Where's Mr. Dot? There he is!
August 23, 2009 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Will a laser pointer break my dog?

I used a laser pointer as a dog toy for the first time yesterday and my 8 month old cocker spaniel seemed to love it. After I put the pointer away though he spent the next 15 minutes looking around and sniffing for the dot. After some poking around on the internet it looks like there's some fears that it might cause permanent OCD and anxiety.

Is this something that's too dangerous to play around with at all, should it be used sparingly, or are people being just overly cautious and there's nothing to worry about at all?

The dog is otherwise normal and doesn't exhibit any other neurotic behavior.

Note: I'm well aware of the potential eye damage that laser pointers can cause if accidentally pointed directly at the eye, I'm just asking about the mental health aspect.
posted by mikesch to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yes! My cousin fucked up his dog with one of those things. She was a Brittany Spaniel and he would bring the laser pointer out to amuse friends but after he put it away the dog would spend HOURS jerking his head around, searching for the dot. I don't know how often he did it, but the poor dog turned into a bundle of nerves.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:56 AM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: In my experience, dogs and cats have lots of fun with the laser pointer, and it can be a great way to tire everyone out. I would advise using it sparingly, though.

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.
posted by Seppaku at 11:57 AM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: For the record I think this is a foolish fear... but one I share.

When playing with my cats, I have the laser lead to a small pile of cat treats which get devoured. I stop using the pointer after the pile of treats has been captured.
posted by pseudonick at 11:58 AM on August 23, 2009 [17 favorites]

Wow. My sister has a dog with this problem. He looks for the dot for hours and hours, and even when he wakes up in the morning.

They rescued him from a very sensory deprived lifestyle, and thought that this behavior was just from having to chase shadows to entertain himself.

He is making great improvements and is a lovely animal otherwise. I am astounded to learn that this is not an isolated problem.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:03 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a cat who loves to chase the dot. We end each play session by bringing the pointer itself down slowly to the surface where the dot is and then shut it off. This makes the dot appear to 'retreat' into the pointer. It is a way of making it clear to the cat that the 'game' has gone to ground and won't be found out running around anymore. Sounds a little silly but he seems to get the idea that once the dot goes back into its hole the game is over.
posted by stubborn at 12:09 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: With our cat, I usually run the dot under a doorway leading outside when she's done playing.
posted by nitsuj at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: I play with a laser pointer and my dog has never exhibited this kind of behavior. He's even gotten wise to the laser pointer itself and gets excited when I pull it out.
posted by O9scar at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: I've used my laser pointer with both my cat, and my old dog.
Both animals would perk up and come running if they heard the [to me] inaudible clink of the pointer's keychain from anywhere in the apartment.

I have a VERY cheap one, ($5 new, maybe 10 years ago now) and the thumb button is a total punishment on your finger. I think my record is five minutes. Everyone who uses it asks me why I don't just get a new one.

The answer is I fear its prolonged effects, as you do. Guests especially seem to enjoy watching the animals go nuts, but not enough to ENDURE PRESSING THE BUTTON DOWN.

When done, I'd either pretend it ran under a door out of sight, or just leave it on the ground, so they understand I'm done with it. The cat might paw at it, and the dog used to lick/bite it for a while, and both would look at me to make it go again. I tell them no, and take some solace from them realizing that I am the one who controls (releases?) the red dot of doom.

I've seen a lot of cats who get over being interested in the whole laser pointer thing.
I want to avoid that as much as I do potentially causing harm.
Because it IS an awesome, easy toy, perfect for when you're sick, or otherwise indisposed. [read: lazy]
posted by Busithoth at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll also add that I have a herding dog (corgi) and have had the laser for almost 5 years with no lingering behavior after the laser is put away. It is played with almost every day, and my dog is absolutely nuts about it.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:42 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: Seconding positive experiences with lightplay and a herding dog. My family sheltie loves to chase a flashlight, and the chasing is itself satisfying, apparently. He never wants to catch it anyhow. It's definitely his favorite game, but a nice pet on the head to tell him it's all done is enough to let him down easy.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:20 PM on August 23, 2009

It depends on the dog. The problem being that you won't know if your dog is one who'll develop OCD from a laser pointer until your dog develops OCD or doesn't. Severe OCD can ruin a dog's life. I don't use a laser pointer, there are all kinds of other things you can do to amuse yourself and your dog that don't have the attendant risk of a laser pointer.
posted by biscotti at 2:27 PM on August 23, 2009

I never thought about this and played with my one year old indoor cat with a laser pointer every day for about ten minutes a day for a few months. Eventually he got bored of it and doesn't really get excited about it any more. No ill effects, it seems. (Of course cats are different than dogs.)
posted by kenliu at 3:18 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: 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. She's also much more skittish than our younger dog (who is also a Cocker, but completely normal- we learned our lesson with the laser pointer), and is no longer interested in socializing. 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. So, for the last year and a half we've been trying to get her to calm down and stop stressing about that damn dot. She's only 2. I hope she's not going to be this freaked out the rest of her life. Maybe she's got a genetic predisposition to being high-strung and she would have turned out fine otherwise. Maybe your dog will be fine. But why take the chance? Just throw a frisbee or something for him.
posted by dogmom at 3:47 PM on August 23, 2009

I'm amazed to find out people use these with dogs. I used to dog sit a dog and I tried it once. He chased it for 5 seconds, realized it had no scent and then ignored it for good. Weird.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:23 PM on August 23, 2009

Just as dogmom says, my cousin's dog would see a little reflection from a passing car and the whole bugaboo would start all over.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:33 PM on August 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback everyone. Sounds like something I'll only do sparingly, if at all, and I'll always make sure that there's a reward and a "game over" signal when we're done playing. He seemed to love it while we were playing, but his behavior after we were done scared me a little.
posted by mikesch at 6:47 PM on August 23, 2009

It apparently depends on the animal. My favorite cat would get excited the second she thought she heard the laser pointer's chain chinkle; she would only be disappointed if the little red dot failed to appear.

We would then play until she was panting, at which point she gave up on it. Even running the dot over her paw failed to get a response. Bored.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:52 PM on August 23, 2009

There was a whole chapter about this in The Dog Who Loved Too Much, written by a a veterinarian who is the director of Tufts Vet School's behavior clinic. The short answer is that cats and dogs do not react to laser pointers the same way, and for many dogs it does become a problem. 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?
posted by hindmost at 12:20 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first time I brought out the laser pointer for my dog (junkyard lab mix) he wouldn't potty, drink, eat, or anything except stare at it for the rest of the night. He's become far less obsessed as time passed. Now if it goes on the table he just stares for a couple of minutes and goes on with his life, but its still his favorite thing in the whole world.
All dogs have different levels of addiction, just like people.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2009

It took our ten year old purebred Manx cat about ten minutes to figure out that I was controlling the laser pointer. It is not fun for him at all. His favorite pastime is catching quarters tossed over the bed.
The other cat is fascinated by the laser, but when the game is over, he is done.
The dogs just don't care about it at all.
posted by Drasher at 7:17 PM on August 30, 2009

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