Why throwing a ball over and over for your dog is not only counter productive, it's harmful, described with a metaphor with foreplay that I hope to god I'm not the only one to understand it.
To understand why throwing a ball over and over again is harmful to your dog, you need to first understand the genetics at play in dogs. Dogs are predatory animals by nature (meaning they enjoy hunting) and whilst selective breeding over time has dimmed certain aspects of our dogs that we either find impolite or a reduction of skills that the dog no longer needs to survive (like hunting so they don't starve to death), a lot of behaviours still remain, you only have to look at a sighthound, pointer or the average ball loving Labrador to see which parts are more active in which breeds and domesticated dogs. The need to rip apart an animals carcass, for example, doesn't happen in the average dog owners living room - god forbid we mess up the carpets! But, ask any spaniel owner if their dog has gone shooting off into the woods after a pheasant and I'd bet my money they've experienced this stomach in arse moment of dread.
So what goes through a dogs mind when they chase something? And no its not a silent "fuck you, mum" as they hurtle off into the distance. It's known as the predatory sequence. Described as orientation (watching, air scenting), stalk, creep, chase, grab bite, kill bite, possess, dissect and consume. Its not hard to work out which parts of that process the average domestic dog no longer does. But that doesn't mean the need and the drive has gone away, and if we attempt to surpress these natural urges, your dog will find ways to satisfy these urges themselves. An image of a Jack Russell Terrier chasing a cat up a driveway springs to mind.
When we understand the predatory sequence we can start to understand which parts you are providing for your dog and which parts are missing. During the first 5 stages of the sequence, adrenaline is released and arousal levels increase. Once the predator has delivered the kill bite, endorphins are released and arousal levels can begin to decrease. Ever wondered why your dog enjoys that kong everyone told you to buy so much or why you just can't seem to get your dog to stop licking the cushions? Licking behaviours are natural stress relievers for dogs. Unsurprisingly, so is ripping apart sofas, toys and anything else you leave your dog access to after you've ramped them up in the garden for 20 minutes before heading off to work.
Many dog owner's love to see their dogs happy face and excited bum wag when they pick up their dogs lead and favourite ball and head off to the park, how could something that looks like its making your dog so happy possibly be bad for them? To explain, I'd like to use an analogy I'm sure a lot of people can relate to, think of it like this - have you ever experienced bad foreplay that never quite hits the spot? You get flooded with adrenaline because tonights the night you finally go all the way and...nothing. Frustrating, right? So why would we keep putting our dogs in these frustrating states of mind (if you read that as wife, you've got bigger problems than I can solve), who will eventually look for other ways to satisfy themselves or indulge in destructive or harmful behaviours as a way to attempt to relax. In short, throwing the ball constantly with no release of the good stuff afterwards (endorphins, you dirty bugger), will keep your dog in a permeant state of hyper arousal and stress.
So how do we fix this? The dog I can help you with, you're on your own with the wife.
Be aware of the predatory sequence and how you can provide your dog with the full sequence in safe and controlled ways to ensure they're able to bring their arousal levels down and "cool off". Try doing the following on your way home from a walk or before leaving your dog alone.
- sprinkling food on the floor as you walk home or when you get home (consume)
- allow the dog to carry the ball home (possess)
- give them a natural bone to chew in their bed, or kong or lickimat covering in peanut butter (dissect)
- finish the session with a game of tug (kill bite)
Most importantly, have fun with your dog and let them do the things they enjoy, just don't forget to fulfil their needs for happiness as well as your own. Good luck with your wife!