Many people with high energy dogs use a ball launcher to encourage the dog to retrieve time and again in a form of shuttle run. This is purely physical exercise and takes little brainwork for the dog. Like any animal – including humans – shuttle runs at high speed build fitness and the fitter the dog is the more energy he will have to use, the more physical exercise he will need. This result of seemingly innocent play is disastrous to a busy, anxious mind. In addition, this specific exercise type is continually putting the dog in the mindset of chase, therefore a release of adrenaline occurs every time the ball is launched, a chemical that will fuel the anxiety of a stressed dog. In addition, this specific exercise type is continually putting the dog in the mindset of chase. A state which - as part of their ancestors’ ancient prey sequence -ordinarily would only happen for a few minutes at most in a hunt. The chase would always conclude with lots of relaxing chewing and eating which can last for hours. When we continuously launch a ball, a release of adrenaline occurs, but the rest of the sequence - the bit that relaxes their mind and body with a sense of achievement, specific relaxation and an instant - prolonged meal does not occur. Finally, the twisting and turning of continued chase in this way can place unnecessary wear and tear on joints leading to early onset joint degeneration and pain in mid to later life. Chase has its place for many dogs, but for those with the potential to become obsessed it’s better to try something else and for all dogs it should only be a small part of many other activities including mental stimulation and problem-solving tasks that empower the dog as the individual he is.
The key to play that empowers is enlightened observation - reading the behaviour and body language of your dog, then catering your own behaviour and body language to match his, making sure that he doesn’t become overwhelmed. If the dog looks worried back off, to introduce challenges ensure you make them brief and easy enough for the dog to succeed – then let him succeed as often as possible. The benefits of this approach are canine resilience, self-belief and general empowerment.