Watching Scruffy chase a laser beam dot may be look like a fun and innocent form of entertainment, but you may become concerned if Scruffy starts obsessively chasing any light cast on any surface—especially if that surface is another dog or person! If you're trying to shed some light on your dog's uncontrollable urge to chase light, then read on.
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Lights, especially lights that move as the bright red dots produced by laser beams, attract dogs because they stimulate their innate prey drive. While a dog's eyes aren't much discerning when it comes to color, they are blessed with light-sensitive cells developed for state of the art motion detection. Blessed with quick reflexes, a strong sniffer and fast legs, many dogs turn into hunting machines who just cannot help themselves from chasing anything that moves.
Certain dog breeds appear to be predisposed to chasing lights. The border collie, a dog breed known for eye-stalking livestock, is prone to developing compulsive chasing behaviors triggered by things that move. Terriers, on the other paw, are a group of dogs known for their high levels of gameness, a selectively bred trait that instills eagerness to hunt dangerous pests underground. In these dogs, it almost appears as if there's a relationship between genetics and light-chasing behaviors, according to Veterinary Partner.
The Issue with Lights
Scruffy's evolutionary past as a predator may be a hard fact to accept for some dog owners. A dog's complete predatory sequence includes eyeing, stalking, chasing, grab-biting, kill-biting, dissecting and eating. When a dog chases a light, he doesn't get past the chasing sequence. This may lead to frustration and subsequent behavioral problems. Some dogs will constantly chase and pounce on lights and shadows and soon this fun game becomes a pathology.
In some cases, laser lights and flash lights have been known to cause obsessive compulsive disorders. Often, dog owners trigger an obsession for lights through play, which then leads to obsessive staring, chasing and barking at any lights and shadows. By initially laughing and giving attention, dog owners inadvertently reinforce the behavior. Then, once the behavior become persistent and annoying, owners continue reinforcing the behavior, but this time by scolding the dog and giving him negative attention.
Treatment for Light Obsessions
Treating a dog affected by a light obsession can be quite a challenge. Some dogs are so focused on their light-chasing tasks they could care less even if it started raining hot dogs. Treatment for a light-chasing fetish would require behavior modification focused on removing reinforcement, training incompatible behaviors, and in severe cases, administering vet-approved drugs. Punishing a dog for engaging in obsessive behavior will only exacerbate the problem. If your dog has developed an obsession for lights, it's best to promptly consult with a qualified veterinary behaviorist.
By Adrienne Farricelli
Life's Little Mysteries: Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams and Why It Can Drive Them Nuts
Whole Dog Journal: Help for OCD Dogs
ASPCA: Predatory Behavior in Dogs
Veterinary Partner: Obsessive Behavior
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.