Using a Laser Light or a Flashlight Can Cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a Deaf Dog by Erika Proctor
“Should I use a flashing light device to train my deaf dog?”
A question I recently seem to be asked daily. As an Animal Behavior Specialist that specializes in working with special needs dogs and cats, I feel a strong need to weigh in on these recent “Light Training” questions.
Photo above: Notice the dog going after the light reflection of the doggy pool on the carport?
Photo credit: Great Dane Chasing Laser light from Why Dogs Chase Beams on www.livescience.com
These questions often arise over finding a new method in which to communicate with a Deaf Dog. Although I will cover other tried and true methods in another article, there are many reasons I am adamantly against any use of light training or play with deaf but sighted dogs, as well as hearing dogs. The recent viral videos portraying some of these Canine Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) behaviors as “adorable” have left a huge chasm of concern for me.
The use of any light flashes, be it at play or in training, can inadvertently CAUSE OCD Behavior. If you purposely teach a dog to seek out light, and reinforce that behavior either with treats or positive play, you will not only teach that dog to seek light for your own purpose, but also to seek light in other areas, which will then become self rewarding. This behavior can lead to shadow chasing, car chasing, ground pounding attacking the television, and dogs that are unable to stand for pictures with a flash. This is often seen in high-energy breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Cattle Dogs and Boxers, but is extremely prevalent in deaf dogs in general.
Below is a video of a deaf puppy named Charlie who was left at a friends house while Charlie’s family had to go out of town. The children at the friend’s house used a laser light to get the dog to come in the house and they also had fun watching the puppy chase the little red light. When Charlie’s family got home, they noticed he would not make eye contact with them and he would only stare at the flour pouncing up and down on the shadows/light beams. When we heard from Charlie’s mom we invited her to bring Charlie from Fort Bragg, NC here to our Green Dogs Unleashed headquarters in Troy, Virginia for an all day training evaluation and session. The videos below are about one minute each but you can see who much damage using a laser light over one weekend can do to a deaf puppie’s prey drive by causing Canine Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Video 1 is Charlie being evaluated.
Video 2 is Charlie digging in his crate.
Video 3 is Charlie getting some Play Therapy here at GDU
Video 4 is after a full day of training, redirection, play time and now settle and enjoy a deer antler – notice he is not looking at the shadows on the floor.
In a world were clicker training is “all the rage” I stand on a slightly different platform. My concepts are the same, to mark a positive behavior with a consistent and reliable marker, thereby alerting to the dog he performed the task as desired. However, my delivery methods are much different. I believe wholeheartedly we should never use a “marker” that is not permanently attached to our body. With hearing dogs this may mean our voices. After the command is preformed, a simple “yes” or “good”, following this compliance, is enough. With a deaf dog, I prefer either a thumbs up, or an open flash of the hand depending on food reward delivery. I feel strongly about this, as few people keep a clicker attached to themselves at all times, and our dogs rely heavily on these “markers” in order to continue behaviors. If you repeatedly miss these, because you have misplaced your “device,” then your dog will quickly learn you are not reliable.
Which leads me to perhaps the most important reason NOT to use Light Training with dogs. Whatever “marker” you choose needs to be consistent. The trainer (you) needs to make sure it is not something that can be accidentally given. With a “Light” marker, there is absolutely no control what-so-ever in any environment. People use flashes on their camera, lightening occurs naturally, shadows are cast on the ground, headlights of oncoming cars, flashes of colors and light on television, and even turning the lights on and off, can “accidentally” cue a dog. In extreme cases, you can have dogs that are “light seekers” attack the flashing lights aggressively, and possibly displace this aggression on whatever or whoever is nearby. In many cases, once the dog realizes these cues occur often and un-rewarded, you run the potential for them to become satiated, thereby no longer responding to your cues.