To a dog, a tennis ball is a bird, a rabbit, a rat and whatever else the dog wants it to be on that day. A ball enables your dog to do what comes perfectly naturally – to chase, hunt, and really importantly, to be able to work for its reward.
The Geeky Bit
There is a chemical in our dog's brains which is called dopamine, and it is one of the chemicals that most of us understand as a 'feel good' hormone. Each time dopamine is released, it enhances movement, focus and memory. Just think about that for a minute... If dopamine enhances those things, we can use it to our advantage when training our dogs. By contrast, negative reinforcement heightens anxiety levels which then has a negative impact on learning – the dog is much less likely to remember the lesson if it is feeling stressed. Negative, or aversive methods might work in the moment but real dog training which lasts the distance, comes from raising the dopamine levels which in turn cements the learning. How incredible is that?
When you see your dog's pupils get larger, and the tail start to wag that bit harder, you can be pretty sure that right there in that moment, little Dufus' dopamine levels are heightened and that he is just so happy that he's going to remember that moment, especially if he gets the reward.
Now, if the reward were to never change, the dopamine levels don't get a chance to fluctuate. This is where our humble little tennis ball becomes much less humble, because for every bounce, each little squeak, or any change of direction the ball makes, will raise those dopamine levels. We get the opportunity to change the reward delivery with a tennis ball and in doing so, we create really effective learning, and a dog that absolutely loves to be trained.