The Dangers of Laser Pointers and Flashlights to Dogs
Over the years as a canine behaviorist I have had many experiences with dogs that have become obsessed with chasing shadows and light that reflect on the walls and the ground. Many times the dogs cannot function as normal pets. They spend much of their day chasing, biting and scratching to get to these reflective images they see. I have seen dogs that scratch at the shadows on the ground until their paws start to bleed or they hurt themselves when they hurl themselves at a wall when they see a reflection of the lens from the owners watch. These dogs are many times so focused on these images that they are lost in a world of their own and it is many times nearly impossible to get them back. In most cases this starts with the owners playing with a laser pointer with the dog. Unfortunately, it can take only one time of using the pointer and the dog now looks at all reflective and shadow images as a “prey item”.
The reason they become obsessed is that the dog becomes trapped in the “predatory sequence”. All predatory animals follow a predatory sequence (eye, stalk, chase, grab, bite, dissect and consume). Now some breeds of dogs have selectively been bred over many years to stop in certain parts of the sequence. For example the pointer stops at “stalk or Point”. The retriever stops at the “grab”. However for most dogs they need to follow through to at least the dissect part of the predatory sequence. Dogs become obsessed when they can’t complete the sequence. We have all seen the squirrel-crazed dog that sits outside looking for that next glimpse of the tree rodent. Most times they never catch that squirrel but on occasion they may get lucky. We call many dogs “ball crazed”. Fortunately these dogs can complete the sequence as they grab the ball, chew it and then get to play the game again. When owners use the Laser pointer or even a flashlight the dog gets trapped between the chasing and grabbing part of the predatory sequence. They cannot grab a reflection or shadow. We have seen that this many times leads to CCD (Canine compulsive disorder).
Years ago I was at a Pet Industry trade show and I saw a manufacturer who was making a laser pointer toy for both Dogs and Cats. I had a long talk with the CEO about how actually dangerous this was for dogs. The good thing is he seemed to listen to me and stopped marketing it for Dogs. He still sells the toy for cats. The interesting thing is that cats do not seem to become as obsessed as dogs and seem to be able to differentiate between a reflection and a real touchable image.
If you have made the unfortunate error of using a laser pointer on your dog, you should stop immediately. The longer you use it, the harder it is to correct this behavioral problem. I have had some luck over the years using different types of behavior modification techniques. However, in some cases it could not be fixed.
Some dog owners have even gone so far as to euthanize their dogs to end the dog’s suffering. If you do have a dog that is trapped in the world of shadows and reflections, you understand how sad this can be. Contact a Canine behaviorist that has experience and success in treating this very sad and avoidable condition.