This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.
I’ve hidden the ball thrower.
Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).
Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.
Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.
A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.
Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?
Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.
It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.
My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.
He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.
The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.
Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).
Pickle never stops.
He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.
The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.
Any self control was simply impossible.
For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.
Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.
Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.
So, I have hidden the ball thrower.
Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.
Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.
Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.
It’s taken three days to get him back to this.
If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.
Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.
If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.
A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.