So we all love playing with our dogs. But we want to make sure it is safe and just as enjoyable for our dogs too!
Every year, new devastating photos are circulated of traumatic injuries caused by sticks. These are usually from thrown sticks that dogs run into and these can incidents can be fatal. Sticks are also responsible for ulcers or scratches on eyes. Which can be so severe dogs end up loosing their eyes. And splinters in the mouth. This one may sound minor but when an infection sets in it can be serious. When antibiotics, a general anaesthetic to remove the offending item and £500+ are required, you might wish you hadn’t thrown the stick!
As we don’t recommend throwing sticks you can always look at buying a rubber stick if you have a dog who rates sticks above all else. Kong do a great one which we sell at our Academy too! And if your dog picks up sticks on the walk don’t rush in to grab it off them. This will be more likely to make them love sticks (as it always gets your attention) or start to guard them. Instead distract them away with a treat and then bring out a toy that they like to play with!
Another game which risks the health of our dogs which gets a lot less publicity is balls! We have to make sure any ball we give our dogs to play with is small enough for them to pick up. But also large enough that it is not a choking hazard. This can get tricky if you have a small and a big dog and needs managing!
Tennis balls in particular have an even less well known risk for your dog’s teeth. If used in sandy or gritty environments the fibre on the tennis ball holds this and becomes extremely abrasive. Imagine chewing on sandpaper regularly and having the root of your tooth exposed! Damage to teeth through this process is seen regularly in practice and can result in expensive root canal surgery. Or even dogs having to have teeth extracted and all the pain and associated cost. We talk about this in more detail in our blog here.
One game lots of people worry about playing with their dogs is “tug” style games. There are lots of anecdotal reports that these games can cause dogs to become “dominant” (which is a completely outdated, non-scientific concept) or causes aggression. Actually we actively encourage owners to play tug in our classes and one to one training. It’s a great way to have fun with your dog but also to teach self control and a good consistent “drop”. As long as it’s played with some rules e.g. if teeth touch skin instead of the toy the game stops, it is one of the easiest games for dogs to understand!
Dogs love to play and when they play together you’ve probably seen just how rough they can get. There can be mouthing, growling and often humping too! Although we like to play with our dogs those are not behaviours we want them learning to do around people. So we don’t recommend rough play with dogs e.g. wrestling like dogs do with other dogs. This can be very confusing for our pets too as when they interact this way with other dogs they are having constant communication checking in that they are definitely playing.
This is because play is actually just practice fighting (which is fine and fun for dogs to do). So from your dog’s point of view if you’re not 100% you could actually be trying to attack them! Although you know your dog, and they know you, if you can’t communicate you can see how easy it would be to confuse rough play with threatening behaviour. If you want to play, try and make it as easy as possible for your dog to understand and enjoy and make it toy focused as a really obvious visual cue that it’s all good fun!