There are countless videos of dogs chasing laser pointers online. 50,600 on youtube alone! Probably because watching a dog chase light is absolutely hilarious. Most go slightly insane trying to chase down& catch that silly red dot. They will literally try to climb walls to get to it. It is all just harmless fun ..an easy way to exercise the dog and amuse yourself& friends at the same time, right? Not quite!
A quick google search will turn up yet more articles on the negative aspects of allowing dogs to chase the red dot. There are a lot of negatives and amazingly, a lot of people seem completely unaware of them! When people know the risks then decide to still go ahead with the ‘game’, that’s one thing. A lot of people are unaware until the ill effects show up in their dogs.. and by then, you have already lost the battle against the red dot. Most importantly, you have to know why a dog will incessantly chase the red dot. It activates the ‘prey drive’ part of their brain. Basically, something is moving so they should chase it. Seems harmless enough, right? I activate Penn’s prey drive daily by playing fetch. The biggest difference? There is a reward for her in fetch. She catches her ‘prey’. When she manages to grab the ball, she gets instant gratification.
That reward is the biggest difference between playing with a toy& playing with light. There is never a reward for the dog. They never catch their prey when it comes to laser lights. They are spending all this time chasing something that they can never physically have. It’s why they tend to get so much more manic as time goes on. It isn’t enjoyment as much as frustration on their part. Have you ever played fetch with a dog& the ‘prey’ got away by either going over the fence, getting lost in the snow or disappearing from the dogs view? Did you notice they seemed to get a little more manic or ‘high’ when that happens? They are no longer getting rewarded. The prey managed to get away. If you watch closely, you will see all prey drive dogs have this response from the very first time the toy manages to escape. Usually, the toy is collected by the human& the game resumes with the dog getting the reward once again. The lack of reward is an endless loop when it comes to the light. Pretend you were trying to get something you really, really wanted. You can see it. You keep thinking you have it. Then BOOM! It is across the room. You would think you were losing your mind if you didn’t understand why it was happening. Dogs don’t understand the concept of being unable to catch the light& so there is no reward in it for them. Have you ever seen a dog that keeps looking for the light long after the human has ended the interaction? This is the first step towards it becoming an obsessive behaviour.
When you google laser pointers& dogs, you will see some stories about people who ‘play’ this way with their dog with absolutely no ill effects. They are quick to mention that they have never had an issue with their dog so it must mean it is not harmful or that dogs are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ animals. Anyone who has a dog with prey or toy drive can tell you the latter statement is absolutely, 100% not true. Ever put your tug away before your Border Collie thinks the game is over? Or tried to hide your dogs favourite toy in a cupboard? I am betting yes and most people know the results. Dogs pawing at the cupboard or still wound up from the play. With a laser pointer, you end up with a dog wound up from play PLUS never having received a reward for their chasing efforts.
So, what about all those people who say lasers are fine to use to entertain yourself? I just want you to ask yourself before using one how you will know if your dog will suffer no ill effects or will become obsessive over in a short period of time. Are you really willing to take the risk that comes with laser pointers? They can be mild effects (casually looking for it) to very debilitating ones. Dogs will become withdrawn, waiting for the light to reappear. This red dot compulsion can also affect other areas of their life. Penny, who has never seen a laser pointer, is OBSESSED with reflections. The second she sees the glint off a phone or watch face in the sun or, she’s locked in on it& will continue staring and waiting long after the reflection is gone. I make sure to redirect her by asking for a trick then rewarding with either food or a toy. This way the staring is not reinforced but rather engaging with me& dropping focus off the reflections gets rewarded. She does not actively seek out reflections but once they catch her eye, you can easily see how quickly this would become devastating to her quality of life. She is a high risk dog for obsession, for sure!
The video above shows a Vizsla obsessed with shadows. She will stand there& look up the reflection until they redirect her. This dog would spend days waiting to be able to catch the light. I know that hunting dogs are more prone to laser light/ shadows/ reflection obsessions because their prey drive is so strong but any dog is very likely to get caught up in the behaviour of looking for the dot. So, what you’re thinking right now is that there is no alternative to laser lights& your dog is going to do crazy with built up energy, right? Wrong! The best part about the laser light debate is that there are so many other ways to engage your dog without falling into the trap of the red dot!
Food puzzles, Kongs, fetch, tricks, going into the outdoors& hiking or running with your dog. Heck, even dog parks are significantly better than laser pointers! These are all great ways to encourage your dog to socialize, interact& be actively present in their environment. All of these have built in rewards so that the dog is constantly rewarded for their behaviour in a healthy, positive way. With so many alternative options, why would anyone take the way that could very likely result in an obsessive compulsive dog? The risks are far more dangerous than the benefits in this situation, especially when there are so many better options! Plus, you (hopefully) brought your dog home to be involved in their life. The times you want to use a laser pointer, remember you could do so much more that will get you both feeling good about the interaction instead of you laughing at your poor dog’s frustrations. Playing fetch is an equally easy, energy burning activity. And a ball costs less than a laser pointer!
So, do you (or would you) use a laser pointer with your dog? If you have any personal experience with it, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment whether you agree or not. I have my opinion but you’re certainly allowed to have yours, as well!