Safe Fetch Games?

04 Aug 2007Steve Schwarz

Playing fetch with your dog is often recommended as a great way to give your dog exercise. However, many dogs are injured playing fetch in their own backyards. I’ve experienced this first hand when Meeker got injured playing Frisbee.

What's the Problem?

The main problems playing fetch games are when the toy (ball, disc, etc.) takes an unexpected bounce. Dogs who really love to chase will just tear after the toy without any concern for their own health and safety. Like Meeker, dogs can slip on the surface when dramatically changing directions and sprain muscles or damage tendons. ACL tears can also occur.

When chasing a toy some dogs will be so intent on their “prey” that they’ll charge head long into immovable objects like fences, out buildings, decks, agility equipment and lawn furniture/ornaments. Of course playing these games in an unfenced area is even more dangerous.

Poorly thrown flying discs can cause dogs to jump and twist awkwardly in the air to catch the disc. To make matters worse, dog can be unbalanced upon landing or even crash to the ground. I’m certain flying disc trainers work hard to throw their discs accurately and in training their dogs to jump and land safely. It is us amateurs that are the problem.

What To Do?

A number of trainers/handlers just won’t play fetch games with their dogs. Aside from avoiding injury, another argument against fetch games are that they don’t really involve the dog and handler playing “together”. Tug games, hide and seek, and trick training are more interactive games that involve both the dog and the handler.

An alternative to not playing fetch is to have your dog wait with you in a stay, throw the toy and then release your dog to get the toy when it is stopped. I’m not too happy with this approach as our dogs tend to twist their head and neck dramatically as they rocket up to the toy and snatch it from the ground while not really slowing down.

Another approach is to teach your dog to run out and stop and then

toss the toy directly to the dog. We've trained Milo to do this and he is much more controlled in his motions when going for the ball. Although sometimes he'll purposely knock the ball forward so he can chase after it; but at least he isn't moving as fast as he would be if he were chasing the ball.

My final idea is to throw the toy/disc so it “leads” just ahead of your dog and your dog runs up to the toy and grabs it while not breaking their stride. This is what I do on those occasions when I let Meeker play with a Frisbee. The air has to be calm and I can throw the disc just a couple feet off the ground and he runs up on it and grabs it in the air.

What ideas do you have for safely playing fetch with your dog?

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