Border Collie Flashlight Obsession

I’m pretty sure this is not breed specific to Border Collies but boy, oh boy is it something. We discovered the Border Collie Flashlight Obsession by accident one night and we’ve been dealing with it ever since. My neighbor had locked herself out of her house and asked me to come over and help her get in. It was dark so I grabbed a flashlight and went to help her. Upon returning to our place I walked in the door with the flashlight still on. The light shined on the wall and Ned the Border Collie went positively nuts!

I’ve talked with a few Border Collie owners and they have said their dogs also respond to this as well be it flash lights or those laser pointer things. It seems that the common assumption is that this is yet another manifestation of the herding instinct. As our dog went crazy, and I do mean totally nuts, I had no idea what the problem was, not realizing that the darn flashlight was still on. So as I moved around the light flashed across the wall, over the couch and onto a Lazy-boy chair in the living room. Like a rocket Ned shot over to the couch and bounded onto the chair knocking it clean over backwards! By this point I had finally figured out what the issue was and quickly turned the light off.

The strangest thing was that even after the light was turned off he still continued to look for the light for about 15 minutes! Very alert and excitedly running around the house looking at walls, checking the couch and examining the chair he had knocked over intensely. It was like his Shadow Chasing obsession from his puppy days but far worse. Now, Ned is normally a pretty laid back dog, considering he is a Border Collie, when in the house. Not a lot of running, barking, whining or anything along those lines. When that light hit the wall and flashed around the room he “snapped” into a totally different dog. His pupils dilated, his tail was up and he was at a dead run…not a trot or a lively step but a wide open sprint. It was surprising, shocking and actually pretty funny as well…but something that could be potentially dangerous.

Several months later the wife and I were out at night meeting and it was running very long. I stepped outside and called my father, who lives close by, to ask if he would not mind going down to walk the dog. About an hour later, as we were driving home, I get a call. It was dark outside by the time my father got down to walk Ned and he grabbed the flashlight to take with him on the walk. As he and Ned were walking down a dark road a car approached and, thinking safety, my father flicking on the flashlight so the car could easily see him.

Ned went crazy! He turned from a calm dog out for a walk into a manic chasing after the light on the ground. He bolted so fast that the leash popped out of my fathers hand and ran into the street after the light, right in front of the oncoming car! Luckily the car slowed down, Dad switched off the light and Ned came right back over to him. Moral of the story? Just be aware of this little behavior possibility with your Border Collie. I never thought to mention it to my father and we almost lost the darn dog because of it.

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Comments

  1. Ricardo says

    Dude, my Dog “Kate” is EXACTLY the same!
    She is obsessed over any flashlight and now her latest thing is starring at the ceiling EVERY SINGLE night..looking for any reflections on the ceiling…

    So she basically goes into “MODE” in the evenings….funny yet disturbing.

    Regards
    Ricardo (South Africa)

  2. Robby says

    Sounds like the inevitable herding behavior. If they see an object streaking somewhere, herding instincts turn on and they won’t listen to hardly anything for a while. This is why border collies are known for dying by car chases, they can’t turn off their instincts whatsoever.

  3. tom says

    I have had the same issue with my Border. I started out playing with a laser light with her when she was very young. I would do it every once in a while and would laugh hysterically watching her chase that light around, thinking I was playing with her. She is now 3 years old and any shadow, flashlight, or even light reflected off cookware on the ceiling, floor or walls instantly sends her into a fit of “oh my god, I will get it and kill it RIGHT NOW.” If the light/reflection/shadow is on the ceiling or wall she will stand on her hind legs and try as hard as possible to reach it. If the light/reflection/shadow is on the floor she will dig ferociously at the spot until I stop her. Even once I stop her from digging she cannot stop herself from searching for it for quite a while afterwards. She is very obedient otherwise but once she is in that find the light/reflection/shadow mode it is very difficult to get her attention for any reason. I did a little research on this subject and found that with border collies esp., since they are so intelligent, this behavior can actually be considered a neurotic behavior. I have to be very careful what I let her see because it seems to completely overwhelm her and she cannot think about or do anything else until I get her calmed down. I wish that I had known what the outcome was going to be when I first started this “harmless” game. I would recommend to anyone who wishes to avoid this problem not get one of these laser lights for a Border Collie. I feel awful when she gets like this as it seems to turn her into a completely different dog and will absolutely never expose another of my dogs to the laser light. If you do decide that you still want to play this game with your dog, esp. a Border Collie, you will pay the price for the remainder of the dogs life and it can be quite disturbing to watch at times. Best of Luck to all.

  4. Jenny C says

    We hung up a dream catcher with small mirrors on it which caught the sunlight and flashed around the room. Our collie also went mad, just as you describe. Only trouble is, we removed the dreamcatcher after a few days as it was clearly over hyping him but he now obsessively chases shadows, sunlight or any other kind of light. This has really become a problem. Our fun loving “people” dog has become obsessed to the point of ignoring those around him. He won’t listen when spoken to or play games any more. He dives around the kitchen after any light that moves and tries digging the floor up to get at the lights. We really do not know what to do. You can distract him for a little while but it’s very hard work and he soon loses interest in us. My beloved companion has become a completely changed animal in the space of a week and I really don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

  5. Kathy says

    I don’t know if all borders are fixiated on flashlights but we trained our deaf Daisy with a pen light instead of a clicker that most hearing dogs use. It worked great and she’s not shown any signs of light following except for the pen light (and then she expects a treat!).

  6. says

    Jenny,

    Ugh….that stinks. We had something similar. What we found was the basics…get him a ton of exercise and keep him tired. Obviously try and remove anything that is creating the movement/shadows. Be ready for a re-direction of attention…if he’s super intent on the lights you may want to use some really good treats. We had some luck with that…distract with treats…get him to do some tricks. It’s tough. Anyone else out there have better ideas on breaking this habit?

  7. says

    Robby,

    This is my biggest fear…Ned taking off into the street. They totally zone and see nothing else but their target.

  8. says

    Our Chester also was a shadow and light chaser. One night as my wife was finishing her reading she accidentally knocked over the reading light which cast a shadow on the ceiling. Chester focused on it, i made a shadow puppet on the ceiling and he was leaping up and down on the foot of the bed. When we turned out the light he jumped down and curled up on his own bed. The next evening he jumped up on the bed, went over to the lamp. took his paw and knocked it over. We then realized we had a pretty smart animal in the house. When i would pick up a flash light he would look to see where it was pointed before looking at the spot. I used this habit as a training tool, a reward of limited duration for recall or other response. There were a couple spots on our walks where it was dark enough in the forest that he could briefly chase light and as an exercise tool on winter evenings. A “that’ll do”would settle him down but I can see where it could be a problem for some dogs and would not encourage this behavior.

  9. says

    Gary,

    That is a great example of how bright these dogs are and how quickly they can associate! Glad to hear we’re not the only ones out there with this little condition.

  10. kismoore says

    Our BC, PO (short for Pepsi Ocean) was so happy chasing lights I set up a solar powered crystal in the living room window. As the sun rose, the motor would turn and the crystals would dance all over the room. Great fun to watch except for one problem… PO started looking for the lights all day and night. She started tearing at the carpet and couches looking for the bouncing lights. Her high shrill barking and crazy eyed looks made me realize we needed to stop the entertaining crystals for good. It’s was like offering an alcoholic a chocolate covered liquor cherry.

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