how to stop compulsive behavior in dogs

 Note: obsessive-compulsive behavior is a serious problem and, depending on the severity, can cause harm to the dog. For critical behavioral problems, a qualified behaviorist should work together with a veterinarian to resolve the problem.

The History Of The Kiwi

A strong desire to participate in a ball game when the ball is thrown, very far away from the dog, which can not stop chasing its tail, licking its feet or paws, spinning, flying, running with obstacles, biting (longing and eating non-food substances) or examining the buttocks are just some of the most common behaviors in OCD. The reality is that real canine compulsive behavior is a stressful existence for the dog, as well as for the whole family.

When I was living in Florida, a student came to me with a one-year-old shepherd dog named Kiwi. Even as a 9-week-old puppy, Kiwi had a habit of looking at shadows on the ground (and then pouncing on them). The family thought it was fun and started using a laser pen and a flashlight to encourage him to chase the rays of light. Almost immediately, the Kiwi was on high alert for shadows all day. His obsession caused him to stop eating and socializing with his human family. While walking, he threw himself into the shadows on the sidewalk with such force that his nose flooded. His family no longer thought it was fun, so they called me to assess the behavior.

During our first meeting, Kiwi was obsessed with the shadows on the floor, and when a ray of light reflected from his owner's watch passed through the room, Kiwi chased after him and crashed his head into the wall. The family was terribly upset that they had created this behavior, and they didn't understand why their friend's dog (a Labrador Retriever) was chasing a flashlight beam but didn't go as far as the Kiwi. I explained that sometimes there can be a hereditary component to the behavior and that there is a theory that high-energy dogs with intense attraction may be more prone to compulsive behavior. In addition, most veterinarians agree that one of the main causes of OCD is stress.

Get to the root of the problem

The first thing I did with my family got a full kiwi health checkup to rule out any illness that might cause stress (conditions like thyroid imbalance can do that). The kiwi tests returned to the normal range, and the vet noted that the dog's pads were worn and stripped, which I also noticed in my assessment.

I then asked for a seven-day log of everything Kiwi did and a list of everyone he interacted with to get an idea of his daily routine. What he really wanted to know was whether there were any stressors in his life that could have caused his behavior.

When I received the log, I was happy to see that there are many areas that can be improved. Starting with the fact that when the family left for work and school, Kiwi was alone on a big concrete run that he walked up and down all day (causing his pads to be worn out and covered in layers). As if that stress wasn't enough, the chain-link race leaned on a neighbor's fence, with his dog running up and down it, and the Kiwi doing the same on his side. When the family returned home, he was fed, took a short walk, and returned to running, as everyone went to their sports training. This pattern was repeated from Monday to Friday, as well as on weekends when the family trained and played during the day. With this lifestyle, I can imagine that most people reading this are wondering why the family has a dog at all. Frustration, stress, and lack of human interaction certainly contributed to their behavior with OCD.

Stop the madness

The first thing I suggested was to hire a Kiwi dog walker instead of leaving him in the race. In addition, he wanted to be locked in the house (in a shadowless room with a closed drawer) when the family was not at home. Fortunately, he was trained with puppies and received positive feedback about his box. When the family was not at home, kiwis were stuffed for no more than three or four hours at a time. The dog owner came to walk and play with him for 45 minutes, at least three times a day. When the family was at home, the Kiwi had to be at home with them (under supervision), and the obedience commands we started to teach were reinforced and used at home.

That way, the Kiwi's mind won't be looking for shadows and light to haunt it. Instead, he would focus on what they wanted to focus on. Fortunately, the family supported all the changes.

My next suggestion was, in addition to continuing to attend obedience classes, to enroll Kiwi in an agility course at our local club.

The dog had reserves of energy and drive, and soon they moved on to participate in agility tests. And because it was a real sport, this sports family was very happy to be a part of it.

Rehabilitation of the Kiwi did not happen overnight. But because the family was committed to the end result - a happy, stress-free dog, they did everything they could to put it on the road to recovery, offering a good lesson to any owner who suspects OCD in their dog.


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