Does Your Dog have OCD
Most of you are probably giggling right now; most dogs have OCD right?
Whereas I believe this is definitely the case to some degree, some dogs have major obsessive compulsive problems that their owners find difficult if not impossible to live with on a daily basis.
Some breeds are bred this way, it is supposed to help them with their work ability; but sometimes somewhere there is a misfire that causes problems in pet and even working homes.
A great herder is bred to another great worker and sometime you get obsessive herders. This obsessive herding gene then becomes a default whenever there is stress in the dogs life; and people end up with a dog biting at heals or chasing small animals, or even chasing lights and shadows.
I once had a friend that was a K9 officer with a well-known police department and he had a police dog that would work itself so hard and obsessively doing bite work that the dog would often cause its temperature to rise so high (when he was on a bite suit) it would cause him to pass out and have seizures.
Eventually the dog had to be retired because he was so obsessive he couldn’t be worked in the heat or for any length of time.
Great police dogs with high drive had been bred to other great police dogs with high drive and what resulted was at least one puppy who grew up and had too much drive and was unable to control himself and then was unable to work.
I often see this in the competition world, a dog that would tear the arm off of an offender; instead of just biting and holding on until the officer got there; these dogs could literally kill a person that is not safely tucked into a bite suit.
I even had a dog once that was obsessive over balls, especially if he couldn’t pick them up in his mouth; like the big hard plastic jolly balls. He would literally play until he about lost consciousness and had to be monitored if he was allowed to play with balls like this. Once he tore all the fur and flesh off his lips trying to bite a basketball.
Then I had a friend with a Jack Russell Terrier, she was also a professional trainer and had been for longer than me, and he had severe obsessive compulsive disorder chasing lights.
I think at first her kids thought it was funny and got a light pen and played with him. He would sit and stare for hours looking for the red light even when they weren’t playing with him. This interaction only built his drive for the light and made his behavior worse.
When they finally realized that the playing was making him worse, it was too late; even though they refused to play with the light pen he learned to reward and play with himself by chasing shadows from the sun.
This escalated the problem further.
He became almost unbearable to live with, and would hurl himself toward walls and windows in an attempt to catch the light and even hurt himself on a few occasions.
No matter how cute or funny you think the behavior is; it is important NOT to reward it.
If it is something like chasing a ball, you may have to deny your dog the ball or the ability to play a specific game or do a specific task.
Rewarding it conditions (for more on understanding conditioning behavior click here) the dog that the behavior is good, and the last thing you want is to perpetuate the bad behavior.
You also don’t want to get overly negative about it; corrections, compulsion, and pain can cause stress that can cause the behavior to get worse seemingly on its own. For more on how corrections and compulsion make behaviors worse click here.
But, you can’t always control light and shadows!
It then becomes about breaking the dog’s mindset and teaching him to do something else instead of becoming reactive to the stimulus.
This requires training him and giving him something active to do instead.
First she had to provide him with an excessive amount of exercise. He needed to be tired, too tired to want to chase light beams.
She also had to pull all the shades in the house for a few months. This made the dancing light beams and tree shadows harder for the dog to notice and enabled her to do some training during the day.
When she left him alone, he had to be crated, so he wouldn’t back slide and begin chasing light beams while they were gone or hurt himself.
She would put him in his crate with a great bone and then cover his crate with a blanket, like you would cover a bird.
Then she began teaching him a coping behavior.
A coping behavior needs to be something that engages the dog’s mind to the point that he really can’t think or obsess about anything else.
For instance; you can do a down stay or a sit and still obsess about lights and shadows. A sit, down, or stay is not something that requires a lot of extra brain power.
So she had to teach him complex obedience so he couldn’t perform the skills and still think about what he is obsessing over.
So she taught him to pick up his toys and put them into a basket.
Once he began to understand what retrieving meant, she then began to ask him to pick up his toys; which were often strung out throughout the house (she had several dogs).
Because she didn’t want him to retrieve “anything” he found like shoes or other things on the ground, she only rewarded him for picking up his toys.
The next step in the behavior chain was to have him put his toys into the toy box.
So once he had the toy and brought it to her for the reinforcement; she taught him to take the toy to the box and “drop it or spit it out (this is yet another behavior) into the box. Only then would he be rewarded.
If she wanted to make it even more difficult or to require more brain power she could also have named toys and taught him to find them by name more on that here.
This is why they spent a few months in a dark house living like vampires. This is a behavior chain that requires a lot of work and time, and brain power from him and introducing light and shadows too soon would make it almost impossible for him to learn.
Slowly she began to open the blinds in the house more and more and if he became distracted she would tell him to go and get his toys and put them away.
This gave him a coping behavior. Instead of focusing on the shadows, he could go and get his toys, put them in his toy box and get a treat or two. And she could always dump the toys back out if he needed to do his job and be distracted longer.
This was also a great way to get the house cleaned up!
If You Have a Dog with OCD
In some ways he needs to be desensitized (more on that here) and then refocused on other more complex behaviors.
This takes a lot of work and patience, but OCD is not an easy behavior to control or conquer in humans or animals!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.