Canine compulsive disorders

Most people have heard of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) in humans. These are behaviors which are ritualistic in nature and are performed in a compulsory manner by individuals. Examples include repetitive hand washing, hair pulling and counting. In animals we can see similar behaviors. However, these behaviors are commonly referred to as Compulsive Disorders. The term Obsessive in people refer to the inability to stop certain thought patterns from occurring. Because we cannot verify that these thought patterns are occurring in animals, we simply use the term Compulsive.

  • Compulsive behaviors are thought to have some physiologic basis involving some type of neurotransmitter disturbance. Levels of these chemicals, which transmit nerve impulses in the brain across junctions between neurons, are believed to be deficient. As a result, most of the time various medications are utilized to alter these chemicals.
  • In addition, there is thought that some of these behaviors serve as attention seeking disorders. That is, they are performed by the animal because it results in increased attention from the pet owner involved. We see this when the behavior first is displayed and the pet owner's reaction is one of amusement. Later, when discipline takes the place of laughter, it is the punishment that the pet learns to view as the reinforcement to continue the behavior.
  • Treatment of most compulsive behaviors is based on not responding to the behavior by leaving the pet alone or, if possible, disrupting the behavior and substituting a competing behavior which is then positively reinforced. In addition, anti-depressant type drugs, such as Clomipramine (Anafranil or Clomicalm) or Fluoxetine (Prozac) are often utilized.

The descriptions of the following examples of Compulsive Disorders are meant to make you aware of the possible displays of these "stereotypical (repetitive) behaviors: 

Tail Chasing

Commonly seen in the Bull Terrier, Tail Chasing can occur in any breed. It can frequently begin with an injury to the tail resulting in the dog paying increased attention to the appendage. Owners then can reluctantly reinforce the behavior by talking soothingly, punishing or over all paying increasing attention to the behavior.

Flank Sucking

Common in Dobermans, this behavior involves the dog reaching around, grabbing the flank fold (fold of skin on the dog's side extending from the rear leg and groin area) in its mouth and sucking. The behavior can be done to the exclusion of other normal behaviors such as eating or play activity.

Shadow/Light Chasing

This is often seen as dogs or cats who chase shadows or lights across the walls of homes. Some behaviorists feel this is an extension of an animals inate need to be a predator. The behavior is again often reinforced and the pet performs the activity preferentially.

Fly Snapping

Seen as the animal snapping at imaginary objects around its head.