Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out continued...
Distract and Redirect Your Dog’s Attention
As soon as your dog starts to engage in a compulsive behavior, distract him. Give him something else to do. You can use food, toys, play or praise. (However, if your dog is toy-fixated, avoid trying to distract him with another toy.) Try offering a food-filled puzzle toy, such as a KONG™ stuffed with peanut butter, or give your dog a rawhide to chew. You can also ask your dog to perform a previously learned behavior or trick that he can’t do at the same time as the compulsive behavior. For example, if your dog starts to spin or chase his tail, you can ask him to sit or lie down. If your dog starts to lick, you can ask him to shake or perform another trick instead. Sometimes this is enough to stop the compulsive cycle before it begins. Keep in mind that you need to teach your dog these new skills in advance, when he’s not stressed, before you can use them to distract him from performing a compulsive behavior. Once your dog reliably responds when you ask him to do something you’ve taught him in a stress-free environment, you can start to integrate that skill into his daily routine and use it whenever you see compulsive behavior begin.
Provide Plenty of “Jobs” for Your Dog to Do
Providing lots of physical and mental stimulation is a vital part of treating many behavior problems, especially compulsive disorders. Exercising your dog’s mind and body can greatly enrich his life, decrease stress and provide appropriate outlets for normal dog behaviors. Additionally, a physically and mentally tired dog doesn’t have much excess energy to engage in compulsive behaviors. To keep your dog busy and happy, try the following suggestions:
- Give your dog at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity (for example, running and swimming) every day-and at any time when he might encounter a stressful situation. This will help him relax and remain calm.
- Play fun, interactive games with your dog, such as fetch and tug-of-war. (If you’d like more information, please see our articles, Teaching Your Dog to Play Tug-of-War and Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch.)
- Take your dog on daily walks and outings. Take different routes and visit new places as often as possible so that he can experience novel smells and sights.
- If your dog likes other dogs, let him play off-leash with his canine buddies.
- Frequently provide food puzzle toys, like the KONG®, the Buster® Cube, the Tricky Treat™ Ball and the Tug-a-Jug™. (To learn more about how to use puzzle toys, please see our article, How to Stuff a KONG Toy.) You can feed your dog his meals in these toys or stuff them with a little peanut butter, cheese or yogurt. Also give your dog a variety of attractive edible and inedible chew things, especially during stressful times. Puzzle toys and chew items encourage chewing and licking, which have been shown to have a calming effect on dogs.
- Make your dog “hunt” his meals by hiding small piles of his kibble around your house or yard when you leave. Most dogs love this game!
- Enroll in a reward-based training class to increase your dog’s mental activity and enhance the bond between you and your dog. Contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) for group or private classes that can give you and your dog lots of great skills to learn and games to play together. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT in your area.
- Get involved in dog sports, such as agility, freestyle (dancing with your dog) or flyball.