Most dogs love to run out and fetch a ball for their owner. Dogs are so renowned for being keen ball chasers that the pet market is full of ball chuckers, ball throwing plastic guns and there so many types of balls that you can buy for your dog; hard balls, soft foam balls, tennis balls, tough balls, balls with holes, giant balls and even mini balls for smaller mouths.
The majority of dog owners are happy with a dog who dances in anticipation of the ball, chases after it the instant it’s thrown, maybe runs around with it for a bit, then eventually brings it back at and drops it at the owner’s feet.
This is an informal game of fetch and while occasionally playing fetch with a ball like this isn’t likely to do any harm, repetitively chasing a ball day in and day out is a different matter and can have nasty consequences both to a dog's physical health (especially their joints if they are less than 1 year old) and to their mental well being.
The top three reasons why ball throwing could be detrimental to your dog are:
So, we need to be careful but that doesn’t mean fetch games should stop altogether. On the contrary, I’m a big fan of fetch games but they need to be played in a way that’s controlled, safe and fun.
Hopefully you already know to never play fetch with a stick, vets see many dogs with horrendous stick related injuries. Chewing on sticks can be equally dangerous as large splinters can lodge in the mouth, causing open wounds that are prone to infection. If splinters are swallowed, the throat or stomach can be damaged. Do Not Throw Sticks!
How Can We Make Fetch Safe & Stress Free?
Teaching your dog to Fetch a Ball or Toy - Shaping & Back Chaining Method
Whether your dog is a natural retriever or not, the training process is the same. Since delivering the ball back to you tends to be the most challenging part, I recommend starting with shaping that behaviour and then work backwards (back-chain) to the completed Fetch behaviour.
Remember: you indicate to your dog precisely which behaviour will result in his receiving a treat or other reward by “marking” the moment with a clicker or using a verbal marker (such as the word “Yes!”). This is super important for shaping exercises.
The marker is a promise that a reward is on the way, and it gives the dog solid, instantaneous information about what behaviour he can repeat in order to earn more rewards.
Don’t forget to keep it fun! This should be the best game in the world for your dog. If at any time he “quits” – that is, he stops playing the game – you may have raised the criteria too quickly, or you may have trained for too long.
Remember that it’s always better to stop when you and your dog are having fun and winning, rather than when one or both of you are bored, tired, or frustrated.
We’re going to be using the Shaping technique for some of the activities in Section 9. Scent Detection & Nosework too.