Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Let There Be Light but NOT Laser Toys or Flashlights

| 11 Comments

All the shades were pulled down; the house was dark. The woman shook her head. “This is what he does,” she said sadly as she watched her dog trotting around the downstairs looking for slivers of light. “This is all he does.”

Intense dog portraitI’ve seen it before. People who lost their companions to light obsession. The terrier who figured out how to catch light on his tag so it reflected on to the wall where he would leap and dig at it. The dog who stayed close to his human’s left arm alert for any light reflecting off a watch face. And yes, the tags can come off and the watch be removed but that does not stop the problem.

There is nothing else quite like it that I have seen. It is a true, rampant obsession that it takes up all the dog’s mental space – they can not be interrupted and they go right back to it whenever allowed. It is simply not a behavioral bell that can be unrung in some dogs and treatment starts by referring to a veterinarian for drugs. Drugs that may help but do not cure.

And this all inevitably starts with what seems like harmless good fun. A flashlight beam or  laser toy dot swept across the floor, catching the dog’s attention. The dog pounces, the human laughs, and a rolicking romp begins. And for some dogs (and virtually all cats) it is just a romp. But for a few, it will be a moment of regret.

There are so many fantastic ways to play with your dog. Skip flashlights and laser toys; instead go for dog tricks, fun dog training and great interactive dog toys. You (and your dog) will be so happy you did.

And, if you like this blog, you’ll love my books: How to Train Your Dog to ComeMy Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside.

Footnote

Reader Mary Paddock shares: I’ve seen this first hand when the boys introduced Story to a laser toy just once. For weeks she was obsessed with sunbeams, light refracting off of anything reflective, and shadows (especially moving shadows). It took constant intervention and redirection to undo it and we still see it surface when she’s tired.

Reader True Ricker shares: Having “been there and made that mistake”… thank you for writing about this. I’m paranoid enough that I speak or write to anyone using or selling laser toys for pets. I worked with humans with OCD and saw their pain and suffering – I’m certain my dog’s compulsions were experienced similarly. When the laser was removed from her life, she then generalized to any flash of light, any shadow, including chasing a bird’s shadow out of a Rally-O ring, fixating on the light that passed through a judge’s clipboard to focus on the ground, getting “stuck” in shadowy corners in the midst of working, jumping from her bed to stare at the ceiling when she heard a DVD case open (inadvertent reflections!)… the list goes on and on. It took medication (and a *lot* of behavioral work) to start bringing her back.

I won’t say it was solely the result of the laser, I think she was predisposed given her other temperamental traits, but it certainly brought it out with a vengeance. I still feel ashamed that I didn’t know better.

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11 Comments

  1. Once again, Sarah, you have opened our eyes to a problem and a solution. It sounds heartbreaking. Can laser toys damage their eyes as well? I’ve been hit sideways by laser key chains, etc., and even that’s painful.

    • Thank you, Susan. I would assume so as I believe all lasers come with warnings about shining into eyes of any sorts.

      With the season of gift giving nearly upon us, wanted to help prevent well-intended fun from becoming someone’s unhappy problem.

      • Laser pointers are safe for the duration of a blink if pointed at eyes. Remember these devices can transmit through closed eyelids to a degree.

  2. It seems innocent and harmless… Until it isn’t. Voodoo’s setter brain is perfect for OCD light fixation. I stopped using Flashlights! Headlamps don’t seem to trigger him, or lanterns, so that’s what we use now.

  3. One of my six indoor only cats has become too light interested e.g., when I open a can of cat food she gets all excited looking for whatever reflection there is from the lid. I occasionally had used laser light for play. Actually she was my only cat to chase it or to be really interested in it. I have ceased using it. She is probably the most intelligent of my cats. Interesting!!

    • It is interesting to me how rarely cats become obsessed and how often dogs do. Good thing you caught the trend and stopped with laser play. Wise woman. Never had a cat start watching the can reflections. There is always something new to learn with animals!

  4. My German Shepherd is AFRAID of flashlights or reflected lights that end up on the ceiling. Can anyone help me with that? I think it goes back to when she was a puppy and needed eye surgery done…She will run and hide in the bathroom where it is dark if she sees sudden lights

  5. Sarah, my son played with a laser light with our Springer, Pixie for a few minutes. When I saw how intensely she was chasing the light, I stopped the play immediately. It took her over 20 minutes to stop looking for the light. Luckily, there was no long-term problem. But she does like to chase butterflies and their shadows outside. I’m glad I knew enough to stop, and now know a few more signs of susceptibility to the problem.

  6. Interesting post. I adopted a 2 yr old greyhound-shepard 2 weeks ago. I only discovered by accident that she has a reflective light fancy. But I control the play time allowed to no more the 15 minutes and she will refocus to other things. Being a sight hound I feel she needs this engagement. But I am searching for other engaging activities for her.

    • I’d strongly recommend that you stop that today. Throw it away. Never do it again. There will be so many other ways to play that don’t have the danger attached. If this is the only way she wants to play, there is already a problem. Congrats on your new dog. Sounds beautiful.

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