Ask the Trainer | Dogs can be obsessive compulsive |

Ask the Trainer | Dogs can be obsessive compulsive

Dear Carla,

We have a 2-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Charley who constantly chases his tail. This problem started about 6 months ago. Once he starts doing it, he will continue for quite a long time unless we interrupt him. My husband thinks it is funny, but I am worried about him. Should I be concerned and if so what can I do to stop him?

and#8212; Not Amused

Dear Not Amused,

I think you are right to be concerned. Dogs are subject to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) just like humans. OCD is a medical condition where a dog engages in normal canine activities in an abnormally repetitive, frantic and self-destructive manner. There are many OCD-type behaviors in dogs including, but not limited to, self-mutilation, compulsive shadow chasing and laser-pointer chasing. Fortunately, this condition can usually be controlled through behavior modification and possibly medication. You should consult with your veterinarian about the best course of treatment. They will want to rule out or treat any underlying medical problems first.

From a behavior perspective, I would start by trying to determine if there are specific triggers that lead to his tail chasing and eliminate them. Do visitors make him nervous? Do the kids come home after school and run around making lots of noise? It will help to keep his environment calm and predictable. Next, redirect Charley when he begins to chase his tail. Ask him to do something he knows well like and#8220;sitand#8221; or and#8220;lay down.and#8221; You will need to consistently interrupt the tail chasing so he can learn new behavior patterns. Jack Russelland#8217;s are infamous for their high energy level. When he chases his tail, play with him or take him out for a walk. Adequate daily exercise is very important.

The one thing you donand#8217;t want to do is punish a compulsive behavior. Punishment is not an effective form of treatment and can actually increase a dogand#8217;s level of arousal and anxiety, which in turn can make the symptoms worse. Punishment can also interfere with a dogand#8217;s ability to learn new, non-ritualistic behaviors successfully.

The behaviors associated with OCD almost always worsen without treatment, so the sooner you get started the better.

and#8212; Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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