Tossing a ball or Frisbee straight out in front of you can cause injury as the dog “Power Slides” to stop and turn sharply to bring the object back to you. I realize that not all dogs Power Slide but many performance dogs do unless taught a slightly different game. This post is meant to help you realize that there are slightly different games you can play that decrease the chance of injury but still provide the same outlet for our dogs.
Power Slide Definition: Dog slides across the ground at speed to catch an object and turns sharply to return the object to you.
When your dog is diving for a ball on the ground, it can cause injury to the shoulders, back, knees, and elbows as well as can tear stop pads, toe pads and dewclaws as they slide to grab the ball. (I know many dogs with continued shoulder issues due to ball chasing) When chasing a Frisbee with your dog jumping in the air for the catch, it stresses the back and on the landing, can over-stress to the knees. (I know many dogs that have torn cruciate ligaments this way) To reduce the stress on the joints, tendons and ligaments, teach your dog to catch a ball on a low bounce and toss the Frisbee at nose level. See below for instructions on changing to a safer game.
In either case, do not toss straight out in front of you on flat ground. This will cause the dog to drive out straight and increase the chance of injury diving down for the ball or jumping for the Frisbee. The sharp turn to come back for another toss, also increase chances of injury to the shoulders, knees and back. “Power Slides” are not recommended.
Food or thought: I teach my dogs and clients dogs to “go around me” (right side) and “switch” (left side). The dog drives around behind me and then out in front of me arcing in a big circle. As the dog drives around me in a big circle I toss the Frisbee right in front of their nose so that they do not leave the ground. The dog catches the Frisbee and completes the circle back to me. If using a ball, my dogs will drive out and turn to look at me for the toss. I then toss the ball right into their mouth or they catch it on a bounce.
1. First teach your dog to go around you by luring with the ball (or Frisbee). With the ball in your right hand, lure the dog while reaching behind you with your left hand to grab the ball from your right. As the dog is following the ball (now in your left hand) coming around your left leg, switch hands again so you can toss the ball into their mouth. (if right handed)
2. Once the dog is following the ball reliably, put it on cue “around” (or whatever makes sense to you)
3. Then repeat starting the dog on your left side, ball in left hand, lure dog behind you, switch ball to right hand, toss. When reliable, put it on cue “switch” (again you can use whatever cure works for you)
4. Then teach your dog to go around a cone (colorful bowl, kids toy, whatever you have handy). Stand next to the cone and ask your dog to go around it. You can lure or even better “shape” it.
5. Make sure to teach the dog to go around the cone in both directions.
6. Put it together. Set the cone out in front of you about 2 feet, ask the dog to “go around” (step#1), indicate the cone (or not if shaping) and toss the ball in his mouth.
7. Repeat at the same distance with “switch” (step #3)
8. Move the cone out 2 feet and repeat until you can get the dog to drive out up 30’, 60’, and 90’ away from you. If need be, as you move the cone away from you, add a couple more cones to keep the dog making a wide circle instead of wrapping around the cone. My dogs have been trained to drive out away from me half a football field. :-)
Excellent Strength Exercise
Tossing ball/Frisbee UPHILL is an excellent strengthening workout as the dog lengthens and uses their whole body to propel up the hill. The flip side is that it is a great workout for the handler as well. I recommend tossing the ball or Frisbee uphill, then meeting your dog half way on the decent. This way your dog is not barreling down a hill, putting unnecessary stress on their shoulders and back. You can walk with your dog at your side back to the starting point and start again. In this case, when tossing on a steeper incline you can toss so the dog is driving straight because as the dog goes up the incline they are less likely to “power slide” or “jump” due to the upward terrain.
Bobbie Lyons, Cert CF
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT