A lot of seemingly charming and cute canine behavior may have a not-so-pleasant root cause. Shadow chasing, for example, is totally normal--unless it becomes so compulsive that your pup does it constantly, no matter what you do to tempt him away from the activity. If you notice that this is the case, don't dismiss it as being just a harmless little quirk. Shadow chasing in dogs can indicate something a bit more serious: compulsive behavior.
If you notice your doggie engaging in any behavior repetitively or obsessively, pay closer attention to it. Your dog may be exhibiting signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. When a dog seems to partake in a behavior with no obvious or easily understandable motive or outcome, it may be an urge that is beyond his control -- essentially a compulsion. Compulsive behaviors may vary in degrees of severity. In especially powerful cases, it may be tough to snap a dog out of the behavior while in progress.
Shadow chasing is a classic example of a compulsive behavior in doggies. If your dog incessantly chases after her own shadowy figure all night, to the point that it disrupts her life and perhaps even yours, compulsion may be at fault. According to the ASPCA, compulsive behaviors such as shadow chasing can be so damaging that they can even prevent dogs from going to sleep. Compulsion may lead to extreme fatigue in canines.
Compulsive behavior such as shadow chasing usually arises out of stress and anxiety issues in dogs. A dog who is cooped up in a small, cramped room all hours of the day may turn to shadow chasing. A dog who suffered extreme abuse in the past may also become compulsive. Whether due to intense household conflict or stress and loneliness due to a new baby's arrival, a dog may resort to shadow chasing as a means of coping with life feeling out of control and uncertain.
Other Compulsive Behaviors
Dogs may display compulsive behaviors in a variety of different ways. Apart from shadow chasing, other relatively common compulsive patterns in canines are spinning, running after lights, nonstop licking, tail chasing, fly snapping, circling, pacing, inordinate water drinking, consumption of inedible items, barking, digging and sucking of the region between the hips and the ribs. If your dog is participating in any of these behaviors obsessively, it may be a sign that something is seriously amiss, so take note.
You are certainly not helpless in handling a dog's shadow chasing compulsion. Promoting a dog's mental well-being and physical fitness may go a long way in curbing a compulsive habit, whether you encourage your pet to partake in a minimum of half an hour of aerobic activity a day or play brain-stimulating interactive puzzle games with him. From a simple and brisk walk around the park every night to encouraging your pet to hunt for hidden yummy treats around your house, do what you can to curb your dog's compulsions. A little extra love and attention also may work. If your dog's situation is especially serious, ask your veterinarian for recommendations of any qualified pet behaviorists near you.
By Naomi Millburn
The Merck Veterinary Manual: Behavioral Problems of Dogs
The Merck Veterinary Manual: Glossary of Behavioral Terms
ASPCA: Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
The Atlantic: Canine Compulsive Disorder Brings OCD Into Focus
About the Author
Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.