Does your puppy or dog have OCD?
Does your puppy or dog have OCD? Do you suffer from a canine obsessive-compulsive disorder? If they have the urge to unconsciously perform repetitive, self-compensating and inappropriate behaviors, such as chasing shadows / lights, tail chasing, flicking flies, barking, sucking, chewing, fixating on certain objects, and spinning excessively, then the answer is resounding. Yes!
Something in your head, usually due to medical problems, boredom, inappropriate learned play, injury, anxiety, lack of socialization, excessive energy, lack of direction / training, excessive confinement / tethering, neglect or abuse triggers the stimuli. This, in turn, causes a trance like lack of self-control and a total fixation on the object of your obsession.
Certain breeds, for example Bull Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, have inherited certain canine OCD behaviors. Bulldogs and German Shepherds often chase their tails. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have an inherent button that causes flies to land on imaginary flies. There are Dobermans that are known to suck the flank.
Puppies and dogs that have been leashed or caged for extended hours often find ways to have fun. Some learn to bark, chew, suck, or lick incessantly. Others learn to spin, run in circles, chase their tails, or bite real or imagined insects.
In most cases, the animal has learned that this behavior gets its attention. For a dog’s way of thinking, that’s a good thing.
Sometimes we are the cause of this inappropriate behavior. An example is the use of flashlights and laser pointers. Many exasperated owners have unknowingly created their own monster, using them as game items. They have literally “trained” your dog to respond to certain stimuli.
Puppies and dogs rescued or adopted from shelters, sadly unable to sit down, and over a cup of coffee they chat with you about the problems of their previous life. This is where you may need to do what dog trainers know how to do, when called to modify a behavior; observed. Take care of your animal. Know their behaviors. Find out what can trigger that particular OCD behavior. Dogs usually warn us. You have to learn to read them. They can often, and do, in their own way, let us know if they have been neglected or abused. Watch for the signs. They may include: OCD behaviors, non-tenderness, inability to bond, anxiety, fear, assertion / aggression, shyness, and cowering.
Discover the root of the problem
First, make sure there are no medical reasons. Once you and your vet have ruled out parasites, allergies, infections, injuries, vision problems, epilepsy, or other neurological problems, you can move on to other suspicious sources.
Puppies and dogs sometimes become obsessed with a new injury or procedure, such as spaying or spaying, with excessive licking. If that’s happening, distract and redirect your attention to something else, BEFORE it becomes OCD behavior.
Honestly consider whether you may have unknowingly caused the problem. Did you encourage your puppy to chase his tail or bark for attention?
Did you use a flashlight, laser pointer, or other object to encourage your dog to chase shadows or rays of light? Dogs are predators … most like to chase anything that moves.
Is your pet caged or leashed for a long time? Do you have anything for fun or positive mental stimulation during that time of confinement?
Do you unknowingly reward your dog when he slips into inappropriate behavior? Laughing or yelling at them encourages you by paying attention to them. You need to distract, redirect, zoom out, and ignore. Most will follow you.
Does it provide enough mental stimulation and physical exercise? What kinds of games do you play with your dog? Do you inadvertently reward inappropriate behaviors?
Are you taking your dog for a walk? Most of the bonding with a puppy or dog is done during walks. Walking your dog teaches you a lot about your pet.
Is your dog socialized? Often times, dogs with socialization problems have learned to occupy their time and energy with inappropriate behaviors. You will find that many suffer from separation problems and anxiety.
Do you personally interact with your dog? Or do you just throw them out into the backyard alone? Left to their own devices, the dogs will find some way to amuse themselves.
Tips to help your dog
When possible, identify and eliminate the object of obsession.
Then distract and redirect your attention. Correct them immediately when you see them slide into their OCD behavior. Use a marker with no reward. That’s any sound that draws her attention to focus on you, not her obsession. We used convincingly the “Hey!” or the command “Leave it!” with a slap or two. Tell them “Concentrate!” and point your index finger to their eyes. Congratulate and / or reward them for their approach. You have distracted them and redirected their focus. Don’t say another word, walk away immediately and ignore them. Dogs hate being ignored. Most will follow you. Fortunately, dogs are not geared towards multitasking. They can only focus on one thing at a time. Make that focus on you or redirect their attention to an appropriate object.
Another distracting and redirecting tip is to use the no-reward marker, have your dog focus on you, and give him a command, such as “Sit!” or “Down!” Again, they cannot do two things at the same time. The goal is for you to control the situation BEFORE you slip into your OCD behavior.
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Keep them busy and physically disabled. A tired dog is a good dog!
Stimulate them mentally. Find games like hiding a candy or its croquette and interact with them to find it; Like the Hot and Cold game you played as a kid. They are using their brains, interacting with you, and having fun!
Positive reinforcement! Praise them whenever their behavior is appropriate. Dogs learn by association. They will associate that appropriate behavior brings great rewards, primarily attention.
Enroll in an obedience class or Puppy Kindergarten without punishment and with positive reinforcement. Helps bond, teaches leadership skills, and also socializes your puppy or dog.
Find an activity that you and your dog can enjoy together. Flyball, agility, or rally competitions are great ways to have fun, work on training, and get plenty of exercise.
Give your dog a job. Dogs love being needed. Interesting is the number of dogs that eagerly go into working dog mode when given a job. Try wearing a backpack when you go for a walk. It’s like giving them a uniform! Some dogs accept them immediately, others need a little time to adjust. You can weigh it down with a couple cans of soup to make them work harder on that hike.
Bottom line: behavior modification takes time, patience, and consistency. Years ago, a stray lab puppy appeared on our doorstep that was a fly snapper. He had no intention of leaving! We knew nothing of his history. However, we noticed that every time he got anxious he would bite imaginary flies. By keeping him happy, busy, focused, and tired, his OCD behavior eventually disappeared.