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
- 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
- Shadow or light chasing A dog chases shadows or
- 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
- 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.