Playing “fetch” offers many options

Those who read this column regularly know we have two dogs. Leia, our rescue French bulldog, and Rey, our yellow Lab. Leia comes from an unknown source, and we know her early life wasn’t a pleasant one. She has so many health issues, many the result of maltreatment, and she has no idea what play and toys are.

Rey, on the other hand, came to us at 10 weeks, from family breeders, and certainly knows what toys and play are. Keeping her occupied is a full-time job. Which is why Jackie’s arm is so sore after a few days at the lake keeping Rey occupied.

Which brings us to today’s topic. Balls. Rey loves chasing and retrieving balls. Getting her to release or give them back is a work in progress but, still, she can wear your arm out keeping up with her demands. Even with a Chuckit!, the wear and tear on shoulders and elbows is tough on older pet parents.

Leia doesn’t chase the ball, but she does chase Rey, and quickly tires herself out doing so. We must be careful in the heat that she doesn’t get too exhausted, but she usually knows when to stop and find some shade.

There are devices that will throw balls for you, and if you can teach your dog how to return the ball to the machine, it can save your arm a lot of wear and tear. These units are not cheap, though, running from $150 to $300, depending on whether they are wireless and what kind of balls they throw (full tennis-ball-size throwers are a lot more costly).

The balls themselves vary in material and shape. Rubber, plastic, tennis or foam — some dogs do better with one type over another. There are also a variety of shapes, with some specifically designed to bounce oddly, keeping your pup on its toes.

There are other methods of “throwing” a ball. There are wrist-rocket-type slingshots. There are golf-club-shaped throwers that pick up the ball, and when you make a golf swing, it releases the ball at the appropriate time. There are baseball bat throwers that have a scoop on the end so you don’t have to pick up the slobbery ball, and you can then flick it up in the air to hit it.

There are other things to throw, as well. Frisbees, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. I like the Flying Squirrel, which has four corners that hold it up and which allow the dog to scoop it up easily and allow you to throw it as well. There are fabric throwing discs, foam ones, rubber ones and the conventional plastic discs, which dogs seem to destroy quite quickly. There are also a variety of football-shaped dog toys, so you can yell “Go deep” to your Labrador receiver.

For the serious retriever trainers, there are hunting lures with specialized launchers. The retrieving dummies used with these look like boat bumpers made of canvas or firehose, and they are designed to simulate the size of a duck.

Whatever toy you decide upon, make sure it is tough enough and won’t become a choking hazard if your pup gets too excited. Most throwing toys aren’t meant to be chew toys, so make sure that you supervise closely while your pet is playing with them.

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