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We all love to watch our dogs play! A dog’s joy is incredibly infectious, and there’s really nothing that beats a wagging tail.
One of my fondest memories of my dog is watching her run at full speed after a tennis ball. For many dogs, the trigger for such joy is a game of fetch.
There are a number of products available to up your fetch game, but here we will outline some of the best automatic and manual dog ball launchers and discuss whether one of these options is right for you and your dog.
Automatic ball launchers are a way for your dog to play fetch, whether or not you are active in the game!
Most automatic ball launchers have a collection funnel or shoot on top of the device, into which you drop a tennis ball, and then the ball is launched through an opening on the side of the device.
Many dog owners teach their dog to drop the ball into the funnel so that he can play fetch by himself.
Automatic ball launchers for dogs are likely powered by either an extension cord or batteries. However, a few options use rechargeable batteries where you plug the device in to charge and then unplug it and move it anywhere to play a game of fetch.
Most launchers also have different settings to choose from to determine the distance the machine will launch the ball.
A few automatic ball launchers come in different versions for small and large dogs.
The small-sized devices launch smaller (usually 1.5-inch diameter) tennis balls, rather than the full-size tennis balls meant for large dogs. As an added bonus, most ball launchers come with a few non-abrasive, pet-safe tennis balls!
These are usually operated by a power cord or batteries, although some have both, and newer models often use a rechargeable battery.
They generally include a basket into which you or your dog will deposit the tennis ball, and then the ball is shot out the side. You can teach your dog to use these launchers by himself.
Manual dog ball launchers, or throwers, require human operation to launch tennis balls. They are used to extend the range you can throw a ball for your dog.
Some are mechanized, such as tennis ball guns, and some, such as the Chuckit, work by extending your arm, and therefore the distance you can throw.
There are a number of options to look out for and choose between when buying a Dog Ball Launcher. Most important perhaps is the size of your dog.
Ball launchers tend to come in two sizes, ones that launch regulation size tennis balls for larger dogs, and ones that launch smaller mini tennis balls that are great for small dogs.
Another important consideration is where your dog will be playing fetch. Some ball launchers work both indoors and outdoors, while others require an electrical outlet, or launch tennis balls too high or far to be used indoors.
Many launchers have a variety of distance settings, and some have different angles at which the tennis balls can be launched.
If your dog plays fetch a lot it is important to add variety to the game; some launchers include a randomization setting to vary the distance the ball is launched.
Although many dog owners probably like the idea of a self-entertaining machine that will keep their dog entertained and exercised, automatic dog ball launchers are not a good option for every dog.
A repetitive, never-ending game of fetch can fuel obsessive behaviors in some dogs. This can be problematic, especially if the owner leaves their fetch-obsessed hound to play by themselves indefinitely.
Some dogs will fetch themselves to exhaustion rather than stop playing the game.
In most cases for high fetch drive dogs, actually playing a game of fetch with your dog is better than leaving them to tire themselves out with an automatic ball launcher.
For some, however, a ball launcher could be beneficial if you are unable to exercise your dog otherwise.
For example, my own border collie LOVES fetch. But I would never get him a ball launcher because the constant hard running and surges of adrenaline just aren’t good for him.
Dog ball launchers can, however, be a fun game for your dog to play, with or without you. It is a rewarding training exercise to teach your dog how to deposit the tennis ball and learn to play fetch with himself.
They are an easy way to keep your dog entertained, and can be used as a good way to exercise your dog, as long as he won’t run himself to exhaustion.
If you do decide to exercise and entertain your dog with an automatic ball launcher, here are some good options:
Description: The iFetch and the iFetch Too are excellent options if you decide to get an automatic dog ball launcher. The iFetch is the small dog version with 1.6-inch diameter tennis balls, and the iFetch Too is the large version which launches regular sized tennis balls.
Both versions come with three non-abrasive pet safe tennis balls and are powered by a rechargeable battery. To charge the battery simply plug the device into an electrical outlet with the included charging cable. Charging can take a few hours, and iFetch recommends charging overnight for best results.
iFetch Too has settings to launch the ball 10, 25, or 40 feet or you can pick the ‘random’ setting to keep your dog guessing, while the smaller iFetch can launch 10, 20, or 30 feet.
Price: $$$$ (Price varies by version of the device, the iFetch Too is more than twice as expensive than the smaller iFetch)
Pros: The ‘random’ setting on this device keeps the game of fetch from becoming repetitive. The ongoing game is also a good way to exercise your dog. Some users mentioned that iFetch has excellent customer service.
Cons: Some users found that the iFetch device does not launch the ball as far as advertised. This is especially apparent after a few throws when the ball gets slobbery. The iFetch does not have a pet safety sensor and could hurt your pet if launched when he is standing too close.
Description: This little cube is another good option if you decide to go with an automatic ball launcher. Similar to the iFetch devices, you can set the IDOGMATE to launch the ball 10, 20, 40, or 50 feet.
This toy also has a ‘random’ distance option as well. It runs on rechargeable batteries or AC adaptor. A remote control gives you the ability to change settings from wherever you are. This launcher uses standard sized tennis balls (2.5-inch diameter).
Pros: The remote control gives you added control over your dog’s game of fetch. Users like its long battery life and its large funnel makes it easier for your dog to drop the ball in the right spot.
Cons: A few users found that the device did work as well as advertised, although it is unclear whether the battery was charged yet.
