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How to Help Your Dog Avoid Canine Compulsive Disorder

By ToniShelbourne. | Dog Info

The term Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one we hear of in humans fairly frequently. People affected by this mental health condition experience frequent obsessive thoughts causing feelings of anxiety, disgust and unease. Sufferers act out certain actions over and over again, and it’s not just humans, dogs can exhibit OCD too. Scientists mainly refer to repetitive behaviours in dogs as Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD).

Behaviours seen include:

  • Light chasing
  • Fly snapping
  • Tail spinning
  • Licking or sucking
  • Persistent barking
  • Pacing & spinning
  • Pica
  • Toy or object fixation
  • Polyphagia or polydipsia(eating or drinking obsessively)
  • Hallucinations (seeming to stare into space or having bouts of sudden fearfulness with no known cause)

Whatever compulsive behaviour your dog is showing, it is distressing for all concerned and best dealt with as soon as you realise a neurotic disposition is developing. You may have to turn detective to work out why your dog is demonstrating a compulsive action. There could be any number of reasons, but once understood, there are techniques you can use to help manage and overcome the condition.

Your first task in helping your dog is to talk to your veterinary surgeon. Many health conditions cause CCD like symptoms; focal seizures, pain issues, hypothyroidism, gut imbalances and food intolerances are just some of the reasons why dogs might display unusual behaviours. A study on dogs who obsessively licked surfaces by the University of Montréal Veterinary Teaching Hospital showed that 74% of dogs studied had gastrointestinal disorders. Over half showed significant improvement or stopped the licking altogether once treated.

If your dog is given a clean bill of health, then next let’s turn to psychological cause i.e. is your dog’s emotional state the source of the compulsive behaviour. Many dogs suffer from anxiety and numerous dogs endure boredom, spending hours alone without appropriate levels of physical or mental stimulation. Others live with conflict in their lives, forced to share their space with animals or even people who scare them. We need to check every aspect of our dog’s life and meet his or her physical, mental and emotional needs in order to start changing the behaviour.

Neurological problems in the brain can also be a factor if no emotional or physical cause can be found and your dog lives a full and content life. Some research has been conducted to determine a cause of CCD and there are several theories. There is some evidence to suggest that abnormalities in the brain similar to humans with OCD could be the cause of flank sucking behaviour in Dobermann Pinschers. Another study conducted on tail chasing in Bull Terriers also produced an interesting hypothesis. Right at the end of the study in the discussion section, although they concluded that the probable cause was CCD or partial seizures, they suggested that it also showed similarities to human autism. This was based on the dogs often being asocial, withdrawn, preoccupied with objects and had a tendency towards explosive aggressive incidents and trance-like states. Although we can’t yet confirm dogs suffer from autism, we can say they display autistic-like symptoms. In both cases, much more research needs to be done

Once you pinpoint the root cause, you can start to plan for change. There are many management tools you can utilise while you work through a behaviour programme, and a number of positive training methods you can make use of; these include Tellington TTouch Training to reduce stress and seeking the help of a holistic vet who can recommend useful supplements. There are veterinary drugs which can be prescribed but research has shown that behaviour programmes are still needed to bring about change, the use of the drug alone will not cure the problem. Personally, I always prefer to go down the non-drug path first and find the source of the CCD before treating. 

Whichever compulsive behaviour your dog is displaying, he or she can be helped.

You just need to find the right support, so do seek professional assistance from a certified behaviourist and a Tellington TTouch Practitioner. 

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toni shelbourneToni Shelbourne

Animal Behaviourist, Tellington TTouch Practitioner, Real Dog Yoga Instructor & Author

Toni has worked with domesticated and wild canids since 1989. After a long and successful career with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, she started her own business as a Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner. She is now one of the highest qualified Practitioners in the UK. In 2001 her skills in TTouch took Toni to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust were she meet a pack of socialised wolves. She went on to work with them for over a decade as a Senior Wolf Handler and Education Officer for the organisation. In more recent years, Toni has gone on to become a Real Dog Yoga Instructor, (Visit to find out more) and updated her qualifications in behaviour with the International School of Psychology and Behaviour, for which she is also an affiliate. She is now a full member of The Association of INTO Dogs as a certified canine behaviourist. She teaches all over the UK and abroad, works with clients' one to one, and writes. Toni lives in Oxfordshire, England with her husband and their dog MrP. 

Over the last two decades, Toni has been developing her writing. She spent two years editing and writing features for Wolf Print, the UK Wolf Conservation Trust's international magazine. She went on to write for national dog magazines, rescue society newsletters and blogs. Her first and second book, The Truth about Wolves & Dogs, (Hubble and Hattie 2012) and Among the Wolves (Hubble and Hattie 2015) have been a great success. Her latest writing collaboration with co-author Karen Bush sees a series of books entitled HELP! My Dog is…. Titles include, HELP! My Dog's Scared of Fireworks, HELP! My Dog doesn't Travel Well in the Car, HELP! My Dog is Destroying the Garden and HELP! My Dog has a Canine Compulsive Disorder. All are available in paperback and eBook format on Amazon. Toni and Karen have many more titles planned under the banner of Skinny Dog Books – named as they both own sighthounds and the books are small and concise. Visit for more details about Toni, her work and books. Facebook: Twitter: @tonishelbourne


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