DEAR DIDI: I have an eight-month old black lab. She has so much energy. We read your column faithfully and value your opinion. My son likes to play laser light with Sassy and she is nuts for the game. Our vet mentioned that laser light play isn’t good for her eyes. What do you think? – Lathrop Dog Mommy
DEAR DOG MOMMY: The physical danger of a laser light to your dog’s eyes are realistic. Many dogs figure out that the human is holding the thing that ‘controls’ that wiggly little light so they glance up at your hand. If the laser is held directly in their eyes for an extended period of time it can cause damage. However, of much bigger concern, is the psychology of this game.
Dogs instinctively chase the light spot because it moves. Animal eyes are made up of rods and cones. The cells called cones perceive color and the rods are in tune with light which, in a dog, allows them to see movement intensely. Our fuzzy companions frequently are born with an ‘innate prey drive’ which basically means that they are genetically hard wired to want to chase small fuzzy things that move fast. They can’t help themselves. Their eyesight is so acute when it comes to movement that a fly in the room is like a B-52 bomber where us humans have a hard time tracking that same fly down to swat it. So, the laser light moving around stimulates your dog’s predatory instincts.
Should we be stimulating their prey drive? Dogs need an outlet for their instincts. It is better to give them a productive outlet rather than constantly yelling at them for going after the neighbor’s cat. However, laser light games have an inherent problem. There is never any closure for the poor dog. She can’t ever really catch it and be satisfied. Many dogs get so wound up with ‘the chase’ that they can’t stop. It actually becomes a pathology and behavior problem! I have consulted in many cases of this nature and it always makes me sad. The dog is so obsessed with searching for a flashy light that their every waking moment is spent watching shadows, reflections from watch faces and iPads, etc. If their human merely lifts an arm to scratch their head the poor dog immediately stares at the floor convinced they must be shining the light somewhere! These dogs can no longer enjoy life or relax, yet their obsession will never come to fruition.
A better alternative for your son would be to use a ‘flirt pole.’ I counsel my students with these kinds of dogs to go to a feed store and purchase a Dressage Whip. Then buy a 72” men’s boot shoe laces at a drug store. Tie one of those laces to the end of the whip. At the other end of the shoe lace tie a fuzzy squeaky toy. Now you can stand in the middle of the room and move this ‘tangible’ thing around. Your dog will go just as nuts chasing it as she does with the laser light with one big difference. She will actually be able to catch this one occasionally, which is satisfying. Remember to not flip the toy in the air, stick to the ground or your dog may hurt herself jumping and twisting to capture her prey! This is a wonderful mental and physical workout for any dog with prey drive. I will post a short video demonstration on my Facebook: www.facebook.com/californiacanine.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.