Ball throwers; friend or foe?

June 18, 2020
Our take on dog ball throwers; friend or foe?

Long story short - FOE!

Let me break this down from a few different angles and based on my perspective (vet nurse, dog walker and dog trainer)….

Some dogs, like us, are generally more active and built for running. Making sure these exercise needs are met are super important so something that extends a game of fetch so the dog runs 60 steps to your every one, seems like a fantastic idea, right? I’m not going to lie – it does sounds great. But what makes this toy not so great is all the high speed and constant running, stopping and pivoting that comes with it.

These high-speed motions are less than ideal for our pooches joints & back. You think about humans who have played netball for years – they tend to have pretty sensitive knees and ankles after all those years from exposure to those very similar motions.
And you may be thinking “but dog’s do that in their every day lives” and yes, you are right but the difference is that throwing a ball for them constantly for (e.g.) 30 minutes is not a natural movement and is potentially pushing our dogs to overexert themselves which in turn can lead to sloppy manoeuvres and harsh turns.

We want to make sure we keep those joints as healthy as possible by controlling what we can. A ball thrower is something introduced by us and therefore completely in our control.

Some dogs have very busy minds that always need something to do and we think the best way to cater to this is to exhaust them physically. Ball throwing again, will tire them out physically, yes, but you may find that if this is their main form of exercise, it will become very monotonous. To tire out our dogs, we need to use a combination of physical and mental stimulation and if you exhaust only the physical side of things, 1. they are only going to get fitter/ build up endurance and 2. their mind will still be ticking over, looking for things to do. Doggos that are always looking for things to do can be the dogs that get into mischief or maintain some pretty demanding behaviour (e.g. dropping the tennis ball at your feet, in hopes of it being thrown every minute of every day). I always make the comparison of a dog going for a walk and taking in all the sniff of the neighbourhood similar to that of us reading a newspaper – there’s always some new information for us to engage with. By sniffing spots where other dogs have been, they can gather so much information on those dogs (their sex, age, hormone levels, etc. ). That information is being taken in and processed by them and this processing takes mental capacity. In other words, they are thinking and engaging with their environment and if they also engage with us and respond to some commands along the way…. cha-ching! This is the stimulation jackpot. That’s why sometimes you may find a 45 minute walk where they can walk and sniff and engage with you will be much more beneficial than a 1.5 hour running or ball throwing mission.

This topic, I am pulling on the experiences we have had as dog walkers but also as a trainer, experiencing the issues when it comes to the ‘trigger’ at the sight of that ball thrower.

Have you ever had the situation where your dog has spotted someone with a ball thrower and their ears seem to drop off at that moment? It can completely ruin an otherwise very pleasant walk if they take off and won’t leave that ball or thrower alone or if they have to be clipped on lead in an off-lead area until said ball thrower is removed from the environment 🙁 And it can get even worse if your dog has stolen the ball and won’t give it back and now the other owner is getting mad at you because their dog has been robbed of the ball…. Believe me, we have been there plenty of times before! (Is this what human children are like?!) 🤣)

If you are going to use a ball thrower, please just be considerate about the area you use them in. Find a big space to do so, without many other dogs around where it might cause a kerfuffle and where you have much less risk of losing your ball!
If you are in a dog exercise area or dog park, leave the thrower at home and use that time to engage with them and to socialise with other dogs and to walk and let them sniff. We are out there in that moment for them, so let’s make sure they get the most out of it that they can.

Now after reading all of this, you might be surprised to hear that I actually am a great advocate of a game of fetch BUT I just like to discourage anything in an excess state. Everything in moderation. Playing a brief game of fetch with a few throws and with lots of commands in between (‘fetch, ‘come’, ‘drop’, ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘wait’) can be beneficial for your doggy as it combines that mental and physical stimulation but in a healthy and controlled way.

The ball thrower = there is a right place and a right time.

Happy walking everyone!

Photo cred: Tom Bullock – FLIKR

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