Obsession refers to thoughts; compulsion, to actions. Together, they're a clinical illness. Whether dogs suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder is unclear. But when your dog spins or chases his tail endlessly, paces or runs along a fence nonstop, fixates on a toy or grooms to the point of self-mutilation, he's displaying compulsive behavior that may be borne of obsessive thinking. At any rate, you can stop this bothersome behavior.
Visit Your Vet
If you observe your dog engaging in compulsive behavior that you cannot stop, take him to your veterinarian, who likely will order blood tests and a complete physical examination. Compulsive behavior sometimes runs in family lines. Your vet needs to determine whether the behavior is resulting from a disease or a physical cause. For example, excessive grooming could be caused by a disease that causes itchy skin rather than by a mental disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, if indeed animals can have it. If she rules out a medical disease, your vet might prescribe an anti-anxiety medication such as a serotonin enhancer.
Try Behavior Modification
The sooner you start behavior modification after noticing symptoms the better. Your vet might recommend an animal behavior specialist. You can find one through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Modification techniques typically involve teaching your dog to relax and substituting a more desirable behavior for the compulsive one. You might instruct a circling dog to lie down, for example.
Exercise Your Dog
Many obsessive or compulsive dog behaviors are from pent-up energy. Dogs who spend too much time in crates might spin, for instance. Dogs left alone in a fenced-in yard all day might run the boundary for hours. Dogs that do this are anxious or frustrated, or have suppressed energy, according to Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. Take your dog for a 30-minute walk, jog with him or play a long game of chase, fetch or tug-of-war daily.
Monitor Your Dog
Once you know that your dog tends to go into an obsessive or compulsive state, watch for signs of it recurring. If your dog is an excessive groomer, for example, stop him as soon as he starts the behavior by distracting him. Give him something else to do, such as enjoy a puzzle toy that you stuff with food such as peanut butter or kibble. Or give him commands to distract him, such as "down," "stay," "shake" or any other commands he knows.
NIH Public Access: The Mouse Who Couldn't Stop Washing -- Pathologic Grooming in Animals and Humans
petMD: Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders in Dogs
Cesar's Way: Dealing With Obsessive Dog Behaviors
WebMD: Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers: The Scoop
About the Author
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.