Can dogs really suffer from OCD?
The answer is yes dogs can suffer from compulsive disorders (OCD)!
In dogs’ compulsive disorders are displayed just like OCD in humans – A normal behavior done to an excessive degree. They will display a normal behavior, such as digging, but while other dogs stop after some time, a dog with compulsive disorder will continue to dig and dig and it is not possible for them to stop.
The behavior might also be displayed in scenarios not common for that specific behavior. A compulsive behavior starts as a normal behavior performed under a stressful situation and that gives the dog a relieve from the stress, he/she feels. To find a release from the stress is normal, the problem arises when the dog cannot stop doing that behavior. The reward for doing the stress relieving behavior is so strong that the dog wants to do it again and again, until it becomes ritualized and repetitive.
The most common behaviors that can turn into compulsive disorders are licking, digging, spinning, tail chasing and barking. Some breeds are more disposed to develop compulsive behaviors then others. Bull terriers and German Shepherds have a higher disposition for developing tail chasing. Labrador retrievers can display oral compulsive behaviors like pica (a dog picks up something in his/her mouth and eats it) and Doberman pinchers are known for flank sucking.
Compulsive behaviors can often lead to severe damage on your dog. A dog can dig until his paws draw blood, or lick or bite on his tail until there is a wound or skin infection. Some might even need an amputation due to the severe damage.
What can you do to help your OCD dog?
- CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a compulsive disorder, then the first thing you need to do is contact your veterinarian. The veterinarian will give a thorough medical exam to make sure that your dog is not suffering from anything else before giving your dog a compulsive disorder diagnoses. Having a compulsive disorder is highly stressful for your dog and you might need medical help until you learn how to work with a dog with compulsive disorder. In severe cases your dog might have to stay on the medicine throughout his/her life.
2. CONTACT AN ETHOLOGIST
After you have gotten the diagnosis and help from your vet you need to contact a certified behaviorist (Ethologist). He/She will help you make a plan for how to help you and your dog to best work with the compulsive disorder.
3. REMOVE ALL TRIGGERS
The next step you need to take is to remove all possible triggers for your dog’s compulsive disorder. This is important to minimize the risk of triggering the compulsive behavior and thereby making it easier to help your dog to stop performing it. The behaviorist and you should also look at what happens right before your dog goes into his compulsive behavior and what might be the underlying emotions for that.
4. CREATE A ROUTINE.
Dogs with compulsive disorders have a higher tendency to stress and need even more structure and set routines then normal dogs. They thrive best when they can foresee what will happen next and that will keep their stress level down. Increased stress will often trigger the compulsive disorder more.
5. MAKE AN ENRICHMENT SCHEDULE
Then you need to set up a well-balanced enrichment schedule for your dog. It is important not to overstimulate a dog with tendencies to compulsive behaviors, but you also need to enrich their minds in order to get them tired so the need of performing the behavior is not triggered more due to excess energy (frustration). It is a fine balance that is very individual for each dog, which is why it is so important to work with a professional.
6. TEACH YOUR DOG COPING MECHANISMS
Once your dog goes into his compulsive behavior it can be nearly impossible to stop them without force which is why you need to teach your dog other coping mechanisms to use when he/she feels stressed. These coping mechanisms could be, instead of licking or biting my tail I can take my teddy and hold it in my mouth, or instead of digging, I can find a stick and play fetch with my human.