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The Importance of Ball Play in Dogs: Health and Behaviour Effects


Is your dog ball obsessed?

Do you have a dog who loves playing with a ball?

A dog that is so fixated on this, that they zone out to all else on your walks?

Is your dog extremely focused on that alone?

Playing with balls is a popular activity for dogs that brings joy to both the canine companions and their owners. It is not only an entertaining pastime but also plays a significant role in a dog's overall health and behaviour. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of ball play in dogs and how it positively impacts their physical and mental well-being.

Physical Exercise:

Ball play is an excellent form of physical exercise for dogs. Chasing after a ball helps them build stamina, improve cardiovascular health, and enhance muscle strength. Running and jumping also contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing obesity, which is crucial for a dog's overall well-being. Regular ball play sessions provide an outlet for their energy, preventing behavioural issues resulting from pent-up energy, such as destructive chewing or excessive barking.

Mental Stimulation:

Besides physical benefits, ball play also provides mental stimulation for dogs. The game of fetch requires them to focus, track the ball's movement, and anticipate its direction. This mental exercise helps keep their minds sharp and engaged, preventing boredom and

The Dark Side of Ball Play in Dogs: Negative Health and Behaviour Effects

Many owners describe their dogs as “ball mad” and the focus of their walks for the dog is solely about the ball play.

Whilst in many ways it is perceived as great to the dog as they are able to engage in something they really enjoy, repetitive ball chasing can lead to both mental and physical changes in our canine companions. These can have long-term implications on behaviour, health and well-being.

If this sounds like your dog or one you know, check out our blog for more details.

Joint Stress and Injury:

Ball play often involves sudden bursts of intense running, abrupt changes in direction, and repetitive jumping. While these actions can provide exercise, they also put significant stress on a dog's joints. This stress can lead to joint injuries, such as sprains, strains, and even more severe conditions like ligament tears or arthritis. It's crucial to be mindful of the surface on which your dog is playing and ensure it is not too hard or slippery, as this can further increase the risk of injury.

Dental Problems:

Many dogs enjoy chewing on balls while playing fetch. This chewing behaviour can lead to dental issues over time. Dogs who vigorously chew on hard balls may experience tooth fractures, excessive wear, or gum injuries. Additionally, balls can accumulate dirt and bacteria, which can contribute to dental plaque and tartar buildup. Regular dental check-ups, appropriate chew toys, and cleaning the balls can help mitigate these risks.

Obsessive Behaviour:

Some dogs develop obsessive behaviour patterns when it comes to ball play. They may become fixated on the ball to the point where they ignore other activities, people, or even their own physical limits. This obsessive behaviour can lead to frustration, anxiety, and even aggression. It's essential to set limits and boundaries during ball play sessions and engage in a variety of other stimulating activities to prevent over-reliance on this one form of play.

Lack of Mental Stimulation:

While ball play can provide physical exercise, it may not always offer sufficient mental stimulation for dogs. Fetch is often a repetitive game that focuses primarily on chasing and retrieving the ball. Without mental enrichment, dogs may become bored and develop behavioural problems, such as destructive chewing, excessive barking, or digging. It's crucial to supplement ball play with other interactive toys, puzzle games, and training sessions to keep their minds engaged and stimulated.

Overexertion and Heatstroke:

During intense ball play sessions, dogs may push themselves to the point of exhaustion, especially in hot weather. Overexertion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Dogs with brachycephalic breeds or underlying health issues are particularly susceptible. It's vital to monitor your dog's activity levels, provide regular water breaks, and avoid playing in extreme heat to prevent overheating and related complications.

At House of Hound we are specialists in helping pet parents make the best decisions for their dogs overall well-being.

We offer professional support and advice in helping you keep your dogs in tip top shape. Many dogs are able to play with a ball well and keep arousal levels under control. Some will never show evidence of pain or injury. However, as our dogs are so stoic and the joy of the game often outweighs any issues or injuries, here are some things for you to consider.

- If it is clear you need a ball for every walk, or your dog doesn’t seem happy, this could be highlighting some concerns. All dogs should be able to enjoy time engaging with both you and the environment. This allows for them to take part in natural behaviours such as sniffing.

- When playing with a ball your dog encourage them to sit and wait for the ball to land before setting off to retrieve it. Constant running for the ball in motion increases the chances of injury or jumping. This can lead to cruciate, muscle or ligament tears or ruptures.

- Throwing a ball by hand better than using a ball chucker. The distance thrown is often much less by arm and will reduce the stop/start movement when retrieving.

- Warming up and cooling down your dog first is really important. This helps the muscles to work more effectively and will reduce the rate of injury.

Often fit dogs are very energetic. Be aware, the drive for the ball will often outweigh any pain or discomfort during the game. This can mean that the severity of any injury is not obvious until much later on.

At House of Hound, the number one cause of accidents and injuries requiring treatment we see, which are not linked to genetic or pre-disposed conditions are ones that have occurred during ball play.

Both surgeries and recovery time are both painful, frustrating and expensive. Remember, injury can happen at any time, and often the treatment recommendations suggest is hydro and physiotherapy to aid recovery.

For dogs who already attended sessions, we have found that even once a month has helped them achieve a greater response and recovery time for their dog. It has reduced stress levels and been a simple transition as they are already accustomed to the centre and are familiar with the equipment.

For fit and active dogs we have a combination of sessions available which can include :

- Land based physiotherapy, with a full assessment, treatment and home based exercise programme showing you how to warm up and cool down your dog. We can also identify any early signs of offloading, irregular gait patterns or weakness.

- Pool based sessions can help with both fitness, controlled ball play and increasing muscle tone. They also allow your dog to burn off some steam, whilst having fun.

- Aqua treadmill hydrotherapy. These sessions can help with gait re-education, loading and muscle tone. With programmes individually based around each dog.

If you have a dog that only seems to gain pleasure from this type of play, consider low-impact alternatives to be added into their routine.

A great alternative to cardio activities is scent work. This can help your dog to calm down and gain focus. A dog running at full speed is breathing around 60 reps per minute, however high-intensity scent work or mantrailing allows the dogs to breathe around 180-200 reps per minute.

Check out Sniff and Trail UK who offer sessions in scent work.

Ball play doesn’t have to involve fast speed and distance. It can be focused and engaging. In Mantrailing (a game of dogs following human scent to track down the person – for fun) balls are used as rewards and play is in close proximity to the handler.

While ball play can be an enjoyable and beneficial activity for dogs, it is crucial to be aware of the potential negative health and behavior effects it can have. By being mindful of the risks associated with joint stress, dental problems, obsessive behavior, lack of mental stimulation, and overexertion, we can ensure that our furry companions engage in safe and well-rounded play experiences. Remember, moderation, variety, and regular veterinary check-ups are key to maintaining a healthy and happy ball-playing dog.

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