Column: How to control a really obsessed dog
Also called canine compulsive disorder and compulsive behavior disorder, OCDs have been defined by behavior researchers Drs. Andrew Luescher and Caroline Hewson as “behaviors that are usually brought on by conflict, but that are subsequently shown outside the original context … Compulsive behaviors seem abnormal because they are displayed out of context and are often repetitive, exaggerated, or sustained.”
Luescher, a veterinary behaviorist and director of Purdue University’s Animal Behavior Clinic, estimates that about one dog out of 50 suffers from canine compulsive disorder. Luescher and Hewson suggest that examples of environmental stressors that can trigger compulsive behaviors include:
• Physical restraints such as close confinement and chaining.
• Social conflicts that arise from competition for status, changes in social group or separation.
• An unpredictable or uncontrollable environment.
• A lack of target object for normal behavior. For example, a dog kept isolated has no normal outlet for its instinct to interact within a group, whether animal or human.
Common OCDs include behaviors such as spinning, tail chasing, fly snapping, shadow chasing, air licking, flank sucking, persistent barking, and “hallucinating.”
Despite the intriguing names for these behaviors, they are not fun for dogs or pet owners. In fact, they can make life pretty miserable, and are evidence that the dog is living in an environment that is too stressful.
WHAT TO DO
• Explore, rule out, or treat medical conditions that might contribute to stress including thyroid.
• Increase exercise on a consistent schedule. This is an important one. Not only does exercise use up energy that might otherwise feed OCD behaviors, but aerobic exercise promotes endorphin release, which has a calming effect.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
• Manage your dog’s world to maximize structure and consistency and minimize stress and the likelihood to will develop compulsive behaviors.
• Be on the lookout for any signs your dog is developing a compulsive disorder and address them immediately if they appear.
• Avoid engaging in behaviors with your dog that are likely to elicit compulsive disorder such as chasing a flashlight or laser beam, or reinforcing tail chasing.
• If your dog has an established obsessive compulsive disorder, seek the help of a qualified behavior professional, and realize that effective treatment will probably include the use of behavior modification drugs.
• There is a long list of things that can cause your dog stress, and also quite a few things that can be done to prevent the problem. More than can be listed in this space.