Balls (a contentious issue)

It’s always guaranteed to polarise dog owners, the question of dogs and balls. Their wonderful, inimitable, ball-y motion piques the average dog’s interest, no doubt about it – the tantalising rolling, the unpredictable bouncing, the moving, the teasing that screams ‘play with me!’ and makes dogs (or at least a lot of dogs) giddy, crazy, infatuated, high. Transfixed, obsessed, addicted. 

Personally I believe that it’s wrong for dogs to get their only exercise chasing up and down after a ball, but even though I could and would love to, there’s nothing worse than a pious bore who bangs on about ‘enrichment’ and ‘mental stimulation’ – scent trails, brainwork puzzles, agility, obedience, ‘trick’ training. Ok ok, let’s move it on… 

So, chasing after a ball is as pure, as hedonistic a pleasure as a dog can get, so why knock it? Well, for one thing the repetitive, extreme motions and all the jumping can cause damage to joints, and for a second, it can cause doggie altercations, particularly in high population areas. Dogs can get possessive over many things – food and toys being the most common. Since the humble ball is still number one in the toy ranking tables for a lot of dogs, and since a lot of dogs don’t get enough quality time so that when they do they are often over invested and over excitable, I would hazard a guess that the chance of balls being resource guarded is pretty high. 

My dog doesn’t get mad if another dog steals her retrieving dummy, or her frisbee, or her rope toy – she gets mildly annoyed, a bit impatient, but not mad. But she might if it were a ball. I’ve had to train her hard to leave others’ balls alone, I say had to as she grew up walking in Kensington Gardens and though it’s a famously dog friendly park and dog unfriendly tourists get laughed down off their benches, it’s only fair to be considerate to the people who use it too. She’s now pretty bomb proof on not chasing footballs and beach balls -where she used to fixate and race towards them like a bullet train, now not only can I warn her off action as soon as she clocks one, I can successfully call her back mid chase if needed. With tennis balls, it’s harder, but we’re getting there and it’s a near achievement that I am very proud of. 

There’s a particularly dangerous period of year for us in Serbia where we live some of the time, it’s when a sort of weird type of fruit falls from the trees. Large, dense, inedible, fragrant, their surface uneven and ergonomic, Stevie thinks they are Magic Balls and no amount of training I have tried has stopped her seeking them out. She once heard one fall in the green part across a road from the main park and raced to seek it out. My heart goes out to people whose dogs were killed or seriously hurt in a traffic accident – I can see how it happens in the flash of a split second. 

Dogs cheekily nip in and steal other dogs’ balls, and parade around gleefully, triumphantly. The best thing you can do if your dog does this (other than training them out of it in the first place) is to always have replacements in your pockets ready to give to the stealee’s owner, with an apologetic smile. Or to teach them the ‘Switch!’ command (a lot easier than training them not to chase and steal them in the first place, and some people are precious about getting their particular tennis ball back). Don’t ask them not to throw a ball for their dog as however you feel about balls, it’s their prerogative – and you risk sounding like a pious bore (see above). At the end of the day life is too short to be stressed worrying is your dog going to steal another dog’s ball, so it’s best to have a plan. 

One would hope for other dog owners to be sensitive in company and either wait for you to put your dog on the lead if they see you are struggling to restrain your Rover, or just (better) to put the ball away and let the dogs interact. If your dog will not let you put the ball away by the way, I would suggest that s/he needs a bit of weaning off the ball. Again it comes back to dog guardian etiquette – be aware of what’s happening, be aware of other dogs – don’t be one of the oblivious, ultra-annoying ‘my dog’s friendly!’ brigade. It might not be your dog that’s the problem, but it might well be your dog that gets caught up in a fight.