Sunday August 27th 2023
This View has been written by both Lisa Cleeton, Canine Physiotherapist and Dog Trainer Nick McMechan.
Lisa Cleeton, Canine Physiotherapist:
I run a very busy Veterinary Physiotherapy clinic in East Lothian, where I have the pleasure of helping active/sporting dogs stay fit & healthy; rehabilitate from surgery, recover from soft tissue damage & most commonly manage arthritic pain.
One of the issues that drives me to distraction is the owner-inflicted injuries to dogs, which are so easily avoided.
I’m frequently (almost daily) presented with dogs who are suffering with serious, chronic damage to their legs & bodies due to the repetitive use of a ball & launcher. Any brand of such an ‘instrument of torture’ will break your dog – I can guarantee that!
Please just don’t use them!
I had an owner in a couple of weeks ago who was almost in tears at how arthritic her collie’s feet & wrists were after she misguidedly repetitively threw a ball for her dog in her early years. She actually asked me to take pictures of the damage & share them on social media, to help other dog owners avoid the pain & suffering her dog is now in from years of ball chasing.
Please bin yours today if you own one!
For those of you who need further convincing
The repetitive strain of persistently chasing after the ball & jarring their front legs as they reach it, to pick it up causes horrendous damage to joints, ligaments, and muscles. This will eventually lead to osteoarthritis in your dog’s carpal, elbow and/or shoulder joints.
If that’s not bad enough to convince you to bin it…
Most dogs tend to always turn one way after they have caught the ball, so they will also have a pattern of tension and muscle overdevelopment/tension down one side of their spine. This is not only very sore it is also predisposing them to Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – major surgery, which if they survive it is highly likely to leave them with some degree of paralysis.
Still not binned it?!
If your dog jumps up in the air to catch the ball, it’s highly likely to rupture it’s cruciate ligament(s); damage one or more discs in the back or tear or strain back muscle or the junctions with the spine with more movement ie sacroiliac or lumbosacral joints which will ultimately lead to Spondylosis, lumbosacral disease or nerve damage.
The list is endless!!!!!
Bin the Ball Launcher – your dog will thank you.
Nick McMechan, Trainer at Esk Valley Dog Training:
You might be surprised to read this article, particularly if you have been using a ball launcher for a while. A lot of dog owners will use them thinking ‘this is great’! My dog no longer tries to chase things, my dog is so calm around the house (as its been tired out from the ball launcher throws) or my dog looks so happy when I take the ball launcher out.
But there are likely problem behaviours looming. When your dog is chasing that ball repeatedly, not only could there be significant damage to their joints, but it may also not be doing what you think it’s doing.
Obsessively and repeatedly chasing that ball is, well, obsession. Increasing obsession can cause other problems. The dog becomes so fixated on the ball that it starts to get frustrated for the ball to be thrown. That frustration may build into whines and barks. You then throw the ball and reward the dog for barking. You dog may then start to bark more in other situations that you don’t want.
The fixation on the ball is not about you. It’s about the ball. You are teaching your dog to ignore you and focus more on the ball. So, you request the dog to do something when you are at the park, and it just looks for the ball and doesn’t really care about you. This is going to increase over time and your well-trained dog ignores its training, it starts to ignore your cues, your requests.
Your dog will become obsessed with running away from you (for the ball) and being in front of you, diminishing recall and making leash walking difficult. They may start to guard the ball, initiating ‘resource guarding’. This can transfer to guarding food or resting places, and sometimes you. Your dog learns to guard, and the constant adrenaline and cortisol rushes can lead to other problems such as reactivity. As Midlothian’s Number One Reactivity Specialist, take it from me how difficult these issues can be for the owners.
What a lot of dog owners do then, is to use the ball launcher even more, tiring the dog more so it’s too tired to exhibit the unwanted behaviour, unaware of the ball launcher being the problem in the first place
So, what’s the alternative?
First would be a game of fetch. Using a ball launcher is different from the fetch game I teach. I show the client how to use a ball on a rope or simply a rope tug toy for a game of tug. We then start to use two of these identical toys to teach fetch. We limit to three to six short throws and make the game all about the owner. The owner bonds with the dog in a completely different way and returns to the owner for a game of tug. We develop good control over the game and keep it short, only after the dog has had a walk to warm the muscles.
This is completely different and enhances recall, enhances good off leash control, and enhances the relationship with your dog. This can be a game changer for dogs who are bred to herd, to retrieve or indeed run and grab things (most dogs).
So please recycle that ball launcher and get help from a great dog trainer if you need to. Indeed, if your dog develops muscoskeletal problems, please see your Vet and discuss referral to a good Canine Physiotherapist.
Lisa Cleeton, BSc, PGDip, Adv Cert (VPhys), MIRVAP (VP), RAMP is Canine Physiotherapist at vetphysioandmanipulation.co.uk
Nick McMechan is a Dog Trainer who specialises in Loose Leash Walking and Reactivity at eskvalleydogtraining.co.ukTweet Share on Facebook