Playing Ball

Not all dogs enjoy chasing and retrieving balls, but many herding and sporting breeds seem to love it. There are exceptions, of course. While most of my Corgis have enjoyed a game of fetch, Trilby did not. She was interested in the process, and seemed to like watching me throw the ball, but that was it. I’d throw the ball, and she’d look at me as if to say, “Are you going to get that, or just leave it there?” Obviously, if I wanted it back, it was going to be up to me to get it. I can’t remember that Hayley ever chased a ball much but she was a very soft dog and Griffin, I think, intimidated her. If he wanted the ball, Hayley wasn’t going to argue.

Both Gael and Tegan love chasing balls, so, weather permitting, we try to give them three or four ball-chasing games a day. I say “weather permitting” but that mostly pertains to the humans in the family. The dogs usually are up for a game no matter what the weather.

I have eight rubber outdoor balls. There are two green ones, one blue one, one purple, one orange, and one colored tennis ball yellow. There are also two white ones. They are all from Planet Dog and even the oldest one, which is at least five years old, shows no sign of wear.

Deep snow can be a challenge when playing, but I use the colored balls to help me find them in a drift, and, once we’ve packed the snow down, it’s easy for the dogs to chase the balls. By the end of winter, we’ve packed down a long runway that works perfectly as long as a ball doesn’t bounce out of bounds.

Early spring is my least favorite time of year to play ball as the dogs’ feet and stomachs get very muddy and they need to be cleaned off after the game. Gael is used to the routine, but Tegan thinks clean-up is another game and tries to eat the towel.

I use a throw stick when we play because I can make the ball go further than I can throw it without the stick, and, I don’t have to pick up a ball covered in saliva. Generally, I use a white ball for Gael (green in winter) and the purple ball for Tegan. Both dogs know which ball is theirs, so if I say, “This ball is Tegan’s,” Gael will not chase it when I throw it, but will wait until her ball is thrown. Tegan will sometimes grab Gael’s ball, but I think it’s more to annoy Gael than it is that he doesn’t know which ball is his.

The only drawback to them knowing which ball belongs to which dog is when Tegan’s ball ends up in the bushes. Gael will plow through branches to retrieve her ball, but Tegan won’t. Even if the ball is in a clump of flowers, Tegan will wait for me to get it. When it’s in the middle of our hedge, this presents a problem. Gael won’t retrieve Tegan’s ball, no matter how I encourage her. “Not mine,” she seems to say. So, I have to risk poking an eye out to get the ball.

There are indoor balls, too, as well as some toys. Tegan has two tennis balls, two hard rubber balls, one lime green and the other white, a soft plastic dumbbell, a soft rubber toy, and a fluffy football, and he enjoys the occasional game of indoor fetch.

Gael, who is a retrieving fool outdoors, won’t touch a ball thrown indoors. Rhiannon, another retrieving fool, made it clear to puppy Gael eight years ago that any ball thrown indoors was Rhiannon’s and Rhiannon’s only. Rhiannon has been gone almost two years, but Gael learned her lesson. She will not touch a ball or toy thrown indoors. That’s not to say that she shows no interest. She will run with Tegan after the ball or toy, barking all the way, but she leaves it to Tegan to pick up the object and return to me with it. The barking and chasing generally degenerates into a loud wrestling match with the ball forgotten by both dogs.

I’m glad both dogs enjoying playing ball because it gives them exercise and I don’t have to worry about walking them where there might be loose dogs, or walking on icy sidewalks in the winter. “Play ball” means a good time for all of us.