Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Let There Be Light but NOT Laser Toys or Flashlights

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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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