Description: This ball launcher has a variety of distance and angle settings to spice up your dog’s game of fetch. It is water resistant for outdoor play and is powered by either an included power cord or 6 D-cell batteries. It works best with standard size tennis balls, although smaller balls can be used, and includes multiple safety features.
Pros: The PetSafe Ball Launcher has a number of safety features, including a motion sensor that will delay launching if the dog is standing in the path of the tennis ball, and a 15 minute break period after 15 minutes of fetch to ensure that the dog doesn’t exhaust itself.
Cons: Some dog owners were frustrated that the fifteen-minute timer has no override, and a few were put off by how much noise the machine made.
Description: The original fetch machine, the GoDogGo has a wide bucket that is easy for your dog to return tennis balls to. You can set a 4, 7, or 15-second launch interval at low, medium, or high distance, for a variety of fetch games both indoors and outdoors. It is powered by an AC adapter or battery power.
Pros: The GoDogGo fetch machine can launch balls up to 35 feet, and can be used indoors or outdoors with the available power options. It includes a safety arc feature that launches the tennis ball upwards in an arc so that it doesn’t hit the dog. It can be operated with or without a remote control.
Cons: Some users found that GoDogGo’s safety arc feature launched the balls too high for safe indoor use. It is also not recommended for use in temperatures colder than 45 degrees F.
These options boost your dog’s game of fetch but keep the owner involved and in control of the game. They are likely better options for fetch-obsessed dogs than the previously mentioned automatic ball launchers.
Description: This is the classic manual ball thrower for dogs. It simply acts as an extension of your arm, giving your throw a significant advantage compared to just throwing the ball. The device is lightweight and portable and requires nothing except you, a tennis ball, and your dog.
Pros: The extremely simple, yet durable, design of this toy means that there is little you can do to break or misuse it. The extended throw gives your dog more exercise, and the long handle allows for a hands-free slobber ball pickup, all without even bending over. This toy keeps your dog’s game of fetch centered on you and in your control, which is especially important for fetch obsessed dogs.
Cons: A few users found that the included tennis ball was cheaply made and disintegrated after use.
Description: This handheld tennis ball blaster gives the ball more of a boost than your arm is able to, thereby upping your game of fetch, but keeping your dog focused on you, and bringing the ball back to you. This toy includes one tennis ball but can be used with any standard size tennis balls.
Pros: The tennis ball blaster also has a hands free pick-up operation, meaning no need to touch those slobbery tennis balls! It also has adjustable power, which gives you more control and gives your dog more variability in your game of fetch.
Cons: Some users complained about the lack of durability in these ball blasters, and found that they broke after a few months.
Many dog owners with high fetch drive dogs think that a tennis ball launcher is just the toy that their dog needs to keep them busy. And while these fetch obsessed dogs will LOVE such a toy, getting them one will only fuel their unhealthy obsession. Most dogs like this require more control and limits over their game of fetch, not unlimited fetch time.
When training her how to appropriately play fetch, it is important to keep your dog focused on you. An automated fetch machine takes the owner out of the equation once your dog learns how to drop the ball back into the machine. In order to maintain your dog’s focus, it is essential that you are the purveyor of tennis balls (or frisbees, or whatever).
This means that you are in control of the game and can pause and stop it when you want- or when your dog gets exhausted even if she still wants to play.
There are a number of exercise alternatives to a game of fetch that are probably better suited for a fetch obsessed dog. Running or hiking are excellent ways to tire out high energy dogs. If you are not an endurance athlete, but your dog is, consider letting him run free at a dog park, playing training games, or taking him swimming.
When using an automatic ball launcher, make sure that both you and your dog know how to use the device safely. Teach your dog to stand to the side of the launching point or far enough from it so that he won’t get hit by the ball.
Also, make sure to time your fetch sessions, especially if your dog is an obsessive fetcher. The PetSafe automatic ball launcher has a built-in safety feature that turns the machine off for 15 minutes after 15 minutes of play so that dogs do not exhaust themselves fetching indefinitely.
Here are some helpful tips to help you keep your dog’s need to fetch under control.
1. Put away the toys! If your dog constantly brings you toys to throw, put them away so that your dog is forced to think about something other than fetch. If you are the one to decide when playtime is, and to bring out the toys at playtime, you will have an edge of control over your dog’s obsessive habits.
2. Be in control of the game of fetch. Try picking one toy (a certain frisbee, or only tennis balls) that you will play fetch with. This way your dog will learn that only certain toys mean fetch, and this will help teach him appropriate behavior. Ensure that you are the one who initiates the game of fetch, and you decide when it begins and when it ends.
3. Set time limits. Limiting your dog to only five or ten minutes of fetch at a time will help you get a handle over his obsession. It will also help teach him that you are in control of the game.
4. Have a signal for the end of the game. A command like “That’s enough!” works well to signal the end of playtime, and will help your dog calm down and ‘turn off’ after a game of fetch.
5. Ask people not to throw balls or sticks for your dog. You may feel like the fun police at the dog park or on the trail, but it is important for your dog to learn good manners when interacting with strangers.
6. Ensure your dog’s safety! Don’t throw a ball out into the water where he will struggle to retrieve it; not all dogs have the sense to turn around if they swim out too far. Also check your dog’s feet for nail and pad damage, especially if you are playing on ice, pavement, or hard-packed dirt. Repeated high-speed stops and turns that are common in a game of fetch can have a negative impact on your dog’s shoulders and joints.
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