Tail chasing, fly snapping, licking walls, and shadow chasing… these are just some of the seemingly charming and cute things your dog will do at some point in their lives, if not every day. Shadow chasing in dogs is not an abnormal activity, however, just like the others we have mentioned so far, it could turn into one. When does the situation become too much to handle and how can you manage it properly? Let’s find out more about why dogs like to jump at shadows and what is the best way you can modify this behavior for you and your dog’s sake.
The Root of the Behavior
The fascination with lights and shadows is most common in a high chase or prey driven dog, as well as in herding or hunting breeds who have come from working lines. You might notice this type of behavior more frequently if you happen to have a Border Collie or an Australian Shepherd, for example. It seems that the type of dogs that are constantly drawn to lights and shadows need a lot of mental stimulation, and are known for their innate intuition and acute sensitivity. Jumping at shadows can be defined as a classic case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that is caused by one of a number of stimuli. The problem is not the action in itself, but its frequency and your pup’s inability to focus on anything else other than the shadow.
A dog will usually start jumping at shadows due to stress and anxiety. If they have unreleased energy that they need to get rid of or they have an insecurity of some sort, they most likely will exhibit a certain type of OCD behavior. One of the questions you can ask yourself here is… are you leaving your pup alone for hours in a row in a small, cramped room while you’re at work? Or maybe you’ve created this type of behavior yourself and don’t even know about it. You’ve probably seen many videos of dogs reacting to and chasing the motion of the light from a laser or flashlight. The owner finds it amusing, repeats it on a number of occasions and voila… the pup is now well on his way to shadow chasing OCD.
Other causes that could explain this type of obsessive behavior are intense household conflicts, loneliness due to a new baby's arrival, or past abuse. It is important that you redirect your pup to more positive hobbies and practice activities that encourage calm submission.
Encouraging the Behavior
The way you respond to your pup’s fascination with shadows will have a big impact on his behavior later on. What you need to do is interrupt and redirect, but never punish. Distract him with his favorite toy or use a new squeaky playmate to get his attention. Whenever you are out for a walk, don’t let him look down at any shadows, instead, keep him focused on the walk alone. Keep in mind that your dog’s obsessive behavior is in part boredom, and in part routine. So each time he’s about to get drawn into his obsession, make sure you snap him out of it before it gets too tough to handle. The interruption should distract your dog, but should never scare him. One of the many distractions you can use in this case are dog goggles, playing tug, fetch, the ever-popular Kong (chew toy), or simple physical stimulation.
Give your pup plenty of exercise and make sure you walk him any time of the day, to lessen the chance of him fixating on a shadow or reflection. On the other hand, keep away from exercising your pup with the help of a laser light, as in this case, you would be reinforcing the behavior as opposed to redirecting it.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Another type of treatment that could help is changing your pup’s diet. Consider switching to quality protein foods, as the cheapest alternatives can lead to a lack of serotonin, and low serotonin has a lot to do with aggression, anxiety, and repetitive behavior. Poor quality protein or sugar can lead to higher levels of anxiety and hyperactivity. It usually comes from colorants, preservatives, and certain E numbers found in many commercial dog foods. It’s best to stay away from meat derivatives as much as possible and give your pup additional physical and mental exercise. If you feel that his obsession is getting worse, consider visiting a qualified veterinarian.
The best way to modify their obsession with shadows is to redirect their body and mind to more positive pastimes. From just a half an hour of aerobic activity a day to brain-stimulating interactive puzzle games, you are in control of how your pup is behaving. After all… you’re the pack leader.