Laser lights, usually cat toys, are DANGEROUS to dogs! They should come with a written warning on the packaging.
I went to a gorgeous little Cavapoo yesterday, called out because the people couldn’t understand her odd behaviour.
They showed me this video. The six-month-old puppy runs about frantically looking for something, highly aroused and increasingly frustrated to the point, at the end, of barking.
This would go on for hours if she were left.
At first I couldn’t understand the behaviour. Then the lady mentioned that the puppy had stayed with her grandchildren. Little Sophie would play with the cat – and the children had her chasing a laser.
Of course! Everything fell into place.
I have been to quite a number of dogs over the years who have obsessively chased shadows and lights. One, a Border Collie, would sit all day looking at a wall, just in case a light or shadow might appear on it.
Many dogs’ obsessive behaviour has been triggered by chasing reflections or a laser in play. It seems such a harmless and easy way of giving the dog something to chase.
The fallout was entirely unpredicted with little Sophie. They thought she liked it which in a way she does – to the extent that it’s all-consuming.
One small thing can start her off, usually in the covered area outside. The lady had played light-chasing in there with her. Now the sun reflecting on something or even the light catching on her metal name tag and reflecting onto the floor could trigger it.
Sophie of course is unable ever to catch a light. She constantly looks for it. You can see from the video that she gets frustrated to the point, at the end, of barking at where she thinks ‘it’ could be hiding.
She does less light-chasing indoors, but before I left something happened that confirmed my diagnosis.
In the kitchen the lady showed me the laser. Before I could stop her she had turned it on briefly. That was enough for the little dog to go into exactly the same behaviour as shown in the video – in the kitchen.
Curing this will need systematic work as well as removing as much opportunity as possible.
Preventing further rehearsal.
It’s most important to prevent further rehearsal in every way possible. The more she does it, the more she will do it. As with a child and anything compulsive, telling her to stop won’t help at all but just create further pressure.
They will throw the laser thing away and keep Sophie out of the covered area as much as possible, maybe blocking it off.
She normally has free access to the garden through a flap which I advise is kept closed. I suggest they change the metal name tag to a plastic one.
What to do when the obsessive seeking-chasing starts?
Sophie should be taken outside on a harness and long lead. The lady then will stand and watch her. As soon as Sophie starts light-obsessing she will immediately call “Sophie Come”. She will throw some pieces of food on the floor in the other direction.
Sophie then comes away from the wall and has to look down to pick up the food. If she is so obsessed she doesn’t hear, she can be helped with the lead. The idea is to redirect her compulsion onto doing something else, something real that she can see – and eat. Once eaten, it’s gone.
We may also experiment with a squeaky toy instead of food, squeaking it to redirect Sophie’s attention and dropping it on the floor.
The family has played laser chasing with Sophie for several months now, so it could take a long time to change. Possibly there will always be the tendency to do it again if something starts her off. It’s impossible in real life to remove all light triggers.
For now they need to be ready with the instant distraction and redirection onto something she likes – that’s real and tangible.