Chuck the chuckits!

My thoughts on chuckits? Believe me: I am not a fan. At all…to be honest.

I know a lot of dog pawrents say they’re cool with them, but every dog I’ve seen go ballistic with a chuckit gets all hyped up and fixated on the ball. It’s overarousal disguised as a form of fun. I need to admit as well, that my girl Bobbie indeed did get a shoulder injury: it luxates every now and then and I am afraid this running after balls was the whole start of it. So now, if we play fetch games at all, we play inside our home (I live in a small home in Amsterdam centre, so she doesn’t have enough meters to run). And if I play at all, I do short sessions. Once the ball is back in her closet, where I keep her other toys too, we’re done and she knows it’s done and over with. If your dog’s a fetch maniac too, consider taking a break from the ball. Why? What’s so bad about it?

Dangers about fetch games

1. Choking: Yes, dogs can choke fetching a tennis ball. Here are a few examples (here, and [trigger warnings] here and here);

2. Worn out balls: Just like our favorite sneakers wear out, balls can too. Worn-out balls can easily crack or break, and that’s a risk we don’t want to take. Let’s retire those worn-out balls!

3. The social aspect of play: Let’s not forget that play isn’t (just) about balls. Dogs thrive on companionship, so let’s encourage a healthy mix of solo and group activities. So, have your dog enjoy some quality time with a pack!

4. Ball hoarding habits: Some dogs have a habit of hoarding balls. Monitor their behavior to ensure it doesn’t escalate into possessiveness or aggression.

Let’s hear what the professionals* have to say about it.

The Physiotherapist

What many owners don’t realize is that this activity may not be as beneficial as it seems, and in dogs with underlying conditions such as arthritis, this activity is likely to cause harm.

Our dogs have changed both in form and function from their wolf ancestors, so when we ask a dog to run repeatedly from virtually standing to a gallop, brake sharply, often skidding on the underlying surface, throwing their neck back initially, and then bringing all their weight forward as they reach for the ball, often twisting at the same time, we can see that the forces on a dog’s skeleton and muscles are enormous. Increasing speeds can as much as double the forces generated. It is thought that the most dangerous component of ball chasing occurs during braking, and thus is often responsible for shoulder injuries. We also know that repeated micro-trauma to muscles and cartilage is the cause of long-term damage and that the older a dog gets, the more likely it is to be carrying small injuries. This will cause a dog to try and compensate, thus further altering the loading of its limbs. 

The Veterinary Behaviourist

(…) Many dogs get very excited during games of fetch. This increased arousal can involve increased heart rate and adrenaline levels, causing an increase in cortisol levels, and can lead to ‘franticbehaviors as a result of reduced impulse control and frustration tolerance. Adrenaline is designed to be released in short bursts, as a one-off during a chase for example, but by repeatedly throwing the ball means it is released for much longer periods. Cortisol levels take several days to return to normal (some reports say up to several weeks), and studies have found that prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels can be damaging to long-term health. Adrenaline and cortisol both play a role in the expression and regulation of behavior. Living with increased levels over a long period of time can be responsible for a number of problematic and dangerous behaviors, including your dog’s inability to ‘switch off’, cope with challenging situations and even show more aggressive behavior.

It is not my intention to deprive your dog of a fun-filled life. My goal is to make you aware that dogs are naturally great deceivers, as they are pack animals that instinctively hide vulnerabilities, especially pain. Ball chasing makes them physically tired but mentally, they’re on an adrenaline high. And guess what? The owner thinks they need more exercise! Now you’ve got a super-fit pup nut badly regulated dog that’s a canine marathon runner. 

Conclusion, if you insist on fetching games after this, still…

  • Never throw a ball for a dog who is injured or has arthritis;
  • Only throw a ball once the dog is warmed up;
  • Never throw balls indoors, particularly on slippery floors;
  • Do not throw balls on wet surfaces or unstable surfaces such as gravel;
  • Throw straight and low down;
  • Do not throw downhill;
  • Do not throw repeatedly;
  • Do not throw for more than one dog at the same time.

Do this instead

There are tons of other super fun activities like sniffy walks, ‘destructive’ enrichment, choice games, chews for the dog (bully sticks, raw bones), etc, tug of war, scent work (to make the brain go somewhere else that is healthy). But please, the best thing is to take away all ball and fetch toys and be kept somewhere where the dog has zero chance of finding them. The only reason I carry a ball with me is when Bobbie has someonew else’s ball, I can at least make her ‘let go’ and trade. 



About me: Senior Behavourial Trainer/Coach

Working in the field of behavioural training 2007, Carolien has trained and educated over 1400 individuals nationally and internationally. She's a seasoned human behaviorist helping dog owners bond with their dog while winning mentally themselves on that path too. Because, let’s reveal the hidden reality – canine companionship isn’t all bright days. Carolien's coaching style embraces Tough Love and intelligence, saving months of circumlocution seen in others. Her methodology has been shaped over 15 years of working with individuals with compassionate hearts and intricate minds.
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