A recent article on Fox news quoted a professor of animal behavior to argue that chasing the point of a laser pointer can cause mental damage to dogs:
‘Dogs (and some cats) instinctively chase these bright-red dots simply because the dots move, said Nicholas Dodman, a professor of animal behavior at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Movement automatically stimulates their innate prey drive, which explains why lower-on-the-food-chain animals such as rodents and rabbits often freeze in place as a survival strategy. Although dogs aren’t so discerning when it comes to color, their eyes contain a high preponderance of light-sensitive cells called rods for top-notch motion detection.’
I am not a professor or anything, but in my experience of animal behavior the lower-on-the-food-chain animals don’t freeze – they run. Fast! The professor goes on to argue that laser pointer chasing can harm animals:
‘But should you really be stimulating your dog’s prey drive when it won’t ever lead to triumph — the catching of light? Probably not such a good idea. “They can get so wound up and driven with prey drive that once they start chasing the light they can’t stop. It becomes a behavior problem,” Dodman said. “I’ve seen light chasing as a pathology where they will just constantly chase around a light or shadow and pounce upon it. They just spend their whole lives wishing and waiting.”
Once again, I don’t mean to argue with the esteemed professor but this just isn’t so. Think of dog racing. In dog racing the dogs chase a ‘mechanical rabbit’ and guess what, they never catch it. In my experience racing greyhounds are among the calmest, most mentally stable dogs (they have other health problems but that’s another story).
In my twelve years of practicing as a Veterinarian I have never seen laser beam chasing become a problem. So to answer the question, is it safe to let your dog play with the laser pointer beam? Yes. As long as you don’t point it into your dog’s eyes that is. But you already worked that out.