Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
Common Compulsive Behaviors
- Spinning Some dog spin in place and aren’t easily distracted when doing so.
- Pacing Some dogs walk or trot along a specific path in a fixed pattern. Pacing can be in a circle or in a straight line.
- Tail chasing A dog runs in a tight circle, as if chasing his tail. Tail chasing may include physical damage to the tail or just the motion of chasing it.
- Fly snapping Some dogs chomp at the air, as if they’re trying to catch imaginary flies.
- Barking Some dogs barks almost nonstop when there is no apparent trigger.
- Toy fixation Some dogs repeatedly pounce on, push, chew or toss a certain toy or toys in the air. Often the pattern of play is repetitive. This kind of compulsive behavior frequently occurs in a specific room, but a dog might engage in compulsive behavior with specific toys in any room.
- Shadow or light chasing A dog chases shadows or light.
- Self-Injurious chewing, licking or scratching Some dogs inflict injury to themselves through frequently chewing, licking or scratching some part of his body over and over. NOTE: Dogs who excessively or compulsively lick or chew themselves must be taken to a veterinarian to rule out physical causes, such as pain and itching.
- Flank sucking Some dogs suck on the fur or skin on their flanks (the area above the thigh).
- Licking surfaces or objects Some dogs frequently lick a surface or an object (for example, a spot on the floor or couch) over and over again.
- Excessive water drinking Some dogs repetitively drink water, even when they’re not thirsty.
Rule Out Medical Problems First
Underlying medical problems or other physical situations often create conditions that irritate dogs and can cause them to react with behavior that looks compulsive to pet parents. A dog with allergies, parasites, a skin condition or pain will lick or bite the affected area constantly. In addition to specific irritations, medical conditions that can affect your dog’s behavior include epilepsy, head injuries, bacterial or viral infections, and poor vision. In all of these situations, the underlying medical problem must be treated by a veterinarian before behavioral treatment will help.
Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out
A dog only barks excessively or shows evidence of self-injurious behavior or other compulsions when he’s left alone or separated from his owner. Please see our article, Separation Anxiety, for more information about this kind of behavior problem.
Age-related cognitive dysfunction can contribute to compulsive behavior. If he’s older (over six years of age) and performing compulsive behaviors, your dog might be suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Other symptoms of cognitive dysfunction include disorientation, a decrease in social interaction and forgetting previously learned behaviors. To learn more about cognitive dysfunction and other behavior problems commonly seen in older dogs, please see our article, Behavior Problems in Older Dogs.