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How to safely play fetch with your dog

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Author: Team Perfect Pet

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As many dog owners will testify, dogs love to play fetch. However, while fetch is seemingly a simple game, there are safety precautions that all responsible pet parents should follow to ensure that both you and your four-legged friend have a fun and safe time playing this all-time classic game. 

Remember, if you are heading out for walkies and to play fetch with your dog as the nights are drawing in, then you should also consider our top tips for walking your dog at night.

How to get my dog to drop a ball?

Adem Fehmi is a dog behaviourist and trainer for the grain-free dog food brand Barking Heads.

“It is important to note that if your dog is showing any signs of being possessive (regardless of whether this is accompanied by aggression or not) it is extremely important to seek the advice of an experienced and accredited behaviourist to overcome this problem and also help to prevent it from escalating”.

It is also important to never snatch, forcefully remove a toy from your dog’s mouth, or tell your dog off for not releasing a toy (or any other item) as this can be a negative experience for your dog and, in some cases, can make the problem worse. In more extreme cases, this can even lead to possessive aggression that could put you and others at risk of being bitten and seriously harmed”, warned Adem.

An experienced behaviourist will be able to tell you why your dog is not letting go of their toy, and if you are certain that your dog is not being possessive, you can try the simple tips I recommend in this article”. 

Why do dogs hang on to the ball

“A dog holding onto a ball or toy in a game of chase can be common but can also happen for a few reasons. It can be tricky to be able to play with your dog if this is a behaviour they exhibit and to overcome this behaviour, it is necessary to look at WHY your dog is reluctant to give up their ball or toy once they have it”.

“Firstly, it could just be that your dog wants to instigate a game of tug, or it could be that they simply do not understand that they need to drop the toy in order for the game to continue. In other cases, however, it could also be a form of possession, for which the degree can vary from simply sitting by a ball and ‘claiming’ it, to showing aggressive or reactive behaviour towards anyone (or other dogs and pets) who come near them when they are in possession of the toy”, Adem commented. 

Fetch Safety Tips

Playing fetch with your dog is a fantastic way to spend quality time together and keep your furry friend physically and mentally stimulated, and can help stop your dog from getting bored.

Following the expert fetch safety tips below, you can ensure your fetch sessions are enjoyable and injury-free for you and your beloved furry companion.

Teach ‘Mine’ or ‘Drop’

“You can use any command that asks your dog to release the toy. You’ll need a tasty treat or other reward that your dog values for this exercise. An accredited trainer or training school can help you teach this command. Ensure your training is always based on positive reinforcement”, Adem recommended. 

Try the ‘Swap’ tactic

“Try the ‘swap’ tactic with a tasty treat your dog enjoys and values – have both a ball and some tasty treats. When your dog returns with their toy, offer them a treat so that they release the toy and you can get ready to throw it again”. 

“Try the ‘swap’ tactic with another ball – have two balls for your dog. When your dog returns with the first ball, hold the second ball up and wait for your dog to drop the first ball before throwing the second”, Adem also recommended. 

Image of Adem Fehmi by Sarah Cockerton Photography.

Don’t throw sticks

Our very own vet at Perfect Pet, Tom-Rhind Tutt BVetMed MRCVS, said, “Sticks are incredibly dangerous to dogs, and I have seen countless preventable injuries such as stick splintering and stabbing, with sticks sometimes becoming stuck inside the mouth or nose, causing at times serious life-threatening injuries”.

Choose the right location

Selecting a safe and secure location for your dog is vital. We recommend an enclosed outside space such as a garden or secure dog field. 

Always ensure that there are no apparent hazards that your dog could run into (this includes other humans) or step on while chasing after their favourite ball. 

“Keep to soft ground to avoid injury, which can occur on the tarmac, impacting the nails and paws”, recommended Tom. 

Know your dogs’ limits

“Older dogs or dogs with orthopaedic problems probably benefit more from a ‘chase’ or ‘run to me’ type game as fetch tends to make them pivot in a small area when picking up the toy and changing direction – this puts an unnecessary strain on the joints!”, Tom advises. 

“Some vets actually don’t recommend fetch at all, but I think that some dogs simply love it so much (especially collies and retrievers) it seems mean to not give them that joy, but in moderation, of course”, Tom suggests.

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