"[It] may seem fun, cute, or funny, but it the end it’s VERY detrimental to your dogs mental state."
The other day I ran across this blog post that talked about how bad laser pointers are for dogs. The author claims that laser pointers lead dogs to develop “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, aggression, anxiety, [and] eating disorders.” My initial reaction was, “What a bunch of bull.”
But I went ahead and Googled it, to see what others were saying about laser pointers.
"One of my Cockers is nuts and I strongly suspect it is due to laser pointer play. It’s been 1 1/2 years since we put it away for the last time, and she is still looking for it. Reflected light (light sunlight glinting off of a watch) makes her whine and cry and run back and forth on the path the red dot used to follow. This will go on for 15-20 minutes- back and forth […] Pre-laser pointer, she went everywhere with us, and was very interested in other dogs. We got rid of the pointer when she was 6 months old and tried to go on with our lives, but she would spend her time at the dog park looking for the red dot.”
"For some breeds like terriers, a few sessions quickly become a lifelong obsession with shadows and reflections, in some cases requiring medication because the dog becomes a danger to himself, jumping out (or through) windows to chase after a glint reflected off a car bumper. If your dog is spending significant time searching after the first exposure, why risk it?"
What I found was a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting perfectly good dogs were “ruined” by just one game with a laser pointer. Their dogs developed OCD and would continue to try to chase/find the red dot even after the laser was put away. Or their dogs began chasing shadows and reflected light. Or their dogs developed other behavioral problems.
In one German Shepherd forum, I found an owner asking for help with his 1-year-old GSD. His dog, Sam, was exhibiting OCD behaviors: compulsive tail-chasing, as well as intense staring and digging at the carpet. The first question the guy was asked about his dog? “Has he ever played with a laser pointer?” Yes, Sam had played with a laser pointer once. They told the guy he was screwed; that his dog had OCD now because of the laser pointer. “Yep, another laser pointer statistic,” someone said.
If all these people have all this evidence pointing towards LASER POINTERS = BAD, then why am I only just now hearing about it? I have been using a laser pointer with my corgi since he was 5 or 6 months old. He has not developed OCD or any other complications. What makes him different?
The first big question, though, is why would something as innocuous as a laser pointer be so detrimental to a dog in the first place? Could a laser really “set a dog off?” Here was a particularly insightful comment about the issue:
"There are two major issues:
The only stimulus occurs through the animal’s vision. No scent, sound or taste. This is both very, very compelling for the animal as well as potentially mind-blowing. Most prey objects do not behave that way; they have a physical presence.
This brings about the second issue: no reward. No matter how hard your dog or cat tries, it cannot catch the dot. Very frustrating.
Both of these issues can mess with your pet’s head if you overdo it. In the first case, its natural prey drive is rewired to respond to just visual stimuli. In the second case, it is learning that there is no satisfaction in this process.
I would advise that you don’t overdo it (use your discretion; a few minutes is OK, a half an hour might be cruel) and reward your dog at the end with a toy or a treat. Don’t make laser pointer the primary play activity; mix it up with some fetch or chasey or hide and seek, etc.”
I think this is a valid point. I am sure that something the dog can’t taste, smell, touch, or hear must be pretty strange to the dog! But if there’s no reward, why would a dog become so obsessed? Why doesn’t he get bored and move on to something more rewarding? More importantly, what exactly is Canine Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? I found a good definition:
"The word “compulsive” describes the repetitive, irresistible urge to perform a behavior. A dog who displays compulsive behavior repeatedly performs one or more behaviors over and over, to the extent that it interferes with his normal life. The behavior he’s doing doesn’t seem to have any purpose, but he’s compelled to do it anyway. Some dogs will spend almost all their waking hours engaging in repetitive behaviors. They might lose weight, suffer from exhaustion and even physically injure themselves. Dogs display many different kinds of compulsions, such as spinning, pacing, tail chasing, fly snapping, barking, shadow or light chasing, excessive licking and toy fixation."
-WebMD Pet, Dog Compulsive Behavior
I think the issue here is that the laser is being accused as being the CAUSE of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Is this correct? OCD is described by Wikipedia as an anxiety disorder, which is a mental illness. According to PubMed Health, OCD (in humans) doesn’t have a clear cause; “Some reports have linked OCD to head injury and infections. Several studies have shown that there are brain abnormalities in patients with OCD, but more research is needed. About 20% of people with OCD have tics, which suggests the condition may be related to Tourette syndrome. However, this link is not clear.”
Even though there’s no clear cause, when human’s develop OCD, we don’t blame the object of fixation. So why are we blaming the laser pointer?
If a dog is already predisposed to have obsessive behaviors (due to anxiety or genetics or whatever), then the laser pointer is not the cause. It’s just what he ended up fixating on. As Melissa says on one forum, “Light chasing is a classic example of OCD in dogs - and will manifest with or without having seen a laser light.” WebMD suggests that OCD can develop in dogs due to anxiety, stress in their environment, genetics (German Shepherds as a breed are prone to obsessive tail-chasing) or boredom (from lack of mental and/or physical activity).
In conclusion, I do not believe laser pointers cause OCD in dogs.
Furthermore, by targeting laser pointers as the cause of OCD in dogs, owners are distracting themselves from the real issue. As the owner, we are responsible for cultivating a happy and healthy environment for our dogs, which includes reducing our dog’s stress. This can be achieved with proper early socialization, physically activity, and mental stimulation. When genetics are involved, however, there might be less an owner can do to prevent mental illness from cropping up. Research your breed, and find out what sort of physically and mental illnesses they are prone to. When/if something crops up you will be more likely to recognize it as an anxiety disorder and less likely to blame a toy.