Guest Blog - Aimée Thomas
Aimée is a volunteer Pet Advisor for the Dachshund Breed Council’s health and welfare sub committee. We are very grateful to her, for contributing this excellent article on ball obsession..... because blind dogs can become obsessed too, and not just with balls!!
Here you see Poppy.
Poppy loves tennis balls (especially those little squeaky Kong balls). Poppy would play fetch until she dropped, and then her ghost would come back to continue!
Chasing the ball is super duper exciting (eustress, also known as "good stress"), add to that having the self-reinforcing act of chasing and catching releasing a huge hit of dopamine, and that's a recipe for addiction.
Obviously, so far, that sounds great! Dog having fun, dog excited = happy dog, right?!
Unfortunately not so much!
While "good stress" is obviously beneficial, it is still stress, and too much of this eustress is just as damaging as distress (bad stress).
This constant excitement and addiction to the ball that they get to chase every day can start to become an issue, even if they don't get the ball in the house (which I'd advise if you have a toy addict!) - a daily game may seem harmless, but it doesn't give their system any time to get rid off this stress, and you can start to see unwanted behaviours crop up as a result, for example, restlessness/an inability to settle down, destructiveness, pulling on the lead (especially if they're used to being allowed off and straight into a game of fetch), just to name a few, even resource guarding if they've built up that big of a value to the ball. If you're trying to tire your dog out before leaving them for a few hours, then playing a game of fetch could even contribute to displays of separation anxiety, as they've become over aroused through the game and are now not in a state to be able to settle.
It's like returning from an exciting holiday, then going straight on another one - it's fun, you enjoy it, but you'll get burned out, and, once you're home, you'll probably still be buzzing (we all need a few days to decompress after a fun holiday!)
I'm not saying don't play fetch with your dog; when out and playing fetch, try chucking it into long grass/undergrowth for them to sniff out, or hide it then release them to find their ball; this gets them using their nose and can aid in getting them to "come back down to earth", instead of the mindless chasing over-buzzing them. Work on them breaking their focus for a moment eg wait for a sit before letting them have the ball.
You may feel bad limiting their "ball time", but in the long run it's far better for both their physical and mental health if it's kept to moderation - Poppy needs two days off walking after a game of fetch (meaning go find it in long grass), with calming enrichment activities at home as she becomes so hyped up.
Some people left these balls in the field before we got there, and it barely even took a second for her to sniff them out; dogs see the world through their noses, Poppy may have sight, but even blind dogs essentially have vision because of those amazing noses, and just the scent of the ball can get them hyped up in anticipation of getting to chase and find that prey!
First and foremost, I’m a dog lover before anything else. Dogs are my passion, and my dogs are the centre of my world. I’m currently studying with the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT) to become a qualified dog trainer, and will be taking my membership assessment in summer 2022. I’m so thankful to have some amazing mentors seeing me through this as well.
I’m very lucky to have been taken in by the dachshund community, and was asked to become one of the volunteer Pet Advisors for the Dachshund Breed Council’s health and welfare sub committee at the start of 2017. I’m also admin for Miniature Dachshund UK on Facebook, along with three other dachshund groups.