What Ball Chasing is Really Doing for Your Dog's Health
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
It's common knowledge that the earliest domestication of dogs was for hunting purposes. Historically, people took advantage of dogs for their natural impulse to track, chase, and retrieve. The modern result of years of this domestication and conditioning is the game fetch. Ball chasing is a fun and popular activity for contemporary dog owners, but what is fetch actually doing to your dog?
Effects on the Brain
Some dogs will keep bringing the ball back to you. Over... and... over. Why are some dogs so obsessed with fetch and never get tired of the game? The answer is in the hormones released. While repetitively chasing the ball, the brain releases adrenalin for a prolonged period of time. Too much adrenalin causes heart damage, insomnia, and a jittery, nervous feeling. Meanwhile, cortisol is released which causes frantic behaviors and frustration. Additionally, ball chasing is often reward-based, so a high drive dog will continue to perform over and over (even if they're in physical pain). Chasing and retrieving the ball make dogs feel good, so they will want to do it again and again.
Effects on the Joints
Repetitive ball chasing causes micro-trauma to muscle and cartilage which leads to long-term damage. When dogs pick up a ball and hold it in their mouth, the ball forces dogs to redistribute their weight to put more pressure on their front legs. This puts more stress on the joints in the front legs.
Effects on the Muscles
Where the ball goes after being thrown is unpredictable. In response, dogs quickly break, twist, and land in ways that can result in stress and strain on muscles that aren't equipped to handle. To make matters worse, high speeds increase the force generated in the muscle and increase the chances of injury. The most dangerous part of ball chasing is breaking. The movements necessary to stop running often result in shoulder injuries.
How to Prevent the Negative Effects of Ball Chasing
When it comes down to it, playing fetch is fun. If you still want to play but want to minimize the likelihood of injury, try warming-up first. A short warm-up for your dog's body will prepare them for extra movement. Additionally, only throw the ball a short distance and below your waist height. This will stop them from jumping repetitively. Try to avoid playing fetch on slippery or wet ground. To put less strain on their front legs, only play fetch with lightweight items, like a tennis ball or frisbee. Studies show that the heavier the object, the more weight dogs distribute on their front legs.
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