I go through a ton of tennis balls. When a big box gets delivered to the house, the pups — my own Riggins and the many I dog sit — can smell them from a mile away! I unpack the balls and put them into the cupboard as fast as I can, but there is always a pup or two on my heels waiting, not so patiently, for balls to be handed out and for fun to begin.
I take care of dogs who love to play fetch — the correct way! They will spend hours running after the ball, bringing it back to me, and setting the ball down by my feet so we can do it all over again. Then there are the pups who make up their own ball-related activities. Although these games can be played without my participation, the dogs seem to like it when they have my undivided attention. It’s almost like the more annoyed I get by the game, the more fun it is for the pup!
Here are a few games that the dogs in my care have come up with:
Recently I had a big Lab stay with me who was obsessed with pushing tennis balls under the dresser in my bedroom. There was something about this piece of furniture that Max was drawn to. I suspect it was because it’s low to the ground, so the ball can’t just roll under on its own — it has to be deliberately pushed there by a determined pup.
I’m sure the fact that my dresser is in my bedroom, a place I am usually only in when I’m trying desperately to sleep, made the game be more exciting. The conditions were ideal for him to stick his nose under the furniture, paw at the ground, and whine. The goal of the game wasn’t to push the ball under the furniture and get it back out. It was to push the ball under the furniture and force the silly human to get up and get the ball so he could do it all over again.
My dog is part German Shorthaired Pointer, so hunting is in his blood. When he was young, I’d have to put a bell on Riggins to warn all the little fuzzy woodland creatures that a predator was nearby. Without the bell, my pup could make short work of a ground squirrel. It was not a pleasant thing.
Skinning the tennis ball seems like a logical extension of his outdoorsy nature. Although, I admit, he never took the time to peel of the skin off the ground squirrels he caught — they were devoured without any prep work.
In this game, Riggins carefully holds the ball in his paws and rolls it around until he finds its weak spot. He will then work on a corner until he gets the fuzz to peel. That’s when the real fun starts. He then carefully skins off all of the fuzz, preferably in one long strip. Sometimes he will stop his skinning to grab the ball by its newly created tail and whip it around over and over again to ensure his prey is dead.
When I have more than one ball skinner in the house, such as when Lousy comes to stay, it becomes a competition to see who can finish first. My living room floor gets covered in the carnage of multicolor ball fuzz and slobber.
Hank, one of my regular pups, is great at this game. We will be at the dog park, and I’ll eye a ball just a few feet away. I’ll head over with the goal of grabbing it and throwing the ball for the pups to chase. When I get just a few inches away, this crazy pup will run over, cut me off, grab the ball, and run away as fast as she can. I swear she is giggling as she does it!
When Hank is with me, I know that the first ball I head toward will be stolen, so I always have a second one in my sight to grab before she notices it.
I have a couple of pups who like balls so much that they will seek them out while we are hiking. I’ll turn around and see one of my dogs with a ball in his mouth. A ball he didn’t have when we started our hike!
There was a weekend recently when I had the best doggie duo: One required a ball in his mouth when he went for a walk, and the other was a champion at finding balls. The champ would go down a doggie side trail — the ones that meander around bushes and cross over the main trail now and then — and come back with a ball that had been deserted by an earlier canine hiker. Max would then pass the ball to his buddy, who would drop the ball he was carrying so he could pick up the new one before continuing on.
This game is best described with the above picture. It involves using the “cone of shame” as a holder for balls, or really any toy, providing easy access for later play. Max would put the tennis ball in his mouth and then carefully spit it out so the ball landed in his cone. He could then walk around the house and backyard without having to worry about finding a ball when one was needed for play.
The dogs love all of these games so much, I’m happy to keep my cabinet stocked full of fresh tennis balls. Thank goodness they are an item you can purchase in bulk.
What ball games does your dog play? Did he make any of them up? Please share in the comments!
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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.