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OCD in Dogs

Treating Obsessive Behaviors in Dogs

By Meredith Alling. April 02, 2013 | See Comments

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OCD in Dogs

Dogs can suffer from OCD like humans can, and the symptoms can cause your dog to exhaust or even hurt themselves. Find out how to treat dog OCD.

Does your dog pace, spin, or chase their tail? If so, they may be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Just like humans, dogs can be affected by this anxiety-related disorder. OCD in dogs is characterized by a persistent and overwhelming urge to engage in repetitive behaviors.

Symptoms of OCD in Dogs

The following are the most common repetitive behaviors seen in dogs with OCD:

  • Tail chasing

  • Excessive licking, chewing, or scratching

  • Spinning

  • Pacing

  • Fly snapping

  • Barking

  • Toy fixation

  • Shadow or light chasing

  • Excessive water drinking

  • Flank sucking (the flank is the area above the thigh)

  • Licking surfaces or objects

Dogs with OCD usually engage in one or more of these behaviors over and over throughout the day, and this can cause weight loss, physical exhaustion, and injury.

Rule Out Medical Problems

It’s important to note that some obsessive behaviors can be caused by an underlying medical problem. For example excessive licking or scratching could be the result of allergies, parasites, or a skin condition. Head injuries, epilepsy, and infections can also cause your dog to behave compulsively. Talk to your veterinarian to rule out any condition that may be affecting your dog. The underlying problem will have to be treated first before dealing with the repetitive behavior.

Rule Out Other Behavior Problems

Compulsive behaviors can also be seen in dogs dealing with other behavioral problems. A dog suffering from separation anxiety may bark excessively. Older dogs over six years of age are susceptible to cognitive dysfunction. Dogs with this condition exhibit senile behavior, including repetitive actions. If your dog’s compulsions are being caused by a separate behavioral problem, talk to your vet about treating that problem first.

Causes of OCD in Dogs

Some dog breeds are predisposed to compulsive behaviors. For example Doberman Pinschers, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers often develop excessive licking problems. German Shepherds are famous tail-chasers, and Bull Terriers have been known to be spinners. But what causes a dog to begin performing a compulsive behavior in the first place?

  1. Some dogs develop licking or chewing compulsions after an injury or operation. A dog who licks an injury or sore spot may continue to do so even after the area is healed.
  2. Most compulsive behaviors are the result of anxiety or stress, so a dog who is exposed to these conditions may be more likely to develop a problem. Common stress-inducing situations include:
  • Dogs who are physically abused
  • Dogs who are confined or tied up in small spaces
  • Dogs who experience social distress such as aggression from other dogs in the house or separation from a long-time companion
  • Dogs who are not given access to normal canine behavior such as socialization with other dogs or people, play time, or walks
  • Dogs who have experienced some trauma

3.  Some dogs begin performing compulsive behaviors for no discernible reason at all.

Treatment for OCD

Treating OCD in dogs can be tricky as the disorder is often a combination of learned behaviors and a chemical imbalance in the brain. The typical treatment for serious OCD includes behavior modification and drug therapy. Talk to your veterinarian to decide if your dog needs medication, and seek out a behaviorist and/or apply the following techniques to modify your dog’s obsessive behavior:

  • Remove the stressor: If you can identify the source of your dog’s anxiety or stress, remove it from their life. For example if your dog is regularly confined in a small space, find a new place for them to be.

  • Redirect the attention: Intercepting your dog’s behavior before it starts can help to break down the compulsive cycle. As soon as you see your dog beginning a compulsive behavior, redirect their attention with food, a toy, praise, or a game. If your dog has been trained and knows tricks, you can ask them to sit, lie down, or shake when the behavior begins.

  • Provide stimulation: Physical and mental stimulation offers an outlet for your dog’s normal dog energy. Enough stimulation reduces stress and tires your dog out so they don’t feel inclined to perform compulsive behaviors. Give your dog plenty of exercise, provide interesting puzzle toys, and take part in interactive games. Obedience classes, doggy playtime, and agility training are other great activities for channeling your dog’s energy.

  • Desensitize and Countercondition: If your dog’s compulsive behaviors are triggered by a specific fear or situation, these two treatments used in conjunction can help. Exposing your dog to the trigger and then providing a reward -- such as a tasty treat or favorite toy -- can modify your dog’s association with the thing that causes them stress. This combination of treatment can be complicated and is usually best handled by an expert such as an Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), or Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB). Referrals for these types of experts can be sought through your veterinarian, and you can also view a list of CAABs and ACAABs at CertifiedAnimalBehavrioist.com.

  • No punishment or praise:Never punish your dog for engaging in the obsessive behavior. These behaviors are the result of stress, and punishing your dog may cause them to feel even more anxious. Never offer attention or praise for these behaviors either. Your dog may associate the behavior with the attention, and the compulsion could get worse. Instead, wait until your dog is not performing the behavior, and then offer praise.

Recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for dogs is possible, but remember that it won’t be immediate. Have patience with your dog and seek help from your veterinarian.

More on Dog Behavior

Top 10 Dog Training Tips
Diets to Treat Cat and Dog Stress
Training an Older Dog

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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