I was recently asked about using a laser pointer to exercise a highly energetic puppy. I do not recommend the use of laser pointers as it has been found to lead to object compulsive behaviors.
When your dog sees that moving red beam of light from a laser pointer, nothing else matters more than catching it. Unfortunately, there is nothing there to ‘catch’, because it is just an unattainable beam of light, however, it is stimulating their natural prey drive. “The laser beams incessant moving taps into this prey drive and the dog can’t help himself – he has to chase it”, according to Nicholas Dodman, a professor of animal behavior at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Light, reflection and shadow chasing are some of the most common obsessions found in dogs. All breeds can develop these issues, and it is impossible to know if your dog will develop them, until they happen. These obsessions most frequently develop after owners use a laser pointer to exercise their dog. Even after you put the laser away, many dogs continue to search for the elusive light. If your dog begins to show light, reflection or shadow chasing behavior, the sooner you end this type of exercise, the better the prognosis becomes. If your dog begins chasing lights, reflections and shadows, the first thing to do is to increase his physical and mental exercise. Avoid making a big deal over the behavior. Punishment in any form can make this behavior worse. Stress can be a factor in many obsessive behaviors, so any intervention that includes aversive consequences for obsessing (such as using an electronic collar or swatting your dog) can increase the chances that your dog will obsess.
The best way to satisfy your dog’s prey instinct at home (without putting any other small creatures in harm’s way) is with treat-release or puzzle toys that stimulate the canine prey drive, and also deliver a reward for your dog’s efforts.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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