Playing Safely with Ball Crazy Dogs

Nov 13, 2016

"Playing fetch with a ball seems like such an easy and fun way to exercise your dog. When doing so with our high drive, ball crazy dogs, however, we need to keep a few things in mind..."

Recently I gave a 2-day canine massage and conditioning seminar to a wonderful group of search and rescue volunteers in Maine. We had about 25 dogs with us and covered a wide range of topics. There is one topic that I always make sure to cover when talking about high drive sport or working dogs. That topic is how do we safely engage in play, such as playing fetch, with our high drive, ball crazy dogs.
It’s not unusual for our high drive dogs to be SUPER crazy for a ball. We could throw a ball all day long, and they will continue to fetch it. Some will fetch to the point of heat stroke, and others chase the ball so crazily that they slide and roll head over tail once they reach it.
Playing fetch with a ball seems like such an easy and fun way to exercise your dog. When doing so with our high drive, ball crazy dogs, however, we need to keep a few things in mind. Here are a few tips and reminders that I’ve put together for you:
Tip #1: If you have a ball crazy dog, don’t let your dog chase the ball while it’s still rolling. Instead, throw the ball, let it stop and then let your dog fetch it. When the ball is rolling, some of these dogs are so crazy that they pay no attention to their surroundings, their footing, their speed, and more. If you make the ball stop or even throw it so that they have to search for it in tall grass, you are giving your dog a chance to have better control over his movements (and thoughts!) while running full speed for the ball.
Tip #2: Be aware of your environment. Make sure there is nothing that could be dangerous for your dog while running with laser focus for the ball. Don’t just check the area where you THINK you will throw the ball because sometimes our aim isn’t that good! Check for cars, a wire fence that might be difficult to see, items on the ground that might trip your dog (like holes hidden in the grass), etc. When growing up, a neighbor’s horse broke its neck when it tripped in a hole while running. When I go to an area that I don’t know and my dogs are running at top speed, I do like to check out the surface on which they are running. I’ve also seen balls accidentally thrown over fences while dogs were chasing them. Thank goodness these dogs were agile enough to make it over the fence rather than crashing through it!
Tip #3: Dogs carry 60-70% of their total weight on their front end. If you repeatedly throw a ball again and again and again, think of the impact on your dog’s shoulders when coming to a sliding halt while chasing a ball. Now take these actions, and think about what it does to your dog’s body if you do it multiple times a day, many times a week, year after year. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to preserve those joints as long as I can! Many activities like jumping put tremendous strain on our dog’s shoulders, front legs, and neck when landing. I want to minimize unnecessary impact whenever possible, especially if my dog is large and heavy.
What can you do to minimize the negative effects that playing fetch can have on your high-drive dog’s body? Here are a few recommendations:

Place the ball at the end of the field ahead of time and prop it up on something so that your dog can grab it where it is at approximately level to his or her mouth. Sometimes I place the ball on a bench or hang it on a fence so that my dog isn’t slamming into the ground every time he retrieves it. Sometimes I will arrange a pile of balls and have him run down the field, pick one up, bring it to me, and then run back down for ball #2, ball #3, etc. This way I can do multiple repetitions, give my dog a good cardio workout, and engage my dog while the ball is motionless and not rolling.  

You can also have your dog run across a field to a touch pad and then return upon command to receive a reward (e.g., tug, bite pillow, ball on a string, etc.). When your dog runs back, you can hold the reward out so that your dog grabs it while running past you. You can do this multiple times, giving your dog a sprint workout while minimizing impact on the shoulders.  

There are other instances where I use two touch pads and have my dog run across the field, going from one touch pad to the other. (For touch pads I use things like frisbees as markers on the ground or rubber feed buckets turned upside down.) I will then occasionally reward between “laps” to keep my dog’s motivation high.  

Finally, keep it fun! Also keep a close eye on your dog for overheating and fatigue. Make sure you know when to stop because some of these dogs will keep going and going and going. Enjoy the weekend and be careful while playing fetch with these crazy dogs! 

Photo credit: Tom Bullock on FLICKR

The original article can be found HERE.

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