I’ve loved and lived with a whole lot of animals, including a whole lot of dogs, and although I do not have a “type” (having lived with sizes ranging from 9 pounds to 130), there have been five retriever/retriever-mixes in my family. Which means I have a tolerance for slobber, a willingness to vacuum, and familiarity with the whole dogs-love-balls thing. Peaches searched the house gathering up her dozen or so tennis balls to place them in bed before laying on top of them for the night: we joked about her nest full of eggs, half expecting puppy versions of her to hatch out in the morning. Eli carried a ball for hours and hours, sometimes napping with one or two still in his huge mouth. But it’s not just retrievers, of course. Lola, the world’s most perfect pooch (my column, my rules) is at nine pounds tied for my smallest dog and the golf ball she found on a walk is among her most favorite possessions, although the loud rumbling it makes as she tosses it around our hardwood floors first thing most mornings makes me want to hide it until after a second cup of coffee.
Not every dog fetches and not every dog is a ball-dog (there are stick-dogs, shoe-dogs, and raid-the-hamper-underpants-dogs), but it’s certainly a thing. Why? It’s an extension of their original wildness. Lola’s pursuit of a golf ball is akin to dogs’ natural herding/hunting behavior. Plus, there’s a ball size for every jaw (from little Lola’s golf ball to my much larger Jasper’s love of footballs) and they bounce and roll when dropped, a set of actions not unlike what a dog experiences when chasing small prey. While dogs come in a startling range of sizes and types, an almost universal truth is that dogs have the instinct for what is sometimes called “prey carrying” – the predisposition to hunt down, capture and then return with captured prey to the den for the pack to consume. This is a big part of the dynamic which led dogs and people to domestication (dogs brought us food, we rewarded that with safety), and is at the core of every game of ball you and your dog enjoy.