Canine Compulsive Behavior


Dogs sometimes bark, chase their tails, pace and dig holes in the backyard. But when ordinary behaviors become repetitive and borders on frantic activity, it can add up to canine compulsive disorder (CCD).

This behavior frequently manifests itself in dogs that are stressed out, anxious, and nervous. The problem is this compulsive activity can be destructive to inanimate objects, property, and the good neighbor policy. Perplexed owners struggle with a high-strung dog, but have no idea what is wrong or how to remedy this troubling behavior.

The onset of the repetitive behaviors can be gradual or sudden in nature depending on what prompted the behavior in the first place. An example of that anxious behavior might be coming home to a house that looks as if a tornado has ripped through the building. Dogs that are home alone can be anxious and upset about being left behind.


A compulsive disorder is a part of a dog's genetic make-up. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in conjunction with other medical universities, recently identified a gene on canine chromosome 7 that confers a high risk of compulsive disorder susceptibility in breeds bearing that gene.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to compulsive behavior that seems to run in those particular breed lines. At-risk breeds include German Shepherds, Dobermans, Border collies, Jack Russell terriers, Great Danes, Retrievers and English Bull-Terriers.

Once a dog has been identified as carrying the CDH2 gene, it will become easier to manage their compulsive disorder with a glutamate blocker similar to the treatment used to help people with OCD.

This is great news for dog owners. The chromosome 7 finding will lead to the development of genetic tests that will enable earlier intervention, treatment or prevention of compulsive disorders in at-risk canines. Conscientious breeders will also benefit when they are able to avoid adding that chromosome to their bloodlines.


All underlying medical causes must first be ruled out, controlled, or resolved. Your veterinarian will want to do a complete work-up in order to eliminate a possible medical condition. Some abnormal activities to watch for include running in circles or patterns, chasing lights, or chasing their tails. Other signs include licking, eating dirt, feces or other non-food items, and snapping at imaginary flies.


If you are dealing with over-the-top barking, tail chasing or a dog that loves to dig holes in the backyard, one thing you can do immediately is step up your dog's activity level. Take your dog on long walks, romps in the park or jump on a hiking trail with your dog or play fetch. All of these interactions also you’re your dog to you and help lessen anxiety.

Provide stimulating toys that will reduce his predisposition to perform compulsive behaviors. A tired dog is a happy dog, and a dog that won't have enough nervous energy to waste on compulsive behavior.


The earlier the intervention in a dog's life with anti-anxiety medication and behavior modification, the better the prognosis. Compulsive behaviors can be managed by you and your veterinarian, leaving you and your dog a happier pair.

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