Dogs with Obsessive- Compulsive Behaviors

Published: 12th March 2006
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The same tensions that occur in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder occur in dogs and Shih Tzu occasionally. Arising out of stress and conflict the obsessive-compulsive behaviors have some soothing effects on mood. Prevention of dogs from engaging in their particular compulsions can create anxiety in its own right.

There are two factors that seem to be necessary for the development of compulsive behaviors in dogs and Shih Tzu occasionally. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors are more often seen in the larger breed of dogs.

1. Genetic predisposition

2. Environmental stress that will trigger the expression of the behavior.

The stress can either be a sudden type of high-grade stress or a less severe long-standing pressure that causes a sudden or gradual onset of the condition. The behavior pattern that emerges will depend on the particular breed. In general, longhaired large breeds of dogs may over groom, herding breeds may chase or hoard and a pure predatory breed may bite, mouth or chase objects. In comparison to human obsessive-compulsive behaviors, a human may over groom by applying their lipstick over and over or continually rearranging their hair or even the hand washing ritual with the washing of the hands over and over again.

All the behaviors performed by compulsive canines are essentially normal behaviors. They are just performed over and over again and out of context. The same occurs with humans. There is nothing wrong with washing your hands repeatedly, but if you wash your hands several hundred times a day you have a problem. Psychiatrists treat the human problems on a case-by case basis. Veterinarians remain divided regarding the significance of canine overly expressed behaviors.

One of the big breakthroughs of canine obsessive-compulsive disorders came with the fairly wide acceptance in human medicine of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. These disorders are of a compulsive nature and have certain causal and physiological features in common. Basically, humans no longer have to be a hand washer, hoarder, or checker to have OCD relating to concerns over personal safety. Instead a more general description involving other repetitive behaviors as well is the most current theory. If susceptible humans under various forms of stress react by performing various compulsive behaviors related to their own species such as grooming, exercising, gathering, hunting, dogs are probably doing the same. Dogs are self-groomers, predators and imbibers, which are a few of their naturalistic behaviors that become obsessive with them. For example, when stressed, a dog may begin to groom themselves excessively, or they may drink water excessively.

Lick granuloma in the canine is equivalent to hand washing in the human. Affected dogs lick their wrists or hocks excessively, over-cleaning or over grooming themselves until the skin in these regions is ulcerated. For years, no one knew why dogs engaged in this pointless, mindless behavior. Now, veterinarians are seeing the OCD link and with this understanding are able to treat the condition much more effectively. Lick granuloma primarily affects larger breeds of dogs such as Labradors, golden retrievers, Great Danes and Dobermans. Individual susceptibility and environmental influences are also required for the full expression of the behavior. Affected animals are usually anxious, sensitive, and high-strung and may give an impression of a generalized anxiety disorder. Environmental factors include various stresses and conflict situations, including separation anxiety or boredom.

Fortunately, the disorder of obsession-compulsive behaviors is not very prevalent in our beloved Shih Tzu.

Connie Limon is a Shih Tzu breeder. She publishes a FREE weekly newsletter. Sign up at:

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