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I still remember when I attended a seminar in 2005, and we were all forbidden to play with the ball with our dogs.

ln recent years, there has been a growing consensus that playing with the ball is detrimental to the physical and mental health of dogs. So... Should we not play "fetch the ball"?

German shepherd plays with ball

To avoid the risk of physical harm, the rules of thumb are:

- warm up the dog before playing with the ball

- do not throw on hard or slippery surfaces

- do not throw the ball to dogs with underlying conditions (e.g. arthritis).

Usually short, low throws are recommended, but I disagree with these. The dog's joints are exposed to greater strain if the dog brakes to catch the ball on the ground. For me a good throw is long, the ball falls to the ground and bounces right in front of the dog. The dog jumps, catchs and lands as it was clearing a hurdle with a smooth parable.

For some dogs retrieving is fun, while for others it can become an obsession.

Can we prevent our dog from becoming obsessed with the ball?

Some tips:

- Give your dog the chance to enjoy different activities

- During learning sessions use the ball as a reward/reinforcer, teaching your dog emotional self-control

- Leave toys available in the house and garden

german shepherd obedience retrieve

The quickest way to create a ball addiction is to have the dog experience the excitement and fun of playing with the ball, and then deprive the dog of it.

Believe it or not, but reducing ball play or locking the ball in a drawer are not effective strategies to help a dog that could or does show excitement, anxiety, and is out of control.

In all my years of living with malinois, border collies, German shepherds, and working for dogs of all kind of breeds and personalities, I have learned to manage the play with the ball not through deprivation, but through the opposite strategy: satisfying the need.

My rule is simple: when I play with my dog at throw and fetch, I play until the dog is satisfied. If from 0 to 100 my dog needs 60, I try to play to 60. Not 10, not 30, not 100 - just 60

malinois play with a ball

Using the ball as a reinforcement and a reward in learning sessions

Engaging in different activities, satisfying the dog's need to play with the ball are the strategies that have allowed me to live with and to train intense and highly motivated dogs, dogs who have never developed behavioral problems.

playing with the dog german shepherd

Text Alexa Capra 10 january 2021

Photo Alexa Capra and Daniele Robotti

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