Why Does My Dog Love Tennis Balls So Much?

helloBARK!
By helloBARK!
Updated on 22 April 2021
Expert Content

Does your dog love tennis balls?

It’s common for our canine companions to have an obsession with tennis balls.

Tennis balls are one of the most popular toys for our four-legged friends.

Whether they like to play fetch with a tennis ball or just have a good chew, they’re an essential toy for any pet owner.

Tennis balls can prove a suffocation hazard so dogs should be supervised when playing with their favourite toy.

In this article, we spoke to six experts to find out why dogs love tennis balls so much.

They’re Sending You A Message

Diana Ludwiczak, Certified Pet Trainer And CEO of NYC Animal Training Companies Wolfie’s Place And Doctor Sniffs

A dog often loves a tennis ball because it is the most common ball that their owners take out for playtime.

One of my dogs has a mild obsession with tennis balls but I was able to get her conditioned to play with a solid rubber ball. A solid rubber ball is easier on a dog’s teeth. Her tennis ball obsession developed in the dog parks. In most dog parks the most common ball lying around is a tennis ball.

My dog, Goosey, often sends me daily messages that she wants me to play with the ball. She does this by sidling up to me, and every once in a while gently jumping on me. This is her “let’s play now” message!

Genetic Drives

Kayla Fratt, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant And Founder Of Journey Dog Training

In regards to why dogs love tennis balls, this is basically because playing with toys is a variation on the natural predatory sequence. Over the generations of selective breeding, humans have enhanced or diminished different aspects of the predatory sequence (often explained as orient – eye – stalk – chase – grab/bite – kill/bite – consume).

Most of the dog breeds that REALLY love tennis balls have hypertrophied (exaggerated) stalk – chase – grab/bite aspects of the sequence. For example, retrievers and other gun dogs are bred to chase down fallen birds, grab them, and return them to people. Border Collies and shepherds are also bred to run out, collect stock animals, and bring them back to people.

In both cases it’s surprisingly easy to “map” those genetic drives onto something easy for humans to throw. Because their genetic wiring tells them to want to chase, collect, and return with something and humans love throwing tennis balls, this can easily grow into an obsession.

German Shepherd chews a tennis ball (Photo: Adobe Stock)

German Shepherd chews a tennis ball (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Physiologic feedback

Nicholas DeRoma, Veterinary Technologist, Canine Behavior Specialist And Consultant For CatPet.club

Tennis balls are an extremely popular toy for dogs, since many dogs enjoy playing with them. There are several reasons that your dog may love tennis balls so much.

Attention

One of the more common reasons that dogs love tennis balls is because they are associated with attention from the owner. Many dogs enjoy playing with their owner, and they may learn that tennis balls are a great way to initiate play and interaction.

Instinct

Fetching/retrieving can also be what is referred to as a modal action pattern, which is a species-specific, genetic-like behavior that is not a learned behavior. Therefore, for breeds in which fetching is a natural/instinctive behavior, such as seen with the hunting breeds, chasing tennis balls may be a great outlet and expression of this behavior for that dog.

Physiologic feedback

Tennis balls, and the motor action patterns that are associated with playing fetch also provide excellent sensory input for dogs. The release of endorphins and other intrinsic chemicals makes the dog feel good, which reinforces the behavior and creates a positive association.

Prey Drive

Jen Jones, Founder Of Your Dog Advisor

Dogs love tennis balls mostly due to the way you play with your dog and a tennis ball.

Throwing a ball or rolling a ball across the floor taps into your dog’s natural prey drive and gets him excited and playful.

Tennis balls have long been one of the most popular toys we can play with when it comes to playing fetch with our dogs, but other balls or toys that tap into your dog’s prey drive can have the same effect.

The truth is, whichever toy you play with most with your dog and that he associates with a good time is sure to become his favorite.

If your dog loves tennis balls, this means he associates them with play and fun, and will likely choose them over other toys in his toybox.

Pug plays fetch with tennis ball (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pug plays fetch with tennis ball (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Hairy Texture Reminds Dogs Of Rodents

Maureen Murithi, DVM And Team Vet For SpiritDog Training

This behavior can be tracked down to their ancestors in the wild where they used to hunt rodents for food. Over time with urbanization and domestication most dogs do not have opportunities to act on this.

Play toys such as tennis balls on the other hand due to the hairy texture and their erratic bounce and random movement mimic similar behavior as that of rodents.

Shows A Bond With Owners

Antoinette Martin, DVM Head Veterinarian At Hello Ralphie

Dogs love to use all their senses when playing, which could point us in the direction of why they are especially attracted to specific types of toys.

Tennis balls have a semi soft outer surface and are responsively squishy which can make them fun to chew on. Many dogs associate the ball with the game of fetch which for retrievers and non-retrievers alike can induce physically demanding bursts of play and evokes their retrieval instincts.

As with many toys, owners should always have ‘tabs’ on the location of the tennis balls and should monitor for any significant signs of wear suggesting the ball could break into pieces. Tennis balls can be swallowed whole or in pieces and cause a serious medical condition known as a foreign body obstruction – contact a veterinarian immediately as soon as you notice this (a great first step can be a virtual veterinarian who is on demand for emergency triage to help you decide what the best next step is!)

Dogs use their body language to show us what they want us to know. So when they play with specific toys like tennis balls, they may be telling us they love to play and run, and want to burn off that extra energy they have. When dogs play with their owners, it also shows a bond and love between the dog and owner. They may also associate the tennis balls with playing and bonding with their owner, which provokes happy feelings in the dog.

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