You’d think that buying a ball is just buying a ball, but if you intend to use a ball on string to train your dog, there are some important distinctions you should know about.
A ball on string toy is exactly what it sounds like. Any ball with a string (or rope) running through it can be referred to as a ball on string. This training tool is most often used as a reward toy for dogs after they’ve done a good job by throwing it or playing a game of tug. The design of the toy makes it a very practical reward toy, as it allows you to pick up the ball without getting your hand soaked in slobber, and throw it further than a normal toy, because of the leverage provided by the string.
If you plan to use ball on string as a reward for your dogs training, you shouldn’t let your dog have the toy all day, or anytime he is unsupervised. Ball on string should be used as a special reward, only brought out during training or time playing one-on-one with your dog. Unsupervised playtime with ball on string will make the toy lose its value, as your dog will realize he has access to it all the time. Also, unsupervised play could encourage your dog to develop bad habits like an unwillingness to give up the toy when asked.
Your dogs teeth are very sharp and can easily puncture rubber and foam toys.
If your dog pokes holes in his hard rubber or foam ball, the suction created by the punctures as he chews can damage the sensitive tissues inside his mouth. A ball with a hole — and especially a ball on string — provide a gap for air to travel through, making them much safer than a tennis ball or rubber ball, especially for large breeds, and power chewers.
A ball on string comes in many shapes, textures, and colors. Some balls are smooth and perfectly round, while others have little nodules, swirls, holes, or may be oblong shaped. Which shape and style of ball to choose is largely a matter of your dogs preference, it is a good idea to experiment with at least one or two different styles to see if it affects your training.
You may find that your dog works better for one ball over another. For example, my German Shepherd prefers his ball on string with nodules more than any other ball. You may find that your bully breed prefers extra large, or extra hard balls, whereas your puppy might go through 2 different sizes as he grows.
The strength of the rubber on the ball is an important factor to consider when buying a ball on string. Although most dogs don’t care so much about color or style, a ball that is too hard for them too chew wont make it a fun reward. Conversely, a ball that is too soft can be punctured or even torn up by strong chewers, and may not last you for very many training sessions.
While the color of your dogs ball on string may not matter very much to your dog, it may help you. If you train in verdant green fields, don’t choose a green ball unless you’re confident your dog will always bring it back. If you train a lot at night, look for a yellow or white ball for maximum visibility.
Some balls on string are designed with magnets inside of them so they can easily stick to the back of specialty training vests. These training vests and metal balls can be useful if you pursue more advanced training, or if you’re uncoordinated. Using a training vest and magnetic ball on string can help keep the ball attached to you while you practice exercises like the heel, because you don’t have to hold anything in your hand or put anything in your pockets. You can simply attach the ball to your vest and grab it when you want to give it to your dog.
Of course, these special balls and training vests often cost considerably more than a regular ball on string, so most people only use them if they train professionally, or are trying to title their dog.
When choosing a ball on string, the string is actually the most important part. When it comes to choosing a string design, you generally have 3 options:
There are also combinations of these — like strings with knots and loops, or knots and handles — but those are less common. At first, it may seem unusual that the string (the part the dog doesn’t even grab onto ) is the most important, but assuming your dog likes the toy in the first place, the next biggest factory is safety.
Strings with knots are the ideal ball for throwing, because they don’t contain loops or handles that could trip your dog up, or inadvertantly hit them in the face. This can be incredibly important for sensitive dogs, who may not like the toy as much after they get their leg caught in a loop, or hit in the nose by a hard plastic handle. If you plan on using your ball to throw and have your dog bring it back to you, consider a ball on string with no handles, no loops, and only knots to hold onto.
Of course, this variety of the ball on string is the most difficult to play a game of tug with your dog, as there’s nothing to easily grip onto, so your dog should have a really good understanding of how to “out” the ball before you use it for a game of fetch, or he probably wont give it up very easily.
A loop is just another form of handle, but they pose the same basic risk when thrown. If your string has a plastic or wooden handle attached to the end, it may make for a great game of tug, but there’s a chance your dog can get hit by the handle as the ball descends, especially if they typically catch it midair. While loops of nylon or rope don’t pose the same risk of hitting your dog, your dogs legs can easily slide through the loop while they try to catch the ball, causing serious injury.
While these kinds of injuries are rare, it’s good practice to set your dog up for safe & successful training by not using tools that could inadvertently lead to injury. A ball on string that has a handle or loop is a good choice for playing tug or rewarding your dog in close proximity, but not a good toy to throw long distances.
It’s not uncommon to have different kinds of balls for different kinds of training — or just to give your dog some variety in your usual training. Every dog is different and will respond to different textures, colors, and toy-shapes according to their own personal preferences. You may find that changing out your dogs ball every so often can give his training some variety and make boring tasks exciting again, or learn that your dog has a strong preference for a foam ball over a rubber ball and works harder for it than ever!
When used for training, ball on string is usually no more than 2-3“ in diameter, with a string not exceeding 12”. This makes it easy to train with, as the string is not so long that it gets in the way, and the ball is not big enough to encourage your dog to use his paws to play with it. However, if you’re looking for a toy your dog can play with all day that still has the features of a ball on string, there are many similar toys out there that can be used for regular daily play instead, such as:
Before giving any new toy to your dog, you should inspect the toy for signs of damage or manufacturing defects, such as hard edges on the rope or malformed seals on the ball. You should also periodically inspect your dogs toys to ensure they’re not wearing down, and be prepared to replace them if they are. Some dogs will use the same toys their whole life, but most power chewers will require their toys to be replaced on a yearly, monthly, or even weekly basis.