Before I realized the risks, my dogs injured dewclaws and stop pads. They slid across the ground with such force that they tore their paw pads and ripped the hair off the back of their hocks. This is why I rarely toss a ball for my dogs where they are driving straight away from me. I prefer to send them out away from me and then I toss the ball into their mouth. I much prefer Frisbees as I can toss those at nose level so my dogs don’t jump high off the ground and don’t dive or skid across the ground.
I am fortunate because I recognized the risk before my dogs developed MAJOR injury. For instance, I have friends and clients with dogs who have recently undergone major surgery because their dog has stretched and torn the muscles, ligaments and tendons beyond non-surgical repair. 100% of these dogs were crazy ball chasers.
These dogs that give 110% in everything they do, have no regard for their own bodies. We as the owner/handler have to make educated decisions for our dogs so that we reduce the chance of injury. This is especially true with performance dogs. Why would you want to do something repeatedly that could drastically injure your dog, when you have put so much into the training of your chosen performance. Major surgery coupled with painful recovery and required rehabilitation is not fair to your dog. We ask our dog’s to do amazing things.
This does not mean you can’t play with your dog. What it means is that you change the game to make it safer. As mentioned previously you can do the following and still have loads of fun with your dogs:
1. Teach your dogs to catch a ball in their mouth by sending the dog out way from you and tossing the ball to your dog, rather than away from your dog. Start with a short distance and stick a cone out in your yard about 2’ away from you. Teach your dog to go to the cone and then stop, turn around and catch the ball in their mouth.
2. If tossing a Frisbee, toss the Frisbee at nose level. It is helpful if you send your dog around you and as they complete the circle, toss the Frisbee in front of his nose.
Another note: DO NOT toss a ball across a slippery floor or wet grass. This increases the risks exponentially.
Recommendation for Multi-Dog households
Teach your dogs to wait their turn. Most dogs have no regard for anything that is in the path of the ball and either the dog that hits or gets hit can be seriously injured. Anything from spine mis-alignment to broken bones or torn muscles can occur. Teaching a stay is fairly simple but with the added movement of the ball, it can be a bit more difficult. With my young dogs, I start them sitting at my side with a leach dragging. This way I can step on the leash so that they don’t go running until their turn. I pair this dog with another dog in the household that is EXCELLENT at waiting their turn. By pairing them this way, the young dog catches on fairly quickly.