.  Said with caution – try not to respond directly to attention seeking behaviours, but pay attention to whether normally you would have played fetch at this time.

2.       Can you use the ball to your advantage.  Rather than using it as an energy outlet, what if you rolled it rather than threw it? What if you only use it on walks and use it to support your training?  But not indoors or in the garden (where you want calm behaviours?) Keep fetch for outside. Watch the video below of me with Popi, I'm using two balls, short throws for a short period of time. Annoyingly the boys squeaked which I didn't realise - another of Popi's obsessions so I switched those balls out for different ones. In this video I'm working on her ability to share, without grabbing the ball from her. It worked beautifully with her. Her resource guarding was low level, and not a high bite risk. In these cases I'd always approach each dog completely differently.

3.       Can they carry it on walks (not near roads obviously), sometimes just holding it can help them walk nicely.  If they guard the ball, don’t do this near other dogs for obvious reasons.

4.       On that note, if they are protective over the ball towards you, make sure you have a really strong drop cue and there is no conflict between you and your dog specifically.  If there is, please work with someone as its likely to be more than just the ball.

5.       Be clear and consistent when the game is done.  If they are not completely obsessed, mix in a ball through with other activities, but when it goes away say you are finished.  “That’s all” or “all done” and put it away.

6.       If you are using the ball, make sure you give them something calm to do afterwards to reduce all those hormones circulating.  After the gym you feel pumped right? Do you want to go home and sleep? Doing a calm activity like scentwork, followed by a nice long lasting chew will encourage them to settle. 

7.       Structure the ball play, ask for something before you throw it.  A trick or series of previously taught activities.  Make the ball the source of a scent search, so hide it and teach them to find it. Try to avoid that charging behaviour.

8.       Channel that drive – look at scentwork, flyball, mantrailing, any constructive activity that uses the ball in a controlled manner or similar.

9.       Make sure it is fun, and not obsession. If it is obsession, sometimes cutting the ball so it doesn’t quite have the same effect can be effective.  You may need to slowly wean them off it whilst you find other suitable activities to satisfy their needs.

10.   Make sure they have a good recall.  There is nothing more stressful than your dog taking off after someone else's dog and their ball! Whilst they may not mean anything by it, think about who else may have a ball and be throwing or kicking it around and how your dog charging over may be perceived!

11.   Put the ball or other high energy toys away.  Leaving them out invites your dog to start demanding fetch or bouncing all over.  Think about the environment…..do you really want them to start charging around the living room in the evening when you are trying to relax?  Do you want them demanding the ball at inconvenient or inappropriate times?


General Tip: I know you have 1000 toys, why not split them into 2 or 3 boxes and rotate them each week.  That way every week you have a selection of “new” toys for them to investigate……but not the ball!

 

 

Remember, I am not saying don’t play fetch, but make a decision based on the dog in front of you and consider the patterns that you may be creating.

 

A further word of caution, never ever play fetch with a stick!  I know owners who have tragically lost their dogs through a penetrating injury through stick throwing, and many injured! Don’t take the chance!

 

 


If you want to find a decent toy, check out Tug-e-Nuff. They deliver worldwide. I only ever recommend toys I have used. I have about 10 of their toys! Each dog has their favourites!

But - he rabbit skin ones are a daxie favourite - but can be a bit too much for some dogs.


Remember these toys are for you and them! Not just to leave lying around - they won't last long. I will be writing a blog soon on tug games as a few people have asked if dachshunds can play tug. My opinion is yes, but we will explore that in the next blog!


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