Recently in class, a student asked whether it is okay to let her dog chase a laser dot. The other trainer in class said that she had heard that doing so can cause obsessive compulsive behavior or frustration because there is no reward. Well, just add this to the list of things that I possibly did wrong with Oz. As a puppy he loved to chase things – but as a Rottweiler puppy, nothing that he caught survived. Somehow we started playing with a laser and it seemed like great fun and the dot did not get torn up. It was also a way for Ozzie to get exercise inside the house.
There are quite a few discussion posts though, with some people saying their dog would keep looking for the dot after the game was over or would appear to be looking for the dot even if they had not been playing recently. I never noticed Oz doing anything like that and he knew the origin of the light – he would get excited when I took the laser from its hook. I would always tell him when the game was over and show him that I was putting the laser away and give him a treat.
Last summer when we got puppy McGee, I bought two cat toys – feathers and do-dads dangling from a rod. Cats bat at them and they swing and bounce. McGee seemed to love them and I had to keep them out of sight when we were not playing because he would try on his own to get them if he could see them. I didn’t want that because he would certainly destroy them and they were so pretty. But one day I said to my son, hmmm, McGee might not think this is fun too much longer if he never gets to catch them – he might get frustrated since there is no reward! I really did say that – but I did not make the connection between that and the laser from Ozzie’s youth. I let McGee catch the feathers and that was the end of that game.
If you do play with a laser dot with your dog, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Never point it at his or her eyes.
Keep the sessions short and consider having the game end by the laser dot landing on a treat that you unobtrusively placed on the floor so that there is a reward and sense of accomplishment. Praise your dog for finding the treat, say “all done” and let your dog see you put the laser away.
If your dog does not calm down within a few minutes of the game ending, consider finding a new way to play with your dog.
As an indoor activity alternative, there are numerous enrichment puzzles on the market (Amazon is a good source) or you could teach your dog to do “Nose Work” and search and find treats in hiding places like boxes or under papers. That is Ozzie’s favorite game now, and I highly recommend it with no risk of ill effects. On the contrary, it can build confidence for anxious, shy or fearful dogs. You can learn more about Nose Work here.