Laser Danger. Obsessive Light Seeking, Light Chasing

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.

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.

Laser lights obsessive chasing

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.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sophie and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog may not be appropriate, and in many cases the owner needs training personally. Being able to see a professional who can accurately diagnose a dog’s behaviour can be necessary. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

That’s Not Punishment, is it?

What exactly is punishment?

This is not the place to get all technical with semantics and the definitions of punishment. It’s enough to say here that it’s anythinPunishment can be as subtle as disapprovalg the dog doesn’t like, done by us, in order to stop him doing something we don’t want him to do – correction.

Punishment doesn’t have to be wielded with obvious things like a stick, shock collar, water spray or shouting. To a sensitive dog, a warning tone of voice or even a certain look could be punishment. Some might say that psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment, anyway.

Basically, anything imposed on the dog that he doesn’t like, is, to that particular dog, punishment. Being thrown into the river would be traumatic for one of my dogs but heaven to my Cocker Spaniel!

In the case of delightful Collie Staffie cross Banjo, there are things that his humans would never have regarded as ‘punishment’ at all which have been punishing to Banjo. They love him dearly and would never hurt him.

Why is it that today, despite all the evidence, many people still reject the regular use of food for reinforcement when getting their dogs to do what they want and still rely on correction?

One problem with anything aversive is that it can contaminate other things present at the time – or things the dog may associate with the scary event.

Here an illustration of this – not related to Banjo. A wellington boot is dropped by mistake or thrown in anger, scaring the dog; he could then become frightened of all wellington boots, or of anything dropped or thrown, or of the room it happened in, or the washing machine which happened to be on at the time or even of anybody wearing wellington boots.

 

People can be surprised when they realise something they do is, in fact, punishment

Surely punishing a dog would be something physical – or at the very least, shouting?

‘Punishment’ can be a lot more subtle and the fallout from subtle things that are aversive can be a loss of confidence in general.

Using positive, reward-based and force-free methods doesn’t mean we have a dog without boundaries that can run wild. It just means that the dog learns to enjoy the behaviour that we want because it works best for him, rather than just hitting upon the desired behaviour because it’s the one that doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences.

Three-year-old Banjo comes over as a rather worried dog. He is easily effected by the emotions of his humans and it’s quite a volatile household with the lady and her two adult sons. Each one is different with Banjo. One son is the disciplinarian and has done a great job with teaching him training tricks, the other son is more sensitive and probably less consistent, and the lady is a pushover! They find it hard to agree on how to treat the dog and this predictably leads to disputes.

One can imagine how this can be confusing to a dog, particular one that doesn’t like raised voices.

Maksad2

Banjo is generally obedient but rewards are seldom used. He is taught to avoid the consequences of being disobedient and even though few dog owners would class these consequences as ‘punishment’, to Banjo they can be.

Of late the young man has introduced ‘time-out’ when Banjo does something unwanted or doesn’t do something he is told to do. Are we sure that Banjo actually knows what it is that he shouldn’t be doing? The man counts down “3-2-1” and then Banjo is shut in the porch.

Apart from learning that the countdown ends up with his being sent to the porch, I doubt whether Banjo always knows why – or is actually learning what he should be doing. Because the counting will sound threatening, he will no doubt stop anything he happens to be doing whatever it is; the counting alone will have quite a high ‘punishment rating’ to a dog like Banjo.

One of the probable fallouts from this ‘time-out’ process is this: Banjo has become scared when the younger brother comes home from work and initially runs and hides. He then behaves in an appeasing manner before settling back to his normal friendly and excitable self. My guess is it’s because he has been on imposed ‘time-outs’ in the porch on one or two occasions when the young man has came in through the front door from work. Negative associations.

Punishment or correction can seem to come from nowhere – out of the blue.

How do we feel when with an unpredictable person who is loving one minute and angry with us the next? I have lived with someone like this and it’s like treading on eggshells and you can’t relax. (Take another look at my favourite video – the poor man doesn’t know when the next punishment is coming or what it’s for).

There is another more obvious example where fallout of punishment (which they may not have regarded as punishment) has affected Banjo. It is probably responsible for his more recent wariness of children.

A young child and her mother came to stay with them for a few days over Christmas. Banjo seemed fine with the child initially – if he was uneasy they didn’t read the signs. The child wasn’t actively supervised all the time and would be pestering him. Banjo growled. Everyone reacted angrily and Banjo would have been frightened.

The dog will not have understood why, despite all his polite warnings, he was eventually forced to growl in order to protect himself. The result, to him, was his humans suddenly acted irrationally and in a way that scared him.

It’s not a big step to conclude that his fear of children approaching him when they are out since this episode is fallout from this ‘punishment’. He has built up a negative association.

They had Banjo from eight weeks of age, and very early on one of the adult sons played light-chasing games. He still regularly ‘entertains’ Banjo by nudging the lampshade to make shadows dance around the walls and floor. Each time someone picks up their mobile phone the dog starts looking for a light to chase, as a mobile phone light has been used for chasing games.

It’s such a shame. Sensitive dogs so quickly get OCD-type obsessions.

The young men will now do all they can to avoid light chasing games and anything else that stirs up their sensitive dog or scares him.

With a more positive and consistent approach by his humans, with all three ‘drinking from the same water bowl’ so that they become more predictable, Banjo is sure to become more confident.  More confidence will affect his whole life, particularly when out on walks.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Banjo. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)