Laser Pointer Games that are Safe for Dogs

October 2, 2012


By Tamara McRill

I’ll admit it: watching a dog happily chase a pinpoint of light can be hilarious. But it turns out laser pointer games have a dark side that can actually harm a dog’s mental wellbeing. It was a heart-stopping moment when I discovered this, having enjoyed just such a romping good time visiting a Pitbull pup we had rescued at his new home.

I was quick to let his new owner know the ramifications of his puppy’s favorite game and suggest some better ways to play with the laser pointer, if he wasn’t willing to completely stop using it as a toy.

Haywire Prey Instincts

The problem with letting a dog chase after a laser pointer beam is that it triggers their prey drive – what makes them hunt and chase after small things that move – without the satisfaction of ever catching the red dot. This may sound like a small thing, but it can actually cause an obsession in dogs to chase light. As in, it actually makes them a bit crazy. Many dogs will begin pouncing on any beam of light they see, just dying to finally catch it.

Safety Precautions

Before suggesting any laser pointer games to play that will satisfy your pet’s need to be a predator, I would like to emphasize that not playing with a laser pointer at all is really the safest option.

Also keep the beam out of their eyes, as it can cause blindness in dogs just as it does humans. Since a lot of dogs will bite at and pounce on the red dot, keep it off of other pets and people. Oh, and never point the beam at anything you don’t want to see broken.

Starting and Stopping Game

Start and stopping points can help your dog catch on to what the game is and produce a natural beginning and ending. Start with the same command and by pointing the beam in the same place when you begin, like your foot.

Turn the light off when they “catch” the dot. Reward them with a CANIDAE dog treat each time they catch the beam so they feel something was accomplished. Make sure to end the game with a command when you are done playing.

Hide and Seek Laser

This can be a rewarding indoor game or outdoor game to play with your furry friend. Hide some CANIDAE treats or favorite toys around the house or yard, with the idea that these will be the prey. Then, using the laser pointer, slowly lead your dog to discover the treats/prey.

If your dog susses out treats and toys as well as mine – I can’t even get in the door without them knowing and trying to investigate the bag – then you’ll want to start the game as soon as you let your pet into the room.

Click off the light when they find the toy or treat. Otherwise they are going to know they never “killed” it.

Does your dog love to chase laser pointers? What other games do they like?

Top photo by Slam Szapucki
Bottom photo by Sam Hames 

Read more articles by Tamara McRill

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Ricky B says:

    I did not know that using laser lights could be harmful to dogs until now. The thing is my dog is 6 years old and I got him as a puppy. We have been playing on your marks, get set, GO almost since I first got him. On the word GO I turn on the laser light and he chases it. We play for about a half hour and then we are both done with it. I guess I am lucky because he has never shown any of the symptoms I just read about. He enjoys it so much that I will not stop playing on your marks, get set, and GO. I have always been very careful not to get the light anywhere near his eyes. That is just common logic, if its bad for humans it can’t be good for dogs.

  2. Celeste says:

    I have an 8 year old doberman, she is always quiet and reserved and the only thing that gets her up and playing is the laser pointer. She loves chasing it, and yes even after it’s been turned off she still looks for it, but i tested her many times by putting the laser on myself and she has never once tried to get at it. She won’t try to scratch at it or bite it if it’s on anyone, so I thinks she’s fine. I’ve been playing with the laser pointer ever since she was a puppy, and has never had any behavior issues. She completely forgets about the laser 5 minutes after I turn it off.

  3. S.... says:

    and in addition to the former comment…my dog is not at all aggressive to me at any time or to any other people.

  4. S.... says:

    When your dog is homebound and old it is very good for exercise and they love it. Do NOT have a small pet running around without supervision always because it is a hunting instinct!

  5. Sully says:

    As a canine training and behavioral modifier playing with the laser is just out of the question. It has created dogs so unsound and so quick to bite at something that several dogs have just had to be put down simply because they could no longer be trusted. I understand the treat theory at the end of the light but most people don’t. Yesterday a beautiful Rottweiler went after a vet for no apparent reason( that she could find). So she had the client call me.. I believe the stethoscope caught the light just right and the dog went after that. The dog is a gentle giant and kind as can be. When the owner called for my help it was not until the end of the conversation that he told me his dog loved chasing the laser but was getting a little out of control about it. Some dogs have a very low prey drive so it does not effect them like it does a dog with high prey drive. In most cases owners do not even know what prey drive is. There for please find another way to play with your dog and do not take the chance of making him crazy (literally ). Thank you Sully’s Dog Training.

  6. Mary Ollikainen says:

    For all those doubters out there, this can happen. My sons springer spaniel is extremely obsessed with all streams of light i.e. : sunlight, flashlights, phones etc. He has tried several things to stop this behavior but all have been unsuccessful. His dog is seven yrs old now and this has been going on since she was a pup. Anybody have any luck, we’d love to hear it.

    1. Sully says:

      As a canine trainer and behavioral modifier I have found using lasers on dogs as a game is NOT a game in their eyes or brains. It leaves the dog extremely frustrated to the degree of aggressively attacking family members and chasing shadows and lights. Go on line and watch a few videos on the subject. No lasers please…

  7. Kathy says:

    The laser is an issue with dogs – not cats. My cats love it and walk away from it when they are done, no issue. My dog? Different story. I love to exercise him with it, but he does obsess a few minutes after – then he moves on. But, he is a puppy. My chihuahua did not have an obsessive issue, but my Dane might, so I am watching carefully and play a “satisfying” game after where he gets the toy or treat.

  8. K_tigress says:

    Every once in awhile I like to pull out the old laser pointer and play with my kitty. But I haven’t recently only because its low on power and have to get new batteries.

    He is always totally fascinated with it and goes to town when I shine it every where. I’m always careful though to shine it away from his eyes when he comes in contact with it, facing it.

    I don’t believe in not allowing access to a “fun time” but as with every thing, play has to be supervised and sometimes in moderation. I don’t believe in keeping kids and fur kids in a rubber room all covered in foam. Its not reality. After all just living can be dangerous. Living is taking risks.

  9. Marg says:

    We have never done the laser point with the dogs. I have done it with the cats and it does wear them out. But I didn’t notice any great change in them. They really enjoyed it but they are cats.

  10. Wow, we did not know any of this. We don’t have a laser pointer, but now we know Mom won’t be getting one. Thanks for the info.

    Woos – Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  11. Finn says:

    I am so glad you put this out there. I have been hesitant to let Finn chase a laser pointer. And I like the idea of giving the treat at the end!