Dogs Get Fooled by Shadows, Laser Pointers and Sometimes Themselves

A dog jumps on a shadow in the snow.

Thorsten Henning / EyeEm / Getty Images

When fireworks erupt and all the humans are staring skyward, you’ll forgive your dog for thinking he’s better than you.

Of course, all that pyrotechnical pomp sends many a dog fleeing in terror. But others just stare up at their human companions and wonder how they could possibly be so easily amused.

Does my life really depend on someone who can stare dumbly for hours at this cheap cinema of snap, crackle and pop?

But before we give credit to dogs for being so much more evolved than us, consider just a few of the cheap tricks they fall for every day.

Like that humblest light show of all — the old shadow-on-the-wall routine.

This video, posted to YouTube in April, demonstrates all the hallmarks of a dog enthralled, literally, by nothing.

You’ll note the human is just relaxing in a chair, waving a pen around. The dog, on the other hand is immersed in a magical shadow kingdom, baffled, bewildered, even trying to touch that dancing shadow with his snout.


Sorry dogs, but you fall for that shtick a lot.

And there are more. Like the dog who thought the bone painted on the bottom of his water dish was the real deal. He paws and bites at the water — must... have.. Bone. But you know ... PAINTED.

And who could have ever thought laser pointers could be such weapons of mass distraction?

(Just keep in mind, laser points can also lead to mass frustration. While chasing a little red light might seem like fun, laser pointers bring out the "prey drive" in dogs — and can ultimately lead to behavioral issues.)

In fact, here’s what the American Kennel Club has to say about chasing the unattainable:

“Many dogs continue looking for the light beam after the laser pointer has been put away; this is confusing for your dog because the prey has simply disappeared. This can create obsessive compulsive behaviors like frantically looking around for the light, staring at the last location they saw the light, and becoming reactive to flashes of light... Dogs that exhibit behavioral issues are frustrated, confused, and anxious.”

But dogs, as shadows and painted bones prove, are known to obsess over unattainable prizes just fine on their own.

"They can't help themselves; they are obliged to chase it," animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman tells LiveScience.

And this isn’t a modern phenomenon either. Aesop, the great Greek storyteller, who may or may not have existed around 600 BCE, famously noted a dog’s proclivity for perplexity.

A black and white illustration of a dog and his shadow.

Campwillowlake / Getty Images

In "The Dog and His Reflection," Aesop’s protagonist is walking home with a big, juicy bones in his mouth, when he spots his own reflection in the river.

He thinks it’s another dog and another bone. So our hero makes a move for the reflected bone — and loses the one in his mouth.

“The dog walks away hungry and sad,” the story goes. “But perhaps a little wiser.”

Thousands of years later, we can safely say that Aesop was being overly optimistic.

Of course, we’re not trying to put down a dog’s intelligence. We know there’s more to it than laser pen savvy or being able to tell the difference between a bone and a painted bone.

The powerful emotional connections they make with us — bonds are actually forged on a genetic level — do us all a world of good.

But when a Roman candle launches limply into the sky — and humans take a turn for the drooling and dumbstruck over these counterfeit constellations — that connection seems sorely tested.

We like fireworks. Dogs think they’re dumb.

Well, you might remind them that they, too, fall for pretty lights.