Tail chasing, barking, spinning, snapping at imaginary flies -- these are just a few of the behaviors that dogs suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders might engage in. Dogs acting that way for short periods are perfectly normal. It crosses the line into OCD when they can't seem to stop, affecting their health and mental state.
Obsessive Compulsive Behavior
While OCD might occur because of separation anxiety or dogs left alone too much, it's often a genetic issue. A gene on canine chromosome 7 is linked to OCD in dogs born with that particular gene, according to the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation. Most OCD behaviors start between the ages of 1 and 2 years, growing more severe over time without intervention. Dogs starting to display these types of behaviors after the age of 6 might actually suffer from cognitive dysfunction, rather than OCD. Other common OCD behaviors include constant pacing; shadow chasing; eating non-foods, or pica; licking an object or surface, such as the floor; staring; obsessive playing with a specific toy; and constant water drinking. Don't assume certain behaviors are evidence of OCD, such as licking or water drinking. Take your dog to the vet for a thorough examination to rule out a medical problem.
Since OCD has a genetic component, various dog breeds are affected, but their behavior differs. Doberman pinschers might compulsively suck their flanks, while bull terriers tend to spin. Golden and Labrador retrievers, Airedales, Weimaraners and Irish setters might lick their feet or other areas until granulomas -- rough, infected skin -- forms on the site. German shepherds frequently chase their tails. Jack Russell terriers and border collies might have more than one OCD habit. Both sexes are equally affected, but intact dogs have much higher rates of OCD than spayed or neutered animals.
Watching and trying to prevent OCD behaviors in your dog is nerve-wracking for you, but it's also unhealthy for Fido. Besides obvious problems like lick granulomas or pica, dogs with different forms of OCD might lose weight and experience sleep issues. Don't punish your dog physically for displaying any of these behaviors. That only increases his anxiety and exacerbates the problem.
Treatment depends on the specific behavior, after the vet rules out physical causes. A simple cheek swab from your dog sent to a genetics laboratory can identify whether your pet has the OCD gene. If so, your vet can prescribe medication to help the situation. Anti-anxiety drugs are another possibility. You might take your dog to a veterinary behaviorist, who can show you conditioning techniques to mitigate the OCD behaviors. The behavior might never completely stop, but it can become manageable. It also doesn't hurt to spend a lot of time with your dog in physical activities, taking long walks or going out on runs. Tired, happy dogs are less likely to display compulsive behaviors.
By Jane Meggitt
WebMD: Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Canine Compulsive Behavior
petMD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Dogs
The Atlantic: Study -- Canine Compulsive Disorder Brings OCD Into Focus
petMD: Acral Lick Granuloma -- A Dermatology Nightmare
PLOS One: Environmental Effects on Compulsive Tail Chasing in Dogs
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.