We are talking about throwing an object (ball, stick, rope, Frisbee, …), with the objective that the dog fetches it. It is probable that nearly everyone has tried this kind of game. If we observe our dogs what can we see?
During a “chasing/fetch” game, the actions or physical reactions of our companions are made up, among others, of:
- Seeing the object being thrown,
- Going in the direction of the thrown object,
- Looking / hearing / smelling where the object has landed,
- Reaching the object,
- Stopping and grabbing the object or catching it in full flight,
- Returning with the object,
- Stopping and starting all over again.
This visual, auditory and olfactory information is sent to the brain and depending on the dog he will either cope remaining rational or he will not cope, going into automatic mode: it becomes a reflex.
Let’s consider swimmers or runners who have learned to react to the auditory stimulus of the starting pistol. They trained their bodies to fight their innate reflexes (being startled, shaking, …) to turn them into learned reflexes (driving themselves forward).
This process is identical for dogs trained to chase objects. After hours of training, our dog’s reflexes are sharpened to chase an object. And finally, no matter what: everything that passes in front of his eyes, at a certain speed, triggers the same reflex. Our dog will chase the objet or the person: a bike, a cat or a child running, … We have increased our dog’s speed of reactivity and his instinct of predation.
Those who cope
Some of our companions are quite capable of handling chasing games. After some throws, they stop fetching the object and chew it in the corner of the garden or the living room or simply give it up to move on to other activities. These dogs are able to measure their physical and emotional tolerance threshold.
Those who do not cope
What about dogs who get excited to the point of not being aware of the world around them? At the sight of the adored object, these dogs will salivate, or whine, or bark, or jump up sometimes all at once: a firework of excitement. They become addicted to these objects and what they represent. In some cases, these objects become such an important resource that these dogs do everything in their power not to lose this object. A person or an animal who would come too close to this treasure, could bitterly regret it.
Depending on the “technique” chosen by our dog for starting, running or jumping (and landing on the ground), the grip, the pivot to go back to the thrower,… serious physical injuries can happen. If our dog chooses to jump into the air to catch the object that passes over him, imagine the muscular, articular and skeletal constraints endured by his body from the moment he propels himself from the ground: he jumps, he is in suspension in the air, he grasps (or tries to grab) the object and then falls back to the ground.
Remember that the skeleton of our dog does not have clavicle. His spine is thus connected to the scapula (upper bone of the front legs) by muscles and tendons only.
An expert opinion
Nathalie Barrière, a veterinarian specialising in osteopathy, answers the question « What injuries or other consequences have you seen specifically as a result of throwing games (balls, Frisbees, sticks,…) ? »
“The most common injury is a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament of the stifle (knee). The bottom of the leg remains on the ground while the top moves. This creates a torsion of the knee. The tear can be partial or total. When the tear is total, unfortunately, it is often necessary to have surgery to repair the ligament. When the tear is partial many factors will need to be taken into consideration but the minimum treatment will be that the dog will have to rest for at least 2 months.
This injury may lead to a series of compensatory shifts in position in other areas of the body. The pelvis will shift position in a way that causes a strain at the 4th or 5th lumbar vertebra as well as at the thoracolumbar junction (the junction between the middle and lower back).
Consequently, the hips will move differently during propulsion. If movement occurs sideways or without a warm-up, the dog might feel a sharp pain. The pelvis will then very quickly compensate and provoke other injuries or strains, as well.
It is also common for the dog to experience fore-limb injuries, especially at the shoulders (often following a slide) or at the carpi (wrists) (following abrupt braking and changes of direction).
The injuries in the back will mainly be between the scapulae (shoulder blades), in the lower back region, as well as the area in-between (the thoracolumbar junction).
The neck can also be damaged during a sudden movement. It is one of the most painful injuries. Throughout the period of inflammation, dogs often shout as if you were walking on the tail even though you are not touching them.
The temporomandibular joints (jaws) can also get injured during a landing “on the face”. And pain can be noticed instantly, sometimes even with a scream, or when cooling down after the exercise (sometimes even the next day).
In the most serious cases, but fortunately rarer, a dog can have fractures or tearing of the growth plates. These fractures are difficult to treat because they are often spiral fractures, as as result of a twist of the long bone at the time of landing. The bone most often affected by this type of fracture is the tibia.
All these problems were consequences in an”acute” injury but we must not forget that these injuries can also be chronic. By repeating the same movements, we will find osteoarthritis on the most stressed joints: knees, hips, vertebrae (dorsal and lumbar), wrists and shoulders.”
Excitement and stress hormones
As previously mentioned, let us remember that the excitation causes the triggering of the survival process in the dog’s body: fats, sugar, increase of the cardiac rhythm, increase of the blood pressure, stress hormones, … His body prepares for action.
The ideal is to avoid exciting and / or stressful situations. Remember: in case of excessive excitation or stress, the brain is monopolized by the physical reactions of survival and therefore can not manage anything else in the same period of time. The new information remains without follow-up, the brain being unable to devote itself to it.
Overcoming a challenge like carrying an item reinforces the confidence of our dog.