What’s up with dogs chasing lights and shadows?
A dog chasing lights and shadows may seem strange behavior that does not make sense to us, however, dogs may have good reasons to engage in this behavior.
Sure, it’s fun to watch cute puppy chasing reflexes on a wall or floor, and this behavior may require some laughter, but allowing the behavior to take root and progress, and you might end up with a behavioral problem that’s hard to eliminate.
But why do dogs seem so passionate about chasing lights, shadows, and reflections of all kinds? And most of all, what can you do to stop them?
A matter of driving prey
Dogs are attracted to lights and shadows because they are naturally drawn to track moving objects and this stems from an inherent prey drive that remains alive and healthy despite domestication.
Yes, despite the fact that Princess Flu-Flu, a poodle that eats from a sack and eats from shiny bowls, that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in chasing, and sometimes even killing, tiny furry creatures that spur their prey.
Prey drive may be stronger in some dogs than others. For example, it can be particularly severe in small dogs and herding breeds and in the lines of action of some dog breeds. However, just because your dog’s breed is not on the list does not mean that your dog is immune to it.
Therefore, the lights and shadows are inherently rewarding to the chase, and like the tail chase, can also be attributed to the “repeated mistakes of the predatory brain,” as Dr. Nicholas Dodman explains in his book The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Seven Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend.
Bad stimulating environment
On top of a high prey drive, a low-stimulated environment may be an incentive to chase light and shadow in dogs.
Here’s the thing: Most dogs have been selectively bred to do some tasks in the past. Retrievers would hunt fallen birds and hold them in their mouths, dogs would dig holes to kill insects, hounds would track the scent, and even small dogs would warm the arms of aristocratic ladies (if we wanted to call this a job!).
So it can be said that dogs are happier and more satisfied when they have the opportunity to do what they were originally bred for.
Nowadays, most dogs are left idle for a large part of the day and thus suffer from boredom and frustration. It’s not like they can handle these idle times by solving some Sudoku games or playing with their phones like we humans do!
Instead, dogs look for niches to lead their prey that may result in searching for prey not under floorboards, chasing their tails, or playing with reflections from a crystal chandelier.
The Power of Attention
Believe it or not, some dogs are so eager for receiving our attention, that they’ll do anything to obtain it. And to an attention-craving dog, it doesn’t matter the type of attention, even bad attention (such as you scolding your dog) is better than no attention at all!
Often dogs who seek attention are dogs who feel a little neglected. Perhaps you are at work most of the day, and your dog perceives your return as the biggest perk of the day, or perhaps, he needs more interaction. So how can he get some attention from you? He may try to lick himself, he may try to bark, or maybe, he may try to chase some lights… and then, bingo! You start laughing at his behavior as you remark “Chaser, what’s up with you? Are you going nuts?”
So from that day on, the game started. Your dog will start chasing lights or shadows in hopes of getting a flash of attention (pun intended!).
Bring “light” on a problem
And then you have some dogs that start chasing light because their owners have “pointed” to them by encouraging them to chase the beam of light emitted by flashlights or lasers.
It may all start out as a game, and chasing light quickly becomes an obsession. Soon after, it’s as if a switch is working in the dog’s brain and the dog starts looking for lights and shadows all over the place, even if sometimes nothing is!
Of course, not all dogs become addicted.
Some dogs may have some fun and may soon get bored with the game. Others may be linked instead.
It requires a certain type of personality, just as it does with people.
Increased sense of vision
Finally, and interestingly, Dr. Dodman notes that a high percentage of the dogs he saw being drawn to light chase were deaf dogs. Dodman hypothesizes that their impaired hearing made their eyesight a more intense experience. This theory is definitely interesting.
The problem of lights and shadows
As mentioned, the chase of lights and shadows stems from predatory driving, just like chasing balls. However, a dog can catch a ball and hold it in its mouth, while light is something you cannot really catch, so this can lead to frustration, and sometimes dogs can become a little obsessed with it because they never enjoy the “reward” of the chase. This makes this behavior problematic.
This problem, after all, is not new in the dog world. This fruitless chase and lack of closure can lead to frustration and confusion in dogs over time.
In fact, dog handlers about sniffing bombs and drugs are aware of the fact that fruitless searches can be emotionally draining for their dogs resulting in a mental disorder. To prevent this, they, therefore, make sure to occasionally take their dogs on mock missions where they can finally find something and get rewards in return.
How can I get my dog to stop chasing lights and shadows?
It is important to deal with a dog that chases the lights and shadows. Make sure to intervene early to stop the behavior in its infancy. If allowed to continue, it may in some cases turn into a compulsive disorder in dogs, similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Interestingly, when it comes to dogs, the term obsessive is dropped because it has not been proven whether dogs can “ hold onto ” something cognitive. In other words, we lack evidence that dogs are capable of thinking about thoughts, just as we humans do.
So how do we get a dog to stop chasing lights and shadows? Treatment often requires a multifaceted approach, addressing the problem from different fronts. While this advice may work in moderate situations, compulsive behaviors that have been trained for some time require professional intervention in canine behavior.
Here are several tips and ideas:
- Stop your dog playing with the lights or lasers just to play it safe. Overall, according to Dr. Karen, a veterinary behavioral scientist, about 8 percent of dogs in America (about five to six million!) Suffer from compulsive canine behaviors.
- Pull the blinds away especially at critical times when your dog is more likely to play with lights and shadows.
- If your dog still finds an unexpected way to pursue the lights or shadows despite your best efforts, then avoid giving your dog any form of attention when he engages in this behavior.
- Provide your dog with extra mental stimulation. Feed food in puzzle games to encourage foraging opportunities for dogs, provide mind games, organize sniffing adventures (dog nose jobs) and fun play sessions, and don’t forget to train!
- Meet your dog’s exercise needs. Take your dog for a walk and have him participate in a doggy sport and let him play with other dogs if he is good with them.
- Find your dog’s breed. Find out what it was selectively bred for and then based on that, check if you can equip it with the right outlets. For example, if your dog is a Border Collie, enroll them in a Sheep Breeding Experience or Treibball.
- Treat anxiety. Dogs prone to compulsive behaviors are often very anxious and stressed dogs. These dogs benefit from a calm environment.
- Avoid scolding your dog or any other form of punishment. This will only backfire and will create more anxiety in your dog.
- Consult a dog behavior specialist if your dog cannot be distracted from light stalking, has trained in the behavior for some time and has been affecting his life. Some dogs may need to take medications while taking steps to modify behavior.