Updated: Jan 26, 2021
On nearly every walk I take my dogs on I see other dogs and dog walkers and at this time of year they all look pretty similar. Buried in a wooly hat and scarf, wellies, waterproofs, carrying a ball launcher.
If I could educate people on one thing about owning a dog , repetitive ball chasing would be the one thing I would chose. Only this week I saw a dog that became paralysed whilst chasing a ball, a small piece of disc material had exploded in to the spinal cord. Boom, instant paralysis. This is obviously an extreme case, but a huge proportion of the dogs we see at the Win Clinic with arthritis or lameness are ball chasers and the ball chasing is without doubt a significant factor in their health issues.
When we discuss this with owners they often feel awful that they have inadvertently caused their dogs harm, it is the last thing we want to do as dog owners and is often very upsetting for all of us to have these conversations. They didn’t know if was causing harm and wished they had known, wished someone had told them. So I hope that even if one person reads this and reconsiders taking the ball launcher out with them today a dog somewhere will be thanking us and we can between us all try and pass this message on to all the super dog owners out there.
The physical consequences of repetitive ball chasing:
Sprint work without a warm up is damaging to the muscles and soft tissues in the body. Imagine, every day, doing 50 sprint shuttle runs with no specific warm up or cool down.
The speed at which the dog reaches the ball is often very high, especially when a launcher is used because the dog has further to run and longer to reach top speed. The rapid deceleration when they reach the ball puts huge stress on their front legs, especially the shoulders, elbows and wrists. There is often associated twisting of the spine and jumping to catch the ball, this causes excessive rotational movement of the spine and can cause damage to the spine and the discs. Your dogs back is very bendy compared to ours, it is not designed to be doing this.
Any high impact repetitive movement carries a risk for repetitive strain injuries and overuse injuries to joints, often resulting in a degenerative change such as osteoarthritis. If there is already early arthritis in any of joints, ball chasing WILL make this worse.
Your dog is very good at hiding at pain and often whilst the ball chasing is happening the adrenaline will mask any discomfort. If they have back ache, or aching elbows, they will slowly adapt how they move, often undetectable to the untrained eye. Muscles will start to get tight and sore, joints will start not to move as much. This happens slowly over time. Regular musculoskeletal health checks for your dogs with a qualified physiotherapist are invaluable at picking up any early signs of issues and tackling them early to reduce long term disability and improve quality and length of life.
The emotional issues related to ball chasing:
Ball chasing is often used to “tire dogs out”, the high energy dogs that need lots of exercise. The problem with this is that every time the ball is thrown and chased a spike in adrenaline happens for the dog. With continued spikes of adrenaline the dog becomes almost addicted to this feeling, often making the dog more high energy and giving the impression it requires more exercise. Instead of tiring then out, you are actually creating a heightened state of arousal for your dog.
Sniffing and interacting with the world is a really important part of the a dogs behaviour when we take our dog out for a walk. If your dog is solely focussed on the ball for the whole walk it will often miss out on these behaviours.
One of the most common response I hear when I have this discussion with owners is this, “but he loves the ball, it's his favourite thing, he would be so depressed if he didn’t chase the ball’. This might be true on the face of it, but they love it because that is what they know and that is what they associate with your walks. After a few walks without the ball, some time spent doing some recalls for some treats or sniffing in the hedge they will soon not be looking for the ball and enjoying a more balanced walk. It is just about offering a different association and a different context to your dog.
So, what can I do now....
Stop repetitive ball chasing with your dog
Share this with as many people as possible, share the knowledge and the love
If you have been throwing the ball, get your dog checked out with a qualified rehabilitation practitioner or your vet, drop us a line and we can help find you someone or alternatively check out www.acpat.org.uk . Even if you haven't been throwing the ball, get your dog checked out, your dog will thank you for it
Watch out for some future blogs on things we can do to replace ball throwing whilst out walking
Contact us if you have any questions or would like any advice, we offer a FREE 20 minute wellness chat
If you would like any advice or help with any of the issues discussed above please feel free to contact us.