Why Do Dogs Like Tennis Balls?

If there’s one toy that dogs love, whether it’s shredded or intact, it’s got to be a tennis ball. Let’s get to know why dogs become tennis ball-obsessed.

May 11, 2024By Lisa Szymanski
why do dogs like tennis balls

I don’t need to give my dog special toys to entertain her. All she ever wants is a small green ball she can play with for hours! A tennis ball is a simple and inexpensive toy, but why do dogs love them so much? From the fuzziness of the felt to its high-speed bounce, there are many reasons why our pooches find tennis balls so interesting. Read on to find out whether your dog just likes a tennis ball or has developed a problematic obsession.

Why Dogs Like to Play with Tennis Balls

white shepherd holding tennis ball in its mouth
Whether tattered or torn, dogs love tennis balls.

Some dogs enjoy a good tug rope or will happily play with their favorite plush toy. But there’s a group of dogs that tend to become ball-crazy. You might expect certain breeds such as border collies and golden retrievers, to make the top of the list, but any pooch can develop an attachment to a tennis ball! I find it so odd that even after the ball is ripped, broken, and covered in dirt, my dog is still uninterested in other toys. So, why is it that dogs like to play with tennis balls to the point of obsession?

Dogs love to chase after the ball when you toss it in the air because it’s fun for them. Running after the fuzzy ball is exciting for our fur friends and playing a game of fetch is an affordable activity too. Regardless of their size, every dog has a prey drive. This drive is just a lot stronger in some canines, which means that they’re more likely to pay attention to the movement of the ball. The erratic bounce and run of tennis balls mimic prey and trigger this instinct to chase. In addition to the bounce and run of the ball, our pooches enjoy the furry texture of a tennis ball. They’ll spend hours chewing and nibbling the surface because it relieves boredom and keeps them entertained.

Can Dogs Become Obsessed with Tennis Balls?

labrador retriever lying on bed with tennis ball
Dogs can quickly go from playtime to obsession with tennis balls.

The answer is yes. Dogs can become extremely possessive and may snarl at or bite another pet or person who gets too close to their treasure. Many dog behaviorists believe that a simple tennis ball can trigger your dog’s instinct to hunt. The fast motion of the ball sends them into a frenzy, and all they want to do is catch it. Sometimes this preoccupation can get so severe that you have to pry the ball away from them to get them to focus on anything else.

It’s the dogs that tend to hunt that will pay very close attention to a bouncing ball. Despite this item offering a simple way to exercise dogs, especially high-energy or running breeds, it can get to the point of becoming frustrating and unhealthy. The more enjoyment dogs get out of chasing a ball, the more it reinforces their need to mouth, claim, and run after it. Much like the feel-good endorphins that humans release during physical activity, dogs experience this too. At this stage, all your pooch is thinking is, “I need the ball to feel good.” The more they play, the more it strengthens the connection between needing the ball and happiness. No matter how much you shout or try to introduce interesting toys for dogs, they will not pay attention.

How Do I Know if My Dog is Obsessed with a Ball

border collie with red scarf lying with tennis ball on grass
You should discourage obsessive ballplay.

Now that we know that dogs can get addicted to tennis balls, it’s always good to identify the signs of an unhealthy obsession. Your fur friend can quickly turn a regular game of fetch into resource guarding and aggression. If you reach for the ball and your dog holds onto it with their paws or mouth and won’t respond to commands such as “leave” or “no,” it could be a problem. If your dog’s developed a resource guarding problem, they’ll growl and show teeth when you or another animal gets close to the ball. Don’t try to physically remove it if you see signs of aggression, or it could end in a bite.

Is It Safe for Dogs to Play with a Tennis Ball?

beige dog waiting for tennis ball
You can play many different ball games for your fur companion.

It is safe for most dogs to play with tennis balls; however, it might not be the best choice of toy for large dogs. A Great Dane, St. Bernard, or mastiff can easily swallow and choke on a tennis ball, so I would advise against choosing this item for these big breeds. If you want to introduce a bouncy ball as a toy, choose products that your dog cannot swallow by accident.

Another problem with excessive ball play, and that goes for any type of ball, is the risk of hip and knee injuries in dogs. Breeds including pitbulls, retrievers, and shepherds can sustain a cruciate ligament injury while running after their toy. Despite ball time being a good exercise for our fur friends, too much vigorous activity places stress on their joints. In puppies, particularly big breeds, chasing after a ball affects their bone development. It’s best to limit running and jumping to avoid injuries and skeletal issues.

The Best Ball Games for Dogs

brown and white dog with broken tennis ball in mouth
Whether a game of fetch or hide and seek, keep ball play simple and fun.

Simply put, dogs are attracted to the fur and bounce of tennis balls. But apart from a typical game of fetch, there are other ways to get your dog involved and active with their favorite green toy. You can play hide and seek by stashing the ball in the garden or different parts of the house and having them retrieve it. Another quick game involves gently rolling the ball to your dog and then teaching them to leave it by command. Replacing the energetic run and fetch with slow rolls, can teach your ball-obsessed dog to tone down their excitement. Keeping an eye on their behavior can help you stop obsessive habits while creating positive bonding experiences.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.