It’s no secret that many dogs are obsessed with scurrying after the moving spot of light that comes from a laser pointer. Hours of endless fun of chasing and pouncing can sure burn off that nearly inexhaustible dog energy. It sounds like a great way to exercise and entertain your dog without having to actually get up from the couch. Doesn’t that sound too good to be true? That is probably because it is, and it might be doing your dog more harm than good. As it turns out, an alarming amount of dog owners are not aware of the effects luring a dog with the unobtainable red dot of light can have on their mental wellbeing.
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The Root of the Behavior
Though some breeds are more susceptible than others, most dogs really enjoy stalking things whenever given the possibility. A laser pointer allows for that sort of experience causing countless dogs to get captivated by the chase as it provokes them to instinctually go into their prey stalking mode. Even though it can be hilarious to watch your dog dash back and forth from wall to wall, and there is no actual prey and thus no actual kill - it is not simply innocent fun that many owners would hope to believe. It is primarily a problem because it triggers the dog's prey drive without ever actually satisfying it. Unlike in a game of fetch or tug of war, the dog never manages to win or catch the light. This lack of closure does not only mean that your dog is left unsatisfied and sometimes dumbfounded by the dots’ disappearance but also makes him hyper aware to movement of smaller things (whether it be a small animal or a beam of light) and can make your dog obsess. Essentially, if your dog doesn’t get to catch the tangible thing it was chasing after it can in a way keep his hunting mode turned on. This leads many veterinarians and dog trainers to believe that using a laser pointer to play with your dog is not only a bad idea but can also lead to neurosis and increased anxiety, sometimes even making your dog go crazy, forever stuck being loopy and on the constant lookout for that speckle of light. This is especially dangerous because dogs eyes are more sensitive to movement than a human eye and seeing the tiniest movement could make them leap after it uncontrollably, regardless if they are next to a busy street or at home. The frenzied state makes them unaware of their surroundings. This is why drug sniffer dogs are often sent on dummy missions to find fake drugs after they have not discovered anything in some time. Otherwise, they become psychologically disturbed and that leads to behavioral problems.
Encouraging the Behavior
Laser pointer chases can wind dogs up and lead to serious behavioral issues, it is strongly recommended for owners to not encourage the laser-chasing behavior and more importantly not to facilitate it. Don’t provoke your dog's hunter instinct with the tiny light if you know he will never feel the reward of catching it. The only case where laser playtime is somewhat acceptable (yet still not recommended) is if the laser leads the dog to a treat or a toy. However, if your dog does not show interest in either and still seems to be more interested in following and catching the laser instead - it is best to adapt to your dog's personality and needs and accept that this modified version of laser playing is not suited for your dog. Even if your dog does get happy about the reward and seems to completely forget about the red dot, using a laser is still not the safest way to play with your dog. Dogs aren’t the most graceful creatures and whatever you point the laser on can end up getting hurt, damaged or destroyed. More importantly, just as with humans when pointed in the eyes lasers can cause blindness.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The safest option is to opt for other ways of playing with your dog, ones that don’t drive them nuts or leave them in a frenzied state. Games such as tug of war, fetch or hide and seek are all great ways to get your dog active, entertained and mentally stimulated but also rewarded for his efforts. All of which are also fun and do not leave your dog frustrated. If you want your dog to be active without investing a lot your own energy into it, you could try tying one of your dog's toys onto a rope and fling the toy across the room from your bed, couch or recliner. This way you can pull on the rope when your dog lets go and have the toy in your reach to throw it again.