Playing ball seems to be great fun for all four-legged friends, and it is certainly not unhealthy in moderation. But if it is exaggerated, the dog can become a ball junkie. Addictive behavior when playing is a topic that you should not underestimate as a dog owner.
How does addiction arise when playing?
A ball junkie is not directly dependent on the ball itself, but on certain messenger substances that are released in the dog's brain when the four-legged friend chases an object that moves quickly. Playing the ball is therefore the real "drug", since the fixation, rushing and packing, which is part of the hunt for the desired item, triggers feelings of happiness in the dog and activates its reward system.
This does not necessarily have to lead to addictive behavior when playing, but it can happen if the dog is predisposed to it, is not offered enough alternatives to ball hunting and cannot recover sufficiently. For example, dogs that have not been well socialized and grew up in a low-stimulus environment are susceptible to the development of ball junkie. Due to the lack of external stimuli, her brain did not have enough opportunity to release messenger substances such as dopamine or adrenaline that activate the body's reward system.
They suffer from a chronic dopamine deficiency, so their reward system overreacts when suddenly playing a lot of the messenger substance is released at once. You are therefore particularly at risk of taking too much pleasure in this form of play, wanting nothing more and craving for a substance that triggers happiness - this creates addictive behavior.
Some dog breeds that have been specifically bred to experience fun and excitement while hunting and rushing also have a predisposition to ball junkie. This is the case for some herding dog breeds such as border collies or sheep dogs, as well as for terriers such as the Jack Russell Terrier or hunting terrier. But it doesn't have to be the breed - some dogs are nervous and easily excitable because of their personality, so they tend to be addictive when playing.
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How can a ball junkie be recognized?
The transition from normal, healthy gaming behavior to addiction is mostly fluid. The occasional hunt for the ball does not cause any addictive behavior as long as the focus is on fun and the four-legged friend is also able to gain happiness through other activities. A ball junkie, on the other hand, wants to do nothing more than chase an object that moves quickly. He does not care who throws the ball, he is completely fixated on one action - the rushing - and is extremely stressed if his addiction is not permanently satisfied immediately.
This can have dire consequences: Not only does the friendship between humans and dogs suffer massively from addictive behavior when playing, because the animal becomes completely indifferent to the animal, the physical dependency is also a problem for the four-legged friend. The constant stress, the constant overexcitation and the readiness for alarm strain the dog's soul and organism; the stereotypical movements of quickly breaking loose and suddenly braking when the ball lands also damage the joints.
In addition, the addictive behavior of playing ball can be transferred to other situations in which an object quickly moves away from the dog. This can put the four-legged friend in danger if, for example, they run after cars or forget everything around them as soon as a ball is thrown. But other animals such as cats, rabbits or protected wild animals as well as playing children, joggers and cyclists can also fall victim to the dog's out of control hunting behavior. Affected four-legged friends are unable to distinguish between play and seriousness and no longer have a grip.
If your dog shows the following symptoms when you play with them, they are either already a ball junkie or are on their way there:
- ● As soon as he sees his toy, he goes crazy and can no longer control himself
- ● If he knows you have the ball in his pocket, he won't rest before you take the toy out. He howls, beeps, barks, jumps up at you, drooling or shows other signs of great stress
- ● He generally does not come to rest and looks for a replacement if his ball is not within reach: pine cones, stones, chestnuts (caution, risk of swallowing)
- ● He no longer listens to you, does not respond to callbacks or commands and completely ignores you when he goes about his addiction
- ● He also ignores everything else around him and is solely focused on the ball
- ● He can no longer stop playing the ball on his own and loses all self-control