More and more, we’re noticing on our walks, that a lot of the dogs we see are ball obsessed. Is this a new thing? I’m sure it didn’t used to be this way – or maybe it’s since the invention of the ball thrower or Chuckit?
About 20 years ago I had a ball obsessed dog. Saffy (cocker spaniel) was my first dog, and for the first year of her life, she was an only dog. So on walks, I’d throw a ball. Back then we didn’t have Chuckits, I just threw a ball, probably not very well! Over time, I didn’t really notice how it happened, but she came to expect the ball on every walk. It didn’t seem like a huge problem, my dog trotting beside me, looking at my pocket until I produced the ball. She seemed to have a lot of fun chasing after it and bringing it back. Soon after, we got another dog, Tilly, and then I realised Saffy was obsessed as she didn’t really want to play with Tilly on walks, but just waited for me to throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball…. So I gradually weaned her off it and we only played with the ball at home in the garden. I wasn’t a dog trainer back then, but I could see it was becoming a bit of a problem when her whole walk became about The Ball.
So why do we do it? well for me it was because she was an only dog, I wanted to tire her out, give her lots of running around and fun on her walks. Back then, in the dark ages, we didn’t really know about sniffing, and scent work, and other exciting enriching things you could do on walk with your dog.
I think a lot of our clients come to us with a ball obsessed dog, because it seems to help with the dog’s issues. People are worried their dog may bark at another dog, and if they have a ball in their mouths it gives them something to do, and generally they can be recalled or re-directed onto a ball. So it’s management of the underlying issue. It’s not solving the issue though. If your dog has this kind of issue, barking at other dogs (or worse) please do seek professional help before the problem gets worse.
Having a ball on walks can also cause problems that weren’t there in the first place. Some dogs might guard their ball if another dog comes near it, it might even cause a fight if another dog comes near their ball – or tries to take the ball out of their mouth!
Throwing a ball for a dog makes them very over aroused (excited) and if you do have a dog with any issues around other dogs, you want to keep them calm on walks (sniffing activities are perfect for this). So instead of wearing out your stressy dog, it’s likely that by throwing a ball, you’ve increased their stress levels, they are now worried another dog might try to steal their ball AND they are more likely to react to another dog because they are already in a state of over arousal.
Argh, this is why we dread it when we see people throwing a ball. Also let’s not forget the physical dangers, my dogs’ veterinary physiotherapist sees so many dogs who have injured themselves leaping to catch a ball, or stopping suddenly to try and scoop up a ball whilst running at top speed.
If you have a ball obsessed dog, and now you want to wean them off it because you’ve realised it’s becoming an issue, try taking the ball on every other walk, or try surreptitiously dropping the ball and sending your dog back to find it. Try adding a scent to the ball (keep it in a ziplock bag with some herbs) and hiding it. By gradually changing the fun to scent work you will still be reducing all the above issues, and increasing enrichment in a more appropriate, less arousing way.
Let us know how it goes!
© Dog Communication 2019
About us: Laura is a Full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors & an ABTC registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist. Penel is a member of the Professional Association of Canine Trainers & an ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructor.