Canine obsessive compulsive disorder how to spot it and how to treat it

Published: 15th June 2009
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Does your dog exhibit repetitive and quirky behaviour such as chasing it's tail, biting the air, or licking parts of it's body constantly? If the answer is yes, then your dogs behaviour may be a result of an anxiety condition known as Canine Compulsive Disorder. This article looks at the condition known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in relation to dogs, how to detect it and, how best to help your dog overcome this potentially debilitating behaviour.

It is estimated that around 2% of the American dog population are living with Canine Compulsive Disorder. The root cause for this condition will vary with each individual dog, however, boredom , stress and anxiety are the usual factors associated with OCD. Dogs that have developed phobias, or who experience separation anxiety for example, can often divert their stressful feelings by behaving in ways that can become repetitive. If left unchecked, these repetitive behaviours can become more deep rooted and, could eventually lead to the dog developing a 'true' obsessive compulsive condition.

Not all dogs develop OCD due to boredom or stress however, it has been found that some breeds are more predisposed to developing compulsive behaviours due to their genetic make up; in fact, many researches suggest that irresponsible breeding is a primary cause of the condition in some pure bred dogs. Dobermans, German Shepherds, Dalmations, and some Bull Terrier breeds are a few examples. Obsessive behaviours which seem to be common within each of these breeds are tail chasing or spinning in German Shepherds and Bull Terriers, and obsessive licking in Dobermans.

Obsessive behaviours that are typical of this condition in dogs include the following:

Spinning in circles Tail chasing Snapping at the air Constant licking of various parts of the body Obsessively mouthing toys Freezing Incessant or rhythmic barking Self mutilation

Not all obsessive behaviours are easy to detect for example, a dog harmlessly chewing a toy for long peiods of time may seem normal enough and no cause for concern, however, the behaviour may have an underlying stress related cause.

Treatment for this condition should begin with a thorough examination of the dog, so as to rule out any possible medical cause. This type of examination is best carried out by a veternarian who specialises in diagnosing and treating this kind of behavioural problem, if possible. Once it has been established that OCD is the cause of the dogs obsessive behaviour, appropriate treatment can begin.

The usual method of treatment involves combining drug and behavioural therapy. The types of drugs used to treat Canine Compulsive Disorder, are similar to those used in the treatment of OCD in humans. Behavioural therapies include reward based training used to reinforce more desirable behaviours, desensitisation techniques designed to gradually decrease the the dogs state of arousal in stressful situations, and techniques that involve creating an alternative and stimulating routine for the dog to follow.

As with all behavioural problems it is important to treat causes rather than symptoms, therefore, understanding and patience will be called for, as you learn more about your pets problem and it's cause. It is important to understand that punishment is not only an inappropriate way to deal with a dog who has little or no control over it's behaviour, moreover, punishment in many cases will have the effect of making the problem worse.


I have had a keen interest in canine behaviour and training since the late 1980's. I have studied successfully for several qualifications relating to canine psychology, care and behaviour, up to degree level. I now live in France with my French Bulldog Hilton. Please visit my blog for more free information.

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