Are Laser Pointers Bad for Dogs?
Learn why these red beams of light are bad for dogs.
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Check out YouTube and you can find an alarming number of videos of dogs chasing the light from a laser pointer, often while people laugh in the background. While it might seem fun, that laser pointer chasing can lead to serious behavioral issues — Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs — a real concern for pet parents. Here’s everything you need to know about how laser pointers can impact your dog’s mental health.
Are laser pointers really that bad for dogs?
Yep, if you watch your dog’s body language when chasing the laser, you’ll quickly see that laser pointers are bad for dogs. Using a laser pointer isn’t amusing for your dog — that frantic pouncing on the dot can often be seriously unpleasant and filled with tension for pups. The movement of the light stimulates dogs to chase, but there is nothing to catch, and that is why the game is bad for dogs. Constant chasing without ever being successful at catching the moving object can frustrate dogs, leading to obsessive and destructive behaviors.
From another perspective, working scent detection dogs trained to find things like explosives, drugs or diseases have similar experiences and can become upset when they don’t make regular “finds.” These dogs need regular successful finds to stimulate their training, but they may not experience them during the course of their regular in-field work. That’s why it is standard practice to set up simulated missions in which working dogs are guaranteed to discover what they have been taught to find. Successful searches keep their skills sharp and prevent psychological problems.
Lasers can trigger obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
A lot of dogs become obsessive about the light from laser pointers, and there are many cases of dogs who were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after (and perhaps partly as a result of) this activity. Dogs become preoccupied with the light, then transfer that interest to similar stimuli, sometimes developing a behavior problem in which they chase lights and shadows.
There’s the potential for eye damage.
Like with people, there’s the potential for eye damage if the laser accidentally shines directly in your dog’s eyes. Children who are unaware of the risks are more likely to cause harm to your pup’s vision.
How to prevent behavior problems with laser pointers.
No matter how much dogs respond to them, I recommend against the use of laser pointers with dogs. It’s just too likely that the game will negatively affect the dog.
But, one way you can use a laser pointer with your dog while also minimizing the risks of your dog developing behavioral problems and psychological damage is to use the laser as a decoy to help them find treats or a new toy. Though the dog does not ever succeed at catching the light, there is a reward in discovering other items. Using the light alongside treats and toys slightly lowers the risk of trouble but does not eliminate the danger.
Laser pointer alternatives:
There are so many other games to play with your dog that are safe, amusing, and behaviorally healthy. Read up on seven fun games to play with your dog that actually teach practical lessons and will help you grow a stronger bond with your pup.
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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.