This is a strange one so bear with me.

In short, our dog (Aussie) is hyper focused on lights and reflections. She spends 90% of the day staring at the ceiling or walls, either barking or growling... waiting for lights or reflections that were never there and won't ever be there.

Originally we fostered the behavior with mirrors, or a laser pointer... because she seems out of her mind excited and happy with it. We eventually stopped that since she would get so riled up she'd be watching for them all night long not sleeping. When she's in this state that's it... nothing else can get her attention.

I know the response here is going to be that she's not getting enough attention, play, etc. Okay, but she doesn't want anything else. She has a yard, and when we go into the yard all she wants to do is stand there and look for crossing shadows of birds or insects or maybe our phones or watches flashing a reflection. She begs at us to go outside with her, then stands there and stares at the ground wagging her tail.

Any help is appreciated.

1 Answer 1


Your dog has OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Certain dogs - especially hardcore working breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds - are predisposed to developing OCD when they are not mentally stimulated enough. The most common cause for OCD in dogs is boredom.

Unfortunately you encouraged her by playing with laser pointers. That's like setting a tall beer in front of a dry alcoholic. I need you to understand this and never do it again. Not even once. I need you to clearly and unmistakeably tell your friends and visitors that they must not do it. Please see this video for example - the dog jumps at the moving shadow of a person wiggling their finger and the person filming the video is laughing and encouraging the behavior with her voice. This is the worst example and if you were in this situation, you must intervene and stop the people from behaving like that. You must protect your dog from her triggers.

You already noticed that her OCD has negative consequences. She cannot relax to the point where she cannot sleep at night and she cannot think clearly enough to focus on anything else - including you. This is a very stressful life and I highly doubt she's happy with it. But she cannot get out of that mindset on her own, so you need to help her.

The most important way to treat OCD in dogs is to engage them in training and play. The default obedience training like sit, down and stay can be a very fun game for dogs because they can interact with you. You (and the rest of your family) are the most important social contacts of her, you are her pack and getting attention and recognition from you is very satisfying to her.

At first you need to get her used to the training and to concentrate on you. I propose training in a calm room without natural light so there are no moving shadows or lights. Once she got used to it, you will need to broaden the spectrum of commands to keep her entertained and engaged. You can do anything from teaching her circus tricks to making her balance dog biscuits on her nose to teaching her the names of toys.

You must train with her daily. You don't have to dedicate half an hour to a "dog school session". It can be just a minute or two several times a day, like before breakfast, lunch and dinner or just one command whenever you feel like it. What's important is not to make her the best student in the world, but to give her something better to do than chasing lights.

Another chance to entertain your dog in her everyday life is by feeding her through a puzzle feeder like shown in this video (0:18 - 3:00). There are many different kinds of puzzles and oddly shaped food bowls available. The goal is to give your dog a simple mental challenge to alleviate boredom, comparable to people solving crossword puzzles when they're bored.

You should also physically exercise your dog more than you currently do. I do realize that it may be difficult at first because she'll be more interested in chasing lights than your exercise, but this is absolutely necessary. Go out with her during a cloudy day or at dusk and dawn. For a list of ideas, please have a look at this post (it also includes the idea of walking a dog insides on a treadmill. I encourage you to try out as many solutions as possible to give your dog a variety of new stimuli.

One trick I saw work well to distract OCD dogs from their triggers is the so-called target stick. You can use any object that has a comfortable length and is comfortable to touch. Some examples include an artificial flower, a small plush ball, an old drumstick with a soft fabric tip and diverse DIY and commercially available target sticks. Teach the dog that whenever her nose touches the target at the end of the stick, she gets a treat. This must be trained several times a day so she internalizes the training just as much as the light chasing. Once she reliably touches the target, you can try distracting her form her light chasing by moving the target right in front of her and luring her away from the light with it. Don't forget that you must reward the training every single time with treats, or she'll feel more inclined to chase the light than follow the target.

For more help and instructions, please read the following articles:

With the right search terms you can also find very informative video tutorials on Youtube. Please don't forget that you can also get professional help from an experienced dog trainer. You don't want the standard puppy trainer, so ask them very directly if they can help dogs with OCD.

  • Training daily as it was a game with your dog is not only an awesome feeling but also the best way to keep your dog's mind healthy. It requires patience, discipline and repetition but make the difference specially with working dogs. Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 13:20

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