Is There Such a Thing As a Safe Game of Fetch?

Dogs playing fetch falls into one of those “stop holding your breath and just relax” categories of dog ownership for me.  Every time I saw a game of fetch I heard a mantra in my head similar to the one in the famous beer commercial that goes “taste great, less filling”, but mine goes “great fun, vet visit”.  The games of Frisbee, which thank god my dog is horrible at, and fetch cause a constant internal battle between the fun dog owner and the canine rehab therapist in me.  So, to keep the peace within, I decided to control as many variables as possible by adding as many safety features to my game of fetch as I could.

First and foremost, we must turn our dog’s brain on!  I do this by making things less rote.  In my yard, I have stations that I randomly rotate my dog through.  For example, I have a carport full of “stuff” that has many nooks and crannies to throw/kick a ball into.  My dog sprints to the carport, slows down and then hunts for the ball.  For my next station, I use the rooftops of my house and carport to throw/kick a ball onto, so the dog can catch it after it rolls off.  Once kicked, my dog patiently follows the roll of the ball and is always able to catch it before it hits the ground, cataract and all.  Then, there’s my favorite station in which I create a barricade or  “fort” with some lounge chairs that are arranged in a semi-circle against the fence with either one or two openings (this changes each time we play).  I throw/kick the ball into the center of the semi-circle and the dog has to go around the “fort” to find an opening in order to get the ball.  Voila!  At each of these stations the brain will have to engage for the dog to be successful and the dog will develop some nice collection and body control skills at the same time.

Oh, there’s one more station that I am trying to master and right now it works best using a tennis ball.  With Tess standing next to me, I bounce the ball on the ground and against the garage door and she catches it.  I tried kicking the ball against the garage, but my partner vetoed this.  It seems listening to the loud banging is not as much fun as creating the loud banging.

Safety feature number two involves decreasing shock absorption to the body.  Since my dog has straight fronts I wanted to decrease the forces on her elbows and carpals, so I stopped using a tennis ball and began using a small 6” ball that is not springy.  This also has the advantage of being easier for me to kick.  Think small soccer ball.

Because fetch brings out the wild abandon and sheer silliness in in our dogs (variables that I regret can’t be controlled) a generous warm-up is a MUST.  I start out by playing soccer with Tess.  I dribble the ball with her on my left (fence on the right) and then repeat with her on my right and the fence on the left.  Then I have her walk backwards while I dribble the ball towards her (I’m looking for her to walk backwards in a straight line).  I have her do circle work around the ball and me; going to the right and then repeat going to the left.  I continue the circles until I get a steady trot going, starting with large and then smaller circles.  Be warned dizziness will occur.

So there you have it.  This is how I have justified playing fetch with my dog Tess.  Any questions?? If you do, please join my yahoo group at  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/poodles-in-motion and I’d be happy to answer any and all of them.

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