Why Laser Toys Can Be Bad News for Your Pet

Laser Toys

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  • Dogs instinctively chase laser beams simply because they move, and movement triggers the canine prey drive. In fact, when a laser dot stimulates your dog’s predatory systems, he can’t NOT chase it.
  • According to animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, laser toys are probably not a good idea for pets – especially dogs – because chasing the beam can become an obsession from which behavior problems develop. Never catching the “prey” can actually mess with a dog’s psyche.
  • Alternatives to laser toys for dogs include puzzle and treat-release toys that stimulate the drive to hunt, and also deliver a reward in the end. If you’re not quite ready to put away the laser toy, you can hide dog treats around the house and occasionally focus the beam on a treat, allowing your pet to “catch” her prey.
  • Cats have shorter attention spans than dogs when it comes to chasing prey. A cat in the wild will only stalk prey for a few minutes at a time. Since it’s unlikely your cat will develop a laser beam obsession, it safe enough to use a laser toy to help your kitty play and stay physically active.
  • If you do notice your kitty becoming obsessive about chasing laser beams, we recommend replacing the laser toy with a toy he too can “catch.”

By Dr. Becker

That tiny, bright-red dot of light your dog loves to chase after could have unintended consequences for his psyche. According to LiveScience:

"The lack of closure in laser-beam chasing could be messing with your dog’s head."

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, animal behavior expert and professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, explains that your dog instinctively chases laser beams simply because, well, they move. Anything that moves like that is begging to be chased. Movement triggers a dog’s innate prey drive, which is why smaller prey animals often freeze in their tracks. And while dogs don’t see colors all that well, they have a keen ability to detect motion with their eyes.

According to Dr. Dodman, the continuous movement of a laser dot stimulates dogs’ predatory systems such that they cannot NOT chase it. “They can’t help themselves. They are obliged to chase it,” he says.

Chasing 'Prey' with No Hope of Catching It Isn’t Good for a Dog’s Psyche

So the question becomes, is it a good idea to trigger your dog’s prey drive using an object she has no chance of catching? Dr. Dodman believes it’s not a good plan, because dogs can get so obsessed with chasing the light that they develop behavior problems.

“I’ve seen light chasing as a pathology where they will just constantly chase around a light or shadow and pounce upon it. They spend their whole lives wishing and waiting,” says Dodman.

Never getting to the point of actually catching their “prey” can drive a dog slightly nuts. The same principle applies with bomb or drug sniffing dogs, as well as search and rescue canines. Trainers of these dogs have learned there are psychological consequences when the animals don’t find what they’re looking for, so their handlers occasionally arrange for them to find a target as a way of keeping them emotionally balanced.

Alternatives to Laser Light Toys

The best way to satisfy your dog’s prey instinct at home (short of letting a live mouse or rabbit loose in the house) is with treat-release or puzzle toys that stimulate the canine drive to hunt, and also deliver a reward for your dog’s efforts.

Another option, if you just can’t put the laser toy away, is to first hide a few dog treats around the room, and then occasionally let the laser dot point out a treat your dog is able to actually “catch.”

What About Cats and Laser Toys?

As a general rule, kitties are less likely than dogs to develop an obsession and accompanying behavior problems as a result of chasing laser beams. You’ve probably noticed your cat has a relatively short attention span and loses interest quickly, so she’s not apt to engage in endless pursuit of a tiny dot of red light. In fact, felines in the wild stalk prey for only a few minutes at a time and then move on.

If you use a laser light toy as a way to help your kitty get exercise, and she’s willing to run and jump at the light for five or ten minutes a day, I encourage you to continue your routine. Too many indoor cats are overfed and under-exercised these days, so if yours gets physically active chasing laser beams, I say go for it.

Obviously, if you notice your cat is developing a laser beam obsession, you should switch to another type of toy that gets her active, but also delivers a reward when she catches up with it. Keep in mind your fluff muffin is a predator at heart, so choose toys that appeal to her natural drive to stalk and bring down prey. And toys don’t have to be high tech. Many cats will respond to a piece of string dragged across the floor, or a ping-pong ball.

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