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Dogs chasing balls

Is chasing a ball bad for dogs?

03 Oct, 2016

You arrive home from work and are greeted excitedly by Rover holding his sloppy tennis ball. Armed with the ball tosser, you and Rover head to the yard or the local park. You spend the next 10 – 20 minutes throwing the ball, while Rover chases, runs, jumps, twists and turns, repeatedly chasing, catching and retrieving the ball to you to throw again. Rover has a big “smile” and wagging tail, he is clearly loving playing ball with you.

But…….. is ball chasing safe for your dog?

Ball chasing emulates a predator chasing prey. Predators hunt and chase prey three or four times a day when prey is plentiful and less frequently when prey is not as readily available. Predators’ bodies like the dog’s is designed to absorb the strain of twisting and turning involved in the hunt. Dogs’ bodies however are not designed to withstand the stresses of ball chasing as frequently and repetitively as some dogs.

Let’s look at the causes of muscle strain as they may relate to ball chasing.

1. Inadequate warm up

For how long do you warm up your dog before throwing the ball? Do you warm up the large muscles group your dog will use to chase and retrieve the ball?

A proper warm up increases blood flow to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. It also increases muscle and joint temperature which facilitates full range of motion and optimal performance.

An adequate warm up would be approximately 5 – 15 minutes and focus on warming up the large muscle groups required for ball chasing specifically the muscles of the shoulder, torso, hip and knee (stifle). A warm up should also include some active stretching of these muscle groups. (Please see a previous blog on warm up and warm down Warm up blog. )

Without adequate warm up, dogs are prone to muscle strain.

2. Fatigue

Many injuries occur when the dog is fatigued from over exercise. Some dogs can become a bit obsessive above chasing the ball and don’t know when to stop. It is up to the dog’s carer to recognise signs of fatigue and take a break.

Fatigue can also occur with lack of symmetry. Dogs, like humans, favour one side over the other. When retrieving a ball, dogs will predominantly turn right or left. Repetitive actions like this can lead to fatigue in the muscles on one side of the dog’s body leading to muscle strain.

3. Sudden and explosive action

When forces are applied to muscles quickly to deliver explosive bursts of movement like ball chasing muscles can be strained. Muscles that are particularly prone to injury are multi joint muscles – those that cross two or more joints like many muscles of the shoulder and hind limbs. These muscles are at the greatest risk of strain as they can be exposed to shear forces in movement at more than one joint.

What are some alternatives for ball chasing games with your dog?

1. Frequency and repetition

Many dogs just love ball chasing and their quality of life would be decreased if they couldn’t chase their ball, but limiting the number of ball tosses to 4 – 5 times a day can protect your dog from the risk of injury.

2. Hide and seek

Instead of asking the dog to chase a moving ball, ask your dog to wait while you hide the ball and then send the dog to find it. You can even join in the hunt with your dog. Perhaps, reward the find with a ball toss.

3. Send the dog to retrieve a stationary ball

Rather than allowing the dog to chase a moving ball where they need to twist and turn based on the ball’s movement, ask your dog to wait until the ball or toy has landed before sending them to retrieve it.

4. Treibball

Instead of chasing the ball, teach your dog to herd or push the ball through a goal or around obstacles.
Check out the link to Australian treibball groups. https://www.facebook.com/Treibball-Australia-467575496685843/

For more information on preventing muscle injuries please contact me at jlconlon@fullstride.com.au. If you think your dog has sustained a muscle strain, Full Stride provides in home and clinic based therapeutic massage treatments.

Follow Full Stride on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FullStrideCanineMassageTherapy/) to stay up to date with the latest blog articles and let me know the topics that interest you.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.

Sources

Canapp, D & Zink, C. 2008 “Preventing injuries” Clean Run, July 2008

Edge-Hughes, Laurie 2007 “Hip and sacroiliac disease: selected disorders and their management with physical therapy”, Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice 22 p 183 – 194

Robertson, Julia 2010, The complete dog massage manual, Veloce Publishing Limited, Dorset UK