What Is Compulsive Behavior?
Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans, compulsive behavior in dogs is characterized by a constant repetition of behaviors that are not appropriate at that point in time and do not serve a clear purpose. The majority of the commonly displayed compulsive behaviors, called stereotypies, in dogs are things that are appropriate for them to do in other situations, with less frequency, or in a less exaggerated manner. These compulsive behaviors are commonly associated with stress, frustration, and overstimulation.
Some common compulsive behaviors include flank and blanket sucking in Doberman Pinschers.
Why Is Knowing About Compulsive Behavior Important?
Many of the behaviors that dogs with compulsive disorders display can lead to medical conditions or stem from medical conditions. Excessive licking of the legs and feet can cause acral lick dermatitis or sores on the tongue. Self-mutilation can cause severe trauma, excessive drinking can cause electrolyte imbalances or induce vomiting. Even less apparently harmful behaviors are a cause for concern, given that compulsive behaviors can be an attempt to reduce stress. The regular appearance of these behaviors indicates that the dog is experiencing some degree of discomfort, emotionally or physically.
Does It Require Medical Care?
Yes. If you suspect that your dog has compulsive behaviors, contact your veterinarian. Since many of the behaviors that become compulsive can serve a practical purpose or occur as a response to something humans may be unaware of, it is important to consult a veterinarian to rule out potential underlying causes. Pharmacological treatment has been shown to be effective in reducing the frequency of compulsive behaviors, and should be discussed with a veterinarian as a possible avenue of treatment.
Taking a behavior log is a great way to objectively determine if your dog is doing a behavior too much or too often. Click below for a free, downloadable Behavior Log. This log would be great to take to your veterinarian!
How Do You Know If A Dog Displays Compulsive Behaviors?
These are some of the behaviors to track if your dog displays them and you're concerned. They are some of the behaviors associated with compulsive disorders in dogs:
shadow and light chasing
With the exception of self-mutilation, none of these behaviors are abnormal when they occur at appropriate times or with acceptable frequency. A behavior is only compulsive if a dog displays it frequently, consistently, and for durations at times when it is not appropriate or functional. Remember, any behavior can be compulsive if it happens out of context, too frequently, and/or for too much time.
What Should You Do First?
The first step when dealing with compulsive behaviors is to rule out potential underlying causes with the assistance of a veterinarian, as many of these behaviors could be the result of medical conditions. Excessive drinking can be a sign of kidney issues. Excessive self-licking, chewing, and flea biting could indicate an unrelated skin issue or allergy. Excessive vocalization can indicate pain or other behavior concerns. Spinning can indicate an inner ear or neurological issues. Once underlying causes have been ruled out, it is important to work with both a veterinarian and a canine behavior specialist to address the behaviors in question.
d’Angelo, D., Sacchettino, L., Carpentieri, R., Avallone, L., Gatta, C., & Napolitano, F. (2022, February 3). An interdisciplinary approach for compulsive behavior in dogs: A case report. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2022.801636/full
Frank, D. (2013). Repetitive behaviors in cats and dogs: are they really a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)? The Canadian Veterinary Journal = La Revue Veterinaire Canadienne, 54(2), 129–131. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552586/#:~:text=Examples%20of%20listed%20compulsive%20disorders
Lindell, E., Horwitz, D., & Landsberg, G. (n.d.). Compulsive disorders in dogs: VCA Animal Hospital: VCA Animal Hospitals. VCA. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/compulsive-disorders-in-dogs
Meyers, H. (2023, December 29). OCD in dogs: Can it happen?. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-dog-behavior/
Henton, L. (2023, July 6). Recognizing compulsive disorders in dogs and cats. Texas A&M Today. https://today.tamu.edu/2023/07/06/recognizing-compulsive-disorders-in-dogs-and-cats/
Canine compulsive behavior. AKC Canine Health Foundation. (2010, August 30). https://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/canine-compulsive-behavior.html