If you could look into a dog’s heart to find out the things that make its heartbeat excitedly, you’ll notice that two main things flow from its heart – love for their owners and love for balls. Any dog owner that has tried a game of fetch with a dog can agree that the sight of a running ball is enough to send a dog’s eyes gleaming with excitement as it chases the round object with its tongue hanging out. To put it simply, dogs like balls. If you have ever asked yourself ‘Why do dogs like balls?’, then this article is just for you. This is because we will attempt to explain exactly why there seems to be a bond between our furry buddies and these little round objects.
A Look Into The Past
Dogs were not always domesticated. Centuries ago, dogs did not have the comfort and luxury of being couch potatoes, sleeping in comfy beds, or eating already-made dog food. Dogs used to be hunters in the past. They relied on their natural hunting instincts to catch their prey. They had owners who hunted for game as a source of livelihood. And, therefore, relied on their dog’s predatory instincts, sharp vision, ability to stalk and chase, and grabbing, killing, and dissecting their prey. Thus, a dog’s body has been so structured for the purpose, with lean muscles, claws, and good vision. All these characteristics come together to make a dog a natural predator – no matter how many hours it spends on the couch. A dog does not learn its predatory behavior like it learns how to roll over or stand on two legs. Predatory behavior comes naturally to a dog. Centuries later, we get to combine these instincts with domestication to have what we now call a man’s best friend.
Instincts Watered Down
Several centuries later, humans have found a way to domesticate dogs in such a way that their predatory instincts to hunt and kill have been watered down. With the aid of modern domestication methods, technology, and comfort, most dogs now have less-pronounced predatory instincts as compared to their ancestors and distant cousins still living in the wild. Indeed, most dogs no longer need to hunt for their meals as they are served regularly in clean dog bowls. Also, several years of selective breeding have been designed to tune the dog’s natural instincts to suit human needs. And, although humans have managed to rechannel the natural instincts of dogs, there are still a lot of dog breeds that show their predatory instincts by chasing smaller animals on sight. But, for now, a dog’s natural hunting instincts to kill and devour have basically been domesticated out of it. And, this has been necessary to allow humans to tap on the working instincts of dogs to our advantage. For example, humans have been able to utilize the working instincts of herd dogs on their animal farms. The dogs display their natural instincts in chasing, stalking, and controlling the herd. But, the killing and devouring instinct has been bred out of them. The same applies to game-retrieving dogs as well as tracking dogs. In short, men had to tame dogs for the latter to become man’s best friend.
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The Chasing Instinct
Despite the fact that a domesticated dog’s natural hunt-kill-devour instinct has been checked through several years of selective breeding by humans, one natural instinct still remains as strong as ever – the chasing instinct. In the wild, dogs have several small animals for their chasing pleasure. But domesticated dogs living in homes have no such animals to chase after. Except, of course, balls – especially the ones with the size of tennis balls. Do not be mistaken; a dog’s instinct will get it chasing after bicycles, even cars, digging holes, tearing stuffed toys to shreds, and even attacking strangers to protect its territory. But, nothing quite ignites a dog’s desire to run after those small round objects. So, why do dogs like chasing balls so much? What about a tiny tennis ball that will send a dog dashing off in ecstasy and sheer delight? For humans, a tennis ball or a small ball, or just any ball, is something to play with – kick, bounce around, throw at others. But, to dogs, balls (especially small size balls) mimic the movement of tiny animals dashing off. The mere sight of a rolling ball will ignite a dog’s natural chasing instinct. Remember that domesticated dogs do not have the pleasure of chasing after small animals. Thus, balls are the closest things to the movement of small animals. The unpredictability in the way they ricochet off one obstacle or another simulates the movement of small prey in panic-mode. This can get a dog’s instinct pumped up as it chases the ball, catches at between its paws, pins it down to secure it, and gives it a shake or two before gathering it between its jaws.
Thus, the next time you see dogs chasing balls, dogs playing with balls, a dog catching balls, or a dog fetching ball, remember that it is only doing what it’s natural instincts dictate to it.
Uh-oh! There is something to be careful of. The mere fact that a dog chasing, catching, and biting a ball is only a demonstration of natural instincts does not mean that we should accept it when it manifests negatively. As a dog owner, it is your duty to ensure that your dog’s natural predator instinct does not get into trouble. Always make sure that you give your dog enough playtime to rechannel any negative energy. A simple game of throw and fetch works wonders in both allowing your dog to express its natural predatory instinct and having fun at the same time. Also, large breed dogs with bigger jaws always face the possibility of choking on small balls. Also, some dogs may end up chewing on the balls and, thus, ingest the toxic materials that most of these balls are made with. They could also choke on such materials.
In conclusion, dogs like to chase balls basically out of predatory instinct as a ball mimics the behavior of prey. Dogs playing with balls is also fun. But you must be careful of the dangers it comes with. Always make sure that you put the safety of your dog first. Purchase balls made with safer and sturdier materials, and always monitor your dog when it is playing with balls.
- Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Dog Behavior Problems – Chase Behaviors, VCA Hospitals
- Sherry Woodard, Dog Toys, Best Friends Animal Society