If there's anything more versatile than a tennis ball, I can't imagine it. One afternoon, I just sat down with a pad and started jotting down all the things you can do with a dog and a tennis ball. Here's what I came up with:
1. Fetch. Toss, return, repeat. You know the drill. This is the game by which all dog activities are measured, and sometimes there's just nothing better than the classic.
2. Find. Hide the tennis ball, then let your dog find it. For dogs that are already retrievers, this game is remarkably easy to learn. Hide the ball in plain sight a couple times so she'll know what you want her to do, then watch how easily she can find it anywhere.
3. Herd. Fetching uses one ball, but if you've got a herding dog, try tossing out a few and giving your dog a place to gather them all together. Since this game works with your dog's natural instincts, most pick it up very quickly for a treat reward.
4. Get wet. Water dogs love nothing more than the chance to enter the water to retrieve a favorite ball.
5. Monkey in the middle. Got kids? Got a dog? Amuse everyone with the classic schoolyard game with the dog playing the monkey. Pass the ball by tossing, rolling, kicking whatever works, and give Rover a small treat each time he intercepts it and gives it back.
6. Flyball. This one is a real sport, and one that tennis-ball-loving dogs live for once they learn to play. It combines a series of hurdles and a box that launches a tennis ball when the dog steps on it for a fast-paced, wildly entertaining game for both people and pets, participants and spectators.
You can often get tennis balls for free. If you have friends who are tennis players, ask them to save their old balls for you. A tennis ball that lacks the "omph" for a good game of tennis is still perfect for playing fetch with your dog.
One important thing to know, though: Tennis balls are not chew toys. Put them away when you're done with your game of fetch. Dogs have been known to compress tennis balls in their mouths, and then die when the ball springs back to full size in the back of the mouth, cutting off the air supply. And even if that never happens, the materials in a tennis ball are designed for tennis! They're not made to be chewed on or swallowed by dogs.
So have your fun, and lots of it. But don't leave the ball with your dog when you're done. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to throw a tennis ball for our family dogs!