If I suggested to you to encourage your dog to chase your car at 20mph to give him/her exercise what would you say to me? Ok, what about 40mph? No? Ok, 60 mph? Now, now, be polite! I am serious, why would you think it such a bad idea? Exactly, it is dangerous and could cause your dog massive injury or worse, so please explain to me why I see so many dog parents using ball throwers (also known as flingers or brand names) on a daily basis? Now I can hear you shouting, there is no comparison and I have been in lockdown for far too long! But hear me out and I will explain why using these devices are not designed for dogs and can and do cause massive harm and injury to them every day.
Anyone for cricket?
I can remember when these devices first came onto the market, luckily for my dogs I have always preferred their exercise over the woods or beaches in Hampshire and rarely if ever, throw anything for them on our walks , besides they are far too busy running through the woods, sniffing out the rabbits or playing hide and seek with each other and me. But one Saturday morning I was doing my housework (yes I know boring but it has to be done!) and had the tv playing in the background when I stopped to watch a cricket training session. Now I do not like cricket but what I saw made me freeze because the cricketers were using ball throwers, (they call them sidearms) exactly the same as the ones we use to exercise our dogs. So I did a little research and found that these can reach ranges of up to 65mph, some up to 85mph! So what speed are our dogs chasing those balls at, over, and over and over again?? I dread to think and have always urged my puppy parents never to use them.
Keeping the vets busy
Some years later I attended a seminar by a Vet friend of mine and her phrase was to “chuck the chuck-it” because in her small practice alone she was seeing 3-4 dogs A WEEK with injuries sustained by repetitive use of ball throwers. Injuries ranged from shoulder, upper spine, neck and forearm injuries, some requiring surgery. Poor dogs.
But my dog is fine!
“Yes but I have used our ball thrower for years and my dog is fine” I can hear you say; your dog might seem to be ok today and even tomorrow but here is a typical story which is becoming all too familiar as I research ball throwers more and more:
Recently a friend sent to me an article she had read on “Agilitynet” which was first published in 2016. It was about a lady who competed in agility with her terrier cross called Smudge. Smudge was doing very well with his agility but suddenly began to avoid certain agility obstacles and then started to refuse going into the ring at all. His owner began to believe Smudge had decided he didn’t want to do agility anymore until he started to limp, not every day, just occasionally and then one day her trainer noticed Smudge flinched whilst she was stroking his back and recommended she take him to a canine physiotherapist to be checked out. The owner was shocked when both the canine physio and her canine hydrotherapist said the injuries were caused by overuse of the ball thrower which the owner used daily to exercise her dogs. She wrote “It’s the mix of extending straight to a flat out run, skidding to a halt putting strain on the carpal joints and the twisting in the air to catch the balls that does the damage. She explained that the adrenaline kick in ball chasing for some dogs is so huge that they overcome the pain and appear normal”.
There are so many cases like this across the UK so I urge you don’t start using ball throwers or, if you do, do your dog a huge favour and ditch them today.
Ok, but my dog LOVES to play ball, what can I do instead?
I too have a ball obsessed border collie but with this information I personally would never use a ball thrower, but if you are a die-hard and still insist on using one on your dog you can do the following:
- Make sure your dog has good medical insurance; he/she might need it sooner than you think.
- Make your dog wait until the ball stops and then send him/her to prevent the flat out run, twisting and skidding.
- Reduce the number of repetitions on each walk that you use the ball thrower. I used to see a lady in my local park that used a ball thrower for her dog everyday for nearly an hour, whilst she sat on a bench chatting on her phone. I hate to think the number of repetitions that poor dog suffered daily. Is this you? Then maybe only use every other day and go for a good old fashioned walk instead, believe me it is more fun!
- Hide the ball in the undergrowth or long grass and let your dog sniff it out – they LOVE that game and;
- Interact with your dog yourself, dogs LOVE that! I play hide and seek with them or drop them, walk away and call them so they race each other back to me or; just take them to on new walks to different places where they can jump over fallen trees, investigate hillsides or race along the sea shore and it keeps their walks interesting for you too.
Do the best with the knowledge you have until you know better, and then do better.
That is a saying I live by with my dogs and it is so true. We all like to think we are doing the very best for our dogs in their everyday lives. We feed them the best balanced and nutritional meals we can, we make sure they are kept as healthy as possible and exercise their minds as well as their bodies. We want our dogs in our lives for as long as we possibly can and these days dogs are living for longer but when we know that something we are doing everyday with them could hamper that possibility surely we owe it to them to amend our habits and change them immediately. It’s a non-brainer to me, I hope it is to you too.
Keep safe and well