Dog-Friendly Travel Blog | Guide For Dog Owners

The Dark Side of Fetch With Your Dog

Published on 4 June 2021 at 11:38

How Bad is Playing Fetch With Your Dog?

Many dog owners assume relatively easily that a physically exhausted dog is a happy dog. And the quickest and easiest way to achieve this goal is by throwing a ball with our animal. It's common knowledge that the earliest domestication of dogs was for hunting purposes.


Historically, people took advantage of dogs for their natural impulse to track, chase, and retrieve. The modern result of years of this domestication and conditioning is the game fetch. Ball chasing is a fun and popular activity for contemporary dog owners, but what is fetch actually doing to your dog?


Where does the enthusiasm of throwing a ball come from?

By nature, a group of dogs goes hunting when they are hungry. Their adrenaline ensures that all the senses are mobilized so that the dog becomes alert and capable of the greatest performance. If the dog is in this state of excitement, then the dog is able to conquer a prey. The reward is often a hearty meal and a wonderful time of tearing, chewing and nibbling. All these activities help the dog to lower the stress level. The dog comes to rest, the adrenaline level drops and as a result dogs sleep better.


Effects on The Dog's Stresslevel

Throwing the ball activates his hunting instinct and his adrenaline starts to flow. We don't let the dog walk once, but 10 or 20 times and it seems as if the dog can't stop, he is so excited. But that enthusiasm is excitement and stress in a maximally fuelled body to get the prey. And we make it worse with every litter!


Fighting or flight hormones (adrenaline and cortisol)

If the dog bosses let the dog run behind the ball every day, fighting or flight hormones are created. This helps them to stimulate muscle strength so they can catch prey. The body makes no distinction between a simulated hunting experience (chasing the ball) and a natural one. When the dog has caught and eaten a prey, it is usually to go to sleep for a few hours to lower the elevated hormone level. However, when a dog is challenged to fetch the ball again and again, without rest, it can take days to break down the associated hormones and leave the body. This creates a situation of chronic stress, leading to loss of brain cells and reduced ability to cope with the world around them.


But is the dog addicted to this?

Research has shown that after an exciting event (hunting, ball game, etc.) it can take days for the adrenaline level to drop. The dog is in a constant state of excitement. This leads to a busy dog and undesirable behavior such as barking, demolition and constant attention seeking. All kinds of health problems can also occur, such as prolonged stress can also lead to physical complaints in humans. For example, restless and lack of sleep, fear of being alone, high blood pressure and metabolic problems.




It is important that we understand what the dog really needs: to shift the focus from tough physical exercises to mental challenges. There are different ways to let the dog do other exercises without physically exhausting him. Think of them:

  • Running loose with the dog
  • Hide chunks and start searching
  • Other nosework
  • Let it browse around

By letting the dog sniff, the dog gets a chance to do a round of social media. All stories and gossip are complete at once. Because of all the good smells he knew the dogs in the area: which dogs are there, new dogs, young dogs, old dogs, hot dogs or males looking for hot dogs, etc. Also other animals left interesting traces, of course in forests, dunes or parks.


Let his nose work.

Take a toy with you on your walk. Let your dog wait a while and put the toy in sight from a distance somewhere. Then give the search command. Your dog will now use his nose to look up the toy. Don't rush him but give him the time for this. If he has found it, be happy and let him carry it around with him.

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