This video of a dog biting his own leg has been a hit with television and internet audiences, but if you watch closely, it’s actually an alarming example of obsessive dog behaviors that should not be left untreated.
The dog in this video is resource guarding to an extreme degree, obsessing over his bone so much that he mistakenly perceives his own foot as a threat:
It’s a little frustrating to hear the family laugh about something so serious, but I can relate. My own dog attacks his own leg sometimes.
Radar is a runty little rescue who came to me with a long list of obsessive habits: chewing; licking; panting; pacing; food guarding; toy hoarding; you name it, Radar has done it.
During our first year together, I was overwhelmed by his behavior, and I admit, sometimes I even thought it was funny. But with time and training, I came to know better: there’s nothing funny about obsessive behavior in dogs. Here’s what you need to know about getting your dog help. First off, some helpful tools to combat a dog’s anxiety include:
- Crate training
- Basic obedience training
- ThunderShirt or other pressure wrap
- A regular, loving dog sitter or walker
- Sentry calming collar
- Rescue remedy or aromatherapy
- Puzzle toys like the tricky treat ball
- Long-lasting chews like antler chews or a KONG
How to Spot Obsessive Behavior in Your Dog
There is a difference between a ball-motivated dog, and a dog with a true compulsion.
According to researchers Caroline Hewson and Andrew Luescher, quoted in Whole Dog Journal, “Compulsive behaviors seem abnormal because they are displayed out of context and are often repetitive, exaggerated, or sustained.” So if your dog gets excited about the tennis ball at the park but can chill out when you get home, she’s probably okay. But if she lives, breathes, and eats tennis ball to an alarming degree, and becomes difficult to distract when the fuzzy yellow beast is out, it may be an obsession.
The nine most common obsessive behaviors in dogs include:
- Spinning or tail chasing
- Persistent barking
- Toy fixation
- Air licking or biting.
- Surface licking
- Pica. The dog picks up and chews or eats non-food objects.
- Light and shadow chasing.
- Self-licking, scratching, or chewing
What Causes Obsessive Behavior
Obsessive dog behaviors generally arise out of anxiety or discomfort, and, smart, high-energy dogs tend to develop compulsive behaviors most often.
Compulsions are typically related to one of the following causes:
- Physical injury or discomfort
- Environmental stressors
- Imbalances in the brain, or by cognitive dysfunction brought on by age
One thing most obsessive dogs have in common? Stress. Repetitive, unwanted behavior results from a dog in some kind of distress, even if it’s just a lack of stimulation.
How to Help
If left untreated, compulsive behavior in dogs can lead to lasting physical, emotional, and behavioral issues. Thankfully, once you identify your dog’s obsession, there are many things you can do to help.
- Visit the vet. If your dog is exhibiting any of the above-mentioned obsessive behaviors, you should consult your vet immediately in case there is a physical cause.
- Keep them away from triggers. This may mean no more tennis balls in the house, or crating your dog to give them a safe, quiet “den” to relax in.
- Keep them active. Give your dog at least half an hour of hard exercise every day, and throw in a couple 10-minute training sessions throughout the day. Try puzzle toys and tough chews, too.
- Consult a trainer for more help.
In my experience, the most frustrating obsessive behaviors can be treated with time, training, and attention. Radar still likes to carry my things around in his mouth sometimes, but these days he’ll “drop it” when asked, and shift his attention elsewhere. He’ll always be a high-energy, high-strung little guy, but with his obsessive behavior under control, we’re both a lot happier and more relaxed!
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Top image via Flickr.com/photobyaaron