Regular trips to the park to chase a ball may seem like a great way to burn off some of your dog’s energy. But think carefully about the impact it will have on their quality of life. Over exercising your pup in any form is detrimental both psychologically and physiologically.
WHY WE FETCH
Many dog owners seem to intuit with relative ease that a happy dog is one that is physically exhausted. And the quickest, most convenient way to achieve this goal is by engaging our animal in a game of fetch. And so, on a daily basis we run our dogs ragged without consideration for what they actually need. Playing fetch does not require much training: chasing is an instinctual drive, and one that all dogs possess because they’re hardwired to detect movement so they can chase, hunt, and ensure survival. Understanding that, observe street dogs and how often they run and chase versus walking and resting. The former is minimal when dogs are given a choice.
When we make our dogs chase a ball each day, fight or flight hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) are released into their bodies as a means of boosting muscle power to assist with the catching of prey. The body does not distinguish between a simulated experience and a natural one. With prey felled and eaten, a dog would typically sleep for a number of hours so as to allow the elevated hormone levels to diminish. When a dog is made to chase ball over and over, with no rest, the associated hormones can take days to break down and leave the body. This creates a condition of chronic stress leading to loss of brain cells, and a lowered ability to cope with the world around them. The idea that a happy dog is one with a bared tongue who now has before them a day of sleeping in the home, is fundamentally inaccurate. The truth is that a dog cannot sleep properly with such hormones coursing through the body. And a dog requires more sleep than you may think. Additionally, if a dog is already anxious about being left alone, this combination of anxiety and adrenalin will only make their situation more unbearable.
Young dogs are especially vulnerable to irreversible damage due to their underdeveloped muscular and skeletal systems being pushed past their limits so early in life. Muscle strength is built by walking: a walking gait is a four-step gait with each paw touching the ground separately. Strength is built gradually by increasing the duration of the walks as they progress through their young life stages. Mature dogs are far more prone to torn ACL and neck injuries from repetitive strain. To repair these is usually costly and also very painful.
We need to understand what it is they truly need: to shift the focus from harsh physical exercise to stress busting activities that give them a mental workout. There are many ways to exercise your dog without physically wearing them out. By putting the focus on mentally stimulating activities like loose-leash walking, treat searches and other nose work, we’re allowing our dogs to behave like dogs, ensuring that they grow into well-adjusted and healthy animals. Dogs are curious by nature and they love to explore. We should build on these principles. Slow, loose-leash walks allow your dog the freedom to move around and investigate his/her environment. The mental stimulation gained from sniffing is vitally important as it decreases stress and improves confidence and coping skills.A CHALLENGE FOR THE ADDICTS
Put away the fetching tools for two weeks. Replace them with longer, slow walks, allowing your dogs to stop and sniff, go to the park and find a place to rest and observe the world going by. At home, set up treat searches indoors or in the yard. Create an easy course at first and increase difficulty as their searching skills improve. If space is tight, or you want to limit the search area, get a blanket and fold/roll treats into it. There’s no need to amp your dog up for this, just set up the search and let them discover the fun.
OUR PREDICTION IS A DOG WHO'S: