by Amber Drake

Correcting Obsessive Behavior in Dogs

Correcting Obsessive Behavior in Dogs

Humans and dogs have a lot in common, but this isn’t always a good thing. In this case, we’re talking about obsessive behaviors. That’s right! Like us, our dogs have a handful of obsessive behaviors that could affect their mental and physical wellness. 

The good news is that we’ve found ways to help both humans and dogs with these issues. For the purposes of today’s discussion, we’ll focus on dogs, though. Let’s get started! 

What Causes Obsessive Dog Behavior

It's important to understand why dogs develop obsessive behaviors so you can address them properly. There usually isn't just one cause, but a few combined. Factors could include stress, environmental issues, and physical health problems. 

Diving Deeper into Stress

Think about how you feel when you’re stressed. Let’s say you just had a horrendously long day at work and it seems like one day just flows into the next. Are you more likely to wander around freely enjoying the day? 

Or– are you like me and target something to obsess over and keep your mind distracted? Our dogs are similar. Dogs who are constantly stressed might start repeating certain actions as a way to cope with how they’re feeling. 

Lack of Mental and Physical Exercise

A lack of mental and physical stimulation can also lead to obsessive behaviors, as dogs use these behaviors to release built-up energy and engage their minds. Medical conditions like allergies, neurological disorders, or hormonal imbalances could lead to these behaviors, so it's crucial to get these checked by a vet before moving on to the behavioral side of things.

It Could Be Genetics

Genetics could be the cause of your dog’s obsessive behavior. Some breeds, due to their genetic traits, are more likely to develop certain compulsions. For example, Doberman Pinschers might engage in flank sucking, which is often caused by both anxiety and genetics. Another breed, the Mini Schnauzer, may chase imaginary flies, another action linked to their genetic makeup.

If your dog’s behavior seems abnormally repetitive, take a dive into peer-reviewed research on your dog’s breed. 

Canine Acral Lick Dermatitis

Acral lick dermatitis, also known as lick granuloma, is a skin lesion that results from excessive licking and chewing, commonly seen in breeds such as Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers. This compulsive behavior can stem from various factors, including but not limited to skin allergies, joint pain, anxiety, boredom, and even gastrointestinal issues. 

Skin Allergies

Dogs with undiagnosed skin allergies may lick excessively in an attempt to soothe the discomfort, leading to the development of this condition. ‘Acral’ refers to the extremities– this means this condition is physically located on your dog’s legs (or other extremities). Most commonly, dogs chew on their lower legs with this ailment.

Lack of Stimulation

Dogs require mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom and the subsequent development of compulsive behaviors like excessive licking. Lack of exercise, social interaction, and engaging activities may lead a dog to fixate on licking as a way to self-soothe or alleviate stress. Addressing the root cause of the behavior, whether it's a medical issue, anxiety, or environmental factors, is crucial in effectively managing acral lick dermatitis in dogs.

Veterinary Treatment

In addition to addressing underlying medical conditions, traditional veterinary treatment for acral lick dermatitis focuses on providing relief from pain and itchiness, which may involve the use of long-term antibiotics, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory medications. Preventing access to the affected area is also vital to allow the skin to heal properly and break the cycle of compulsive licking.

How to Help Your Dog with Obsessive Behaviors

Managing obsessive behaviors in dogs requires an approach that relies heavily on understanding the dog's needs, environmental factors, and the possible underlying causes of the behaviors. Redirecting the dog's attention to more positive activities, like playing or training exercises, can be an effective way to reduce your dog’s obsessive episodes. 

Let’s use a dog who is obsessed with his tail as an example. Dogs who are obsessed with chasing their tails may benefit from being taught to fetch a ball instead. This not only diverts the dog's focus but also satisfies their need for physical activity and mental stimulation. 

Teaching incompatible behaviors is a key part of managing a dog's issues effectively. This involves training the dog to do something that stops them from engaging in their obsessive behavior. For example, teaching a dog to sit or lie down can prevent them from spinning. This way, dogs can learn different, healthier ways to handle stress or boredom.

Adding Structure for Feelings of Safety

Creating a structured environment with clear routines and a designated "settle-down" area can really help with canine compulsive disorders. This setup provides stability and predictability, which can calm anxious dogs. Having a regular routine reduces uncertainty that might trigger stress-related behaviors, while a quiet area for resting offers a safe place for the dog to unwind.

For dogs that show increased obsessive behaviors during meals, like obsessive licking, having a set feeding schedule and using feeding puzzles can help shift their focus and ease stress related to eating. Consistently applying these strategies can help manage and even lessen obsessive behaviors. This will improve the dog's quality of life and strengthen the bond with their owners. 

Supporting Mental Health by Nourishing the Gut 

Probiotics, like S. boulardii found in Daily Dog, can be helpful for dogs with obsessive behaviors by supporting their gut health, which is closely linked to their overall well-being and behavior. Here’s how probiotics might help:

Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis refers to the communication pathway between the gut and the brain. Probiotics can influence this pathway by encouraging balance within your dog’s body. In a healthy dog, the good and bad bacteria have a special balance. 

This special balance can affect your dog’s mood, behavior, and overall well-being. A healthier gut can lead to improved production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, often called the "feel-good" hormone, which can help reduce anxiety and stress in dogs.

Immune System Support

A weakened immune system can lead to frequent health issues, including continuous illness and inflammation. This can harm a dog's overall health and increase their risk of getting sick. Probiotics are important for supporting gut health, which is closely connected to the immune system. 

By keeping the gut microbiome balanced, probiotics boost the immune system, helping the body fight off infections and lessen inflammation. This not only reduces how often dogs get sick, but also helps them recover quicker when they do.

Overall Health is Improved with Probiotics

By improving digestion and nutrient absorption, probiotics help ensure that dogs receive the full nutritional benefits of their food, which is essential for their overall health. Healthier dogs are generally happier and more balanced, which can reduce obsessive behaviors.

How CBD Can Help with Anxiety and Obsessive Behaviors

CBD (cannabidiol) has gained attention for its potential benefits in managing anxiety and obsessive behaviors in dogs. Here’s how CBD treats, like Canine Cush, could help manage your dog’s behavior:

Reducing Anxiety

CBD is believed to interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps regulate mood, stress, and pain perception. By influencing the ECS, CBD may help reduce anxiety levels in dogs, which can be a trigger for obsessive behaviors. This calming effect can make dogs less likely to engage in repetitive and compulsive actions.

Neurological Support

Research has found that cannabidiol may offer neuroprotective properties, thereby supporting nerve and brain health. In fact, it’s thought to be so effective that the United States government has a patent on cannabis for its neuroprotective and antioxidant properties. This is important because, by supporting brain health, anxiety can be calmed resulting in decreased obsessive behavior. 

Anti-Inflammatory Effects 

Inflammation can contribute to discomfort or pain, which could make your dog’s behavior even worse. At times, pain or general discomfort could even be the cause of the behavior.  CBD promotes normal inflammatory pathways encouraging the body to heal naturally. 

Improving Sleep 

Cannabidiol promotes homeostasis (AKA-balance) which, in addition to helping every other part of the body and mind, can also help regulate sleep patterns, which can be beneficial for anxious dogs. Better sleep can improve overall mood and reduce anxiety levels, leading to fewer anxiety-driven behaviors.

Combined Efforts Result in a Healthier Dog

A weak immune system in dogs can cause frequent illness and inflammation which could lead to a handful of mental and physical health problems, including obsessive behaviors. Probiotics help improve gut health, boosting the immune system to fight infections and lower inflammation, leading to fewer illnesses and quicker recovery. 

Using probiotics with CBD treats and behavior modification techniques can holistically improve a dog's health and behavior, effectively reducing obsessive behavior problems in our pups.

Read More: 

Repetitive Behaviors in Cats and Dogs: Are They Really a Sign of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD)?

An Interdisciplinary Approach for Compulsive Behavior in Dogs

A Critical Review of the Evidence for the Equivalence of Canine and Human Compulsions

The Impact of Feeding Cannabidiol (CBD) on Canine Response to a Noise-Induced Fear Response Test

Gut-Brain Axis Impact on Canine Anxiety Disorders

Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

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