Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
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.
What to Do About Your Dog’s Compulsive Behavior
Treating compulsive disorders can prove challenging because compulsions can result from both learned behavior and chemical imbalances in the brain. The standard treatment approach involves a combination of behavior modification and drug therapy. If possible, all situations that trigger a dog’s compulsive behavior should be avoided or counterconditioned. Additionally, drastic increases in mental and physical stimulation can help.
Identify and Remove the Problem
Identify stressful things or situations that seem to trigger your dog’s compulsive behavior. If you’re able to identify triggers and remove them, you can greatly reduce your dog’s stress level. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid or get rid of the thing or situation that seems to upset your dog. For example, if your dog is anxious during thunderstorms, you certainly can’t keep those from happening! If you can’t remove stressful triggers, you’ll need to do some training to help your dog feel differently about whatever’s causing his anxiety. You can accomplish this goal by using a procedure called desensitization and counterconditioning (DSCC).
Train Your Dog
If you use methods based on positive reinforcement (rewarding your dog for behaviors you like so that they happen more often), teaching your dog some useful obedience skills will strengthen the relationship between the two of you. It will also provide an opportunity for you to interact with your dog in a positive way. To learn more about dog training, please see our article, Training Your Dog. After you’ve taught your dog a few useful skills, you can use them in your treatment plan. Read on to learn how.