She stepped out into the grassy field.

Dog Playing Fetch with Ball

Chuck-it in hand, and dog prancing gleefully at her side, she thought about work, and her mounting to-do list and then pushed it aside for a little fun with her best friend.

The pair made their way to the middle of the field, and as they slowed to a stop, the dog’s anticipation visibly grew.

She reached down, unclipped the leash, and in a moment, the first ball was speeding through the air, the dog sprinting close behind.

The ball landed in an overgrown patch of grass and in a split second, the dog was on it, sliding to a stop and snatching it into her massive jaws before returning it to her owner so they could play again.

We love playing fetch with our dogs.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many clients have come to me in the past with well-behaved dogs who aren’t natural retrievers, asking for advice on how to get their dog to play fetch with them.

We love seeing the pure happiness on our dog’s face as they zoom after their coveted toy…

And we love watching the satisfaction they have as they proudly trot back to us, holding their prize.

And what better way to give them a little bit of exercise?

I mean, playing fetch is a serious workout!

But the truth is, playing fetch can be risky business.

I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve seen get injured chasing a toy…

The dog will step wrong, leap into the air and land wrong, or come in just a little to quickly and go for a tumble.

Torn ligaments are common with dogs who love the game a little too much and those can be extremely painful for your dog, requiring extensive surgery and extended rest and rehabilitation to repair.

So what’s a dog owner to do? I mean your dog loves fetch…but you want to keep them safe. Do you need to ditch the game for good?

Not so fast.

Playing fetch with your dog can be an awesome outlet and a great way for you to bond with your dog. Not to mention, you can use games of fetch to break up particularly challenging training sessions, to give your dog a bit of a mental break.

I use games of fetch every day in my training (for the dogs that like it).

You don’t have to give up the game altogether. You simply have to get strategic.

Here are my top tips for playing a safer game of fetch with your dog.

  1. Warm your dog up – Before any strenuous activity, it’s important to warm your dog up. Cold, tight muscles are the fastest path to an injury, so give them ample time to get their heart rate up, and their muscles stretched out. Not sure how to do it? You can start by trotting your dog for several minutes. Then, practice some obedience. Ask your dog to move between a sit and a down. And if they know a stand, toss that into the mix as well. The time spent will improve your relationship, and is a great precursor to a game of fetch.
  2. Choose a better toy – There are a couple of things to take into consideration when making your toy choice. First, bigger is better. I know you like that small tennis ball that fits perfectly into your Chuck-it, but I personally know multiple dog owners who have lost their dogs to choking on balls of that size. So err on the side of caution, and choose toys that are oversized. They might not fit into your Chuck-it, but trust me, you don’t need that contraption anyway. These are my favorite balls to play with. Better yet, play fetch with a tug toy. Choosing toys that are not balls means that the toy will not bounce and roll erratically, making it easier to chase, and easier for your dog to pick up.
  3. Play on soft surfaces – Never play fetch games on concrete or hard surfaces as the chance for injury greatly increases if you do. Instead, opt for grass or soft dirt when playing fetch with your dog.
  4. Make your dog wait – The safest way to play fetch with your dog is to make him/her wait as you toss the toy. Ask them to sit or lay down and then throw your toy. Release them to get it when the toy stops rolling.
  5. Play up a slight incline – Don’t go crazy here and make your dog run up a mountain, but if you can find a very slight incline on a soft surface, take advantage of it. Toss the ball or tug up the incline and then release your dog to get it. Running up the incline slows your dog down, especially if they can be a little reckless about the game. Not to mention, it’s a great workout!
  6. Keep your sessions short – One of the biggest mistakes people make is throwing the ball over and over…and over…and over again, having their dog chase the toy until they are exhausted. Instead of overexerting your dog, keep it to a handful of throws and then shift gears. Play a little tug with your dog, practice your obedience for a few moments or give your dog a break and let them sniff around and relax. Then, resume your game with a handful of throws again. By breaking up your play, you’ll keep your dog’s head clear, preventing overstimulation or obsessiveness, and you’ll help protect their body and prevent injury.

Playing fetch with your dog is an awesome way for the two of you to enjoy each other’s company. And while there are risks involved, especially with those dogs who love toy play just a little too much, you can minimize those risks by simply getting strategic.

So ditch the Chuck-it and grab your favorite tug, and work a little obedience into the mix. Your dog and your relationship will be better for it in the long run.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    5 replies to "5 Tips to Prevent Injury While Playing Fetch with Your Dog"

    • Sherry Harding

      Good information to share.. I also check the *terrain* if away from personal property for creature *holds* , unusual *formations* & hidden large branches, and large rocks under grassy patches.. and i’ve found glass in so many places unusual places… I often to go county parks that are usually vacant of other people.. Lots of surprises hiding beneath innocent looking objects.. Thanks Meagan !

    • Debi

      What a great reminder. Our yellow lab is ball obsessed and will play fetch for hours if we let him. While I’m not sure he’d be willing to give up his tennis ball for anything else, I will try to slow him down a bit. I never thought about warming him up before hand, but it makes sense. Thanks for all the great tips.

      • Donald Rifas

        Throw the tennis ball away and get chewy balls. Tennis balls are very bad for dogs the phos messes up their teeth and they break in pieces and dogs can choke on them

    • Jovi Larson

      All good suggestions, and will add another. Ask the dog to wait while you throw the toy into some high grass. The dog naturally slows when going into the high grass to search for the ball.

    • Bethany

      Wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise 🙂

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