Point and Shoot: Laser Pointers


Today, I’d like to talk about a slightly unusual topic: laser pointers. Around the beginning of my business, I got a call from an owner who had three Boston terriers. They were one of the first clients that I had while working on my own. On the phone, they told me that their dogs chased lights, shadows, and other moving light disturbances. If cars driving down the road cast a shadow, for instance, the dogs would chase after it barking maniacally. When someone opened a door, the dogs would see the reflection on the wall and freak out.

This had become a big problem because their dogs would lose their minds numerous times a day. Sitting in their house, I wondered how on earth this happened. What could possibly have instigated this type of behavior?

As it turned out, their teenaged son had brought home a laser pointer from school and started playing with it. They didn’t think anything of it, and I wouldn’t have either at the time. As you’ve probably seen, he shined the pointer around the room and encouraged the dogs to chase after it. The owners thought it was fine, because it was humorous and let the dogs get some exercise. I’ve seen people even shine it back and forth in their yards.

In this case, one of the dogs decided that chasing lights was pretty fun. From that point, it became obsessive and compulsive for all of them. The dogs would chase every light and shadow.

That was the first time I had seen this issue. I wouldn’t have thought much about it, except that since then I’ve seen it several more times. It’s often the child or teenager in the family that causes this problem by bringing home a laser pointer and engaging the dog. To this day, those Boston terriers are the worst that I’ve met, but plenty of dogs have this obsessive behavior. It’s no fun!

Don’t play with laser pointers with your dog, even if your friends and neighbors do it and his dog is fine. (If I were my mom, I’d be saying: “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”) Some dogs can play with a pointer without a problem. But this can become such a large issue that, in my opinion, there’s no reason to risk it. Since there are a million other ways to exercise your dog, there really isn’t a net benefit to playing with a laser pointer—and there are potential downfalls.

If your dog is crazy over the laser pointer and you need to fix it, here’s what we did with the Boston Terriers: structure and rules. That’s about it! We taught the dogs to lie down and stay, and we taught the dogs what “no” meant. Of course, that was by no means an easy job. If the dogs were going nuts, we would correct it and simply have them lie down in their beds. That got them to calm down and start thinking differently.

Obedience and structure won the day, as they have for every dog I’ve ever worked with. But it’s better not to get into this situation in the first place

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