Throwing a ball is bad for your dog!

October 28, 2021

Yes that’s right! A hugely common “way” of exercising dogs can actually be hugely detrimental to them! So many dog owners throw balls for their dog, and so many dogs appear to find chasing a ball hugely pleasurable, but this activity can cause harm, not just to dogs who already have musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, but also to young dogs.

Unnatural movements cause damage

Dogs carry around 60% of their weight through their forelimbs, and 40% of their weight through their hind limbs, and the front limbs actually are not attached by bone to the skeleton, which is what enables dogs to take longer strides with their front legs and thereby move more efficiently.  The front limbs are attached to the skeleton by a group of muscles, and these muscles also support that 60% of the dog’s body weight.

Having problems with my knees myself, I know that when I go downstairs 2 or 3 times my body weight is placed through my knees….and if I were to run (which I can’t do!), then that would increase and about 4 or 5 times my body weight would be placed through my knees.  With our dogs, if we throw a ball, especially with those far to widely available ball chuckers (which i wish could all be placed in a big tip and never be seen again!), where we ask the dog to repeatedly run from a standstill to a fast run, sharply stop and often skid, jump or twist in order to get the ball, and then run fast back again, there are huge forces places through that dog’s skeleton and muscles, and as I mentioned about my own knees, when we add those fast speeds, the forces through those joints are doubled. Dogs’ muscles and skeletons are simply not designed for these kind of movements…it is not natural for a dog to brake, twist, jump and skid to a halt. This constant micro trauma that is placed on the muscles and joints can cause longer term damage and can also cause the dog to compensate for these injuries in the way that they move or stand, to take pressure off the painful area, thereby causing additional problems.

On top of the damage that can easily be caused by these repetitive movements involved in chasing a ball, generally when a dog is engaging in ball chasing, they have not had the opportunity to fully “warm up” their muscles. Imagine sports dog who do agility for example, in the same way as human athletes do so, these dogs are warmed up and cooled down prior to, and after the exercise to avoid damage. I’ve seen it so many times where someone gets their dog out of the car, immediately throws the ball with the ball chucker, and after doing this multiple times constantly, the dog is then put back in the car again. No warm up and no cooldown = increased likelyhood of damage.

Can increase pain

If you have a dog who already has arthritis, or has elbow or hip dysplasia for example, having them chasing a ball can mean that the joint disease will progress faster than it would without those activities. In addition, arthritis is SO painful! Going back to my knees again, I am having another MRI next week, after having a month or so last month where one knee was so painful I couldn’t walk without crutches, and that is due to the fact I have most likely now no cartilage left. I can attest to the fact its hugely painful! Dogs will still chase a ball even when they are in pain – dogs tolerate a huge amount of pain, and if a ball is thrown more often than not, adrenaline will kick in which will, temporarily, override the pain they feel. But once that adrenaline has gone, the pain will be back and most likely will be worse.

It also affects their mental health, not just physical health!

Now the problem with ball throwing isn’t only physical – it can have a huge impact on their mental health too. Chasing a ball results in increased arousal levels, heart rate, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is usually only released in short bursts, such as in the wild if a dog is chasing prey, adrenaline will be released for that short burst. But when throwing the ball adrenaline is released for much longer than it should be. Increased adrenaline and cortisol levels, can mean that the dog struggles to settle and relax, it can increase the likelyhood of them chasing after another dog in that momen, and can increase reactivity in some cases. Considering one of the main reasons people throw balls for their dog is to tire them out, it can actually be hugely counter productive! And it’s important to remember that a physically exhausted dog is not a calm, contented, relaxed and tired dog. I know which one I would prefer!

Ive also seen far too many dogs who are totally obsessed with the ball and struggle to engage with their human unless there is a ball involved.

Chasing isn’t actually natural!

Chasing is not a something dogs naturally do for extended periods aside from when they are chasing prey or maybe playing, so for me I would love to see more people ditch the ball chucker, leave the ball at home and engage in more natural activities for dogs that will tire them out mentally and physically….the best activity for that is using a tool that you and your dog will always have with you – your dog’s nose! Scentwork is a much more natural activity for dogs and one which is low arousal, is ideal for ALL dogs of all ages, breeds, physical condition, and is perfect for tiring a dog out mentally as well  as physically.

So please consider ditching that ball chucker and engaging in activities which are kinder to your dog’s body and mind, and which result in a tired yet relaxed dog!

 

By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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