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Where’s the line with unhealthy play?
21/07

Ball addictions in dogs are very harmful

I posted a video on The Healing Vet Facebook page this week (link at the bottom of this article). A little dog with a ball, in a state f hyperarousal, dropping his ball again and again at the feet of a statue. I could see by his body language that he was redlined. Over-aroused! Picking up and dropping the ball at the feet of the statue again and again. Then a passer-by put the ball in the statue’s lap. The dog became very distressed, frantically searching for the ball.

The people posting the video, and many of the people commenting on the original thought that this was funny, entertaining, and that this little fella was happy.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

This dog is clearly distressed. Hyper focused, and unable to even tell that the statue is not a human. That indicates to me that this little guy’s cognitive abilities are switched off due to the extreme arousal that his ball addiction triggers in him. A dog in a normal, relaxed state can tell a statue from a human- dogs are not stupid!

My take on this is that if a dog is hyperfocused on a ball like this (or any toy, or any other obsessive-compulsive thing like chasing birds, light, fence running with people etc.) then this dog has a problem. These dogs need to learn how to relax, how to switch off. And you need to teach them! Relaxing is a skill.

There are two big problems with dogs that spend a lot of time in high arousal with play like this.

  1. If the body is mostly in a state of arousal (flight/fright), this is very bad for the immune system, digestion, and overall well-being. This is a form of severe stress, even if it looks like the dog is having fun! Stress is a slow poison.
  2. When arousal levels go up, pain tolerance goes up at the same time. These dogs will play and play and play – very high impact on the body, causing severe harm, pain and tension over time. I have seen a lot of ball-addicted dogs end up with completely wrecked bodies (but they will  STILL want to chase the ball until they drop). Not to mention the risk of severe acute injuries like a ruptured ACL, injured backs, even broken bones.

Where is your dog’s healthy line in the sand?

It’s a good question. And surprisingly easy to answer, even though it confronts a lot of people. The first thing you need to understand before we get to that is that aroused/excited play is only part of what your dogs needs to be happy and healthy. They also need relaxing, grounding, settled playtime (and more of that then the aroused play). Many people have the misconception that an excited dog is a happy dog. Excitement is like salt- your dog only needs a sprinkle every day for good health!

The second thing to understand is that they don’t need a lot of high arousal excited play! 10-15 minutes twice a day is PLENTY.

If your dog keeps bringing you the ball/toy and can’t put it down and let go and relax, you need to take all the toys away unless you’re having a structured play session with them. And yes, this is going to upset your dog. Just like a toddler gets upset when you won’t give her a lolly, right? Having the toy, even when you’re not engaged with your dog in play, automatically triggers arousal (excitement). So a dog with a ball/toy addiction will never relax while they have access to the toys.

They need time out from the toys! I remember a border collie like this I saw a few years ago. It spent all day with the ball, non-stop. If there was no human, she would be carrying it around, dropping it, chasing it, catching it. The humans looked at me as if I was insane when I suggested taking the toys away, but they did (even when she ‘looked’ at them with sad puppy dog eyes. I came back a week later, and they told me how much happier and more relaxed the whole householdIf you have a dog who  was. “She’s even started doing dog things for the first time ever!” they told me.

The dog was obviously so much happier! And your ball obsessed dog will be too when you limit access. You may need to consider Whole Energy Body Balance bodywork,  CBD, weighted blankets etc to help reset a dog that has been stuck in arousal for a long time- contact me if you’d like some help on that front!

Video of the ball addicted dog: https://www.facebook.com/debby.taylor.31/videos/10217457195602641/

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