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The Problem of OCD in Dogs
You may already know a human who has OCD, but did you know dogs can have it too? OCD is an abbreviation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental condition that causes a dog to engage in compulsive, repetitive, or ritualistic behaviors, which are often annoying and sometimes destructive. These may include repetitive barking, chasing their tail, repeatedly licking an area of their body, or even compulsively eating their own feces. Not surprisingly, this can create a great deal of tension between dog and owner. Curing dogs with OCD can be a challenge, but there are ways to curb these behaviors - so that owner and dog can again live in harmony.
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Curing Dogs with OCD: Eliminate Stress First
Sometimes a dog engages in obsessive-compulsive behavior because they live in a stressful environment. Even if they’re not, stress can make the symptoms worse. Try to identify factors that could be causing your dog to be anxious or fearful. These may include introducing a new pet or person in the household, living in a noisy household, a recent move, or other changes in your dog’s regular routine. Dogs thrive on familiarity and routine.
When curing dogs with OCD, stress reduction techniques such as massage, regular walks, and playtime can help to reduce ritualistic behavior. Try playing ball with your dog, taking regular outdoor hikes together, or visiting a doggy day care center or park for recreation. This helps to calm a dog, reduce boredom, and release excess energy that could be channeled into OCD behavior.
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Behavioral Modification for Dogs with OCD
Behavioral modification is the most effective technique for curing dogs with OCD. The best way to approach this is to enroll your dog in a behavioral modification class – or even an obedience class. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a good instructor for your dog.
At home, it’s important not to unknowingly reinforce ritualistic or repetitive behaviors, and never use punishment. Punishing a dog will only heighten his stress level and create fear. This never solves the problems – and can make them worse. A good behavioral modification class for dogs will teach you more appropriate techniques for dealing with “bad behaviors".
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Curing Dogs with OCD: Are Medications the Answer?
A small number of dogs don’t respond to behavioral therapy and other measures to stop their compulsive behaviors. In this situation, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. Sometimes medical problems or pain cause a dog to have OCD-like behaviors. It’s important to get your canine friend a clean bill of health.
There are medications that can be used to treat OCD in dogs. These medications are similar to ones used in humans and cause changes in the level of brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and behavior. While these medications aren’t a cure for OCD in dogs - sometimes they’re the only option if the problem is severe. Only use them when other methods fail to give your canine best friend some relief since these medications have side effects.
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Dogs with OCD: The Bottom Line?
Curing dogs with OCD is a challenge, but there’s help available from a dog therapist and your vet. With a little patience and effort, you can get your dog back on track.
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Steven R. Lindsay. Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training. Wiley, Blackwell Publishers. 2000.
Science Daily website. “Purdue Veterinarian Studies Compulsive Behavior In Dogs"