Compulsive Behaviours in Dogs

Compulsive disorders are typical behaviours that are exaggerations of normal dog behaviours that last for extended periods of time. These behaviours include ‘fly biting’ or snapping at the air, tail chasing, spinning, shadow chasing and excessive licking of surfaces or objects.

I have a Border Collie/Blue heeler mix with a very lively personality (She is constantly going and never slows down).  Over the past several summers she has started paying less attention to me and the commands I give her and more towards the sky, bugs and even pieces of debris that fly up from the fire pit. She aggressively snaps at things that fly by her face causing her teeth to come in contact very harshly. We were scared she would break a tooth or bite her tongue so hard it would become and emergency. We decided it was time to see our veterinarian for advice. The snapping was becoming more obsessive and was not allowing for her to live a normal, stress-free life.

It is possible for the compulsive behaviour to be a sign of seizures, this is why it is important to see a veterinarian when you notice odd behaviours in your pets. When Kaci had her examination we did blood work and discussed her other behaviours. The blood results came back normal and we came to the conclusion that it was obsessive and not another disorder.

Since we knew over time compulsive behaviors progress and get worse we wanted to try everything we could before giving her medication. We wanted to make sure she was getting enough exercise and stimulation. The vet suggested we take her on more walks, play with her more, and make sure she is always doing something. Kaci is known for always carrying a tennis ball around with her. She sleeps with them, goes on her walks with them, and usually places the one she has been carrying around all day in her food bowl while she eats. She goes on many walks a day with her dog sister Tessa and still constantly wants us to throw the ball. No amount of playing or activity stopped the fly snapping.

Dogs often start to perform the compulsive behavior with any stressful event, not just the original conflicting situation. The behavior can take over the dog’s life replacing normal sleep and feeding habits. It can cause injury to the dog as the impulse to perform the particular behavior becomes stronger and stronger. We did not want her biting her tongue while she was snapping the air so we took the next step of starting her on medication to help calm her down. The doctor had given her a clean bill of health by taking bloodwork and performing an exam. On top of the medication, she goes on daily walks and likes to play ball in the backyard with her sister. We also use Adaptil when we know a particularly stressful event is approaching.

The best thing that you can do for your dog if you suspect a compulsive disorder or if your dog repeatedly displays any behavior, even if it seems harmless now, is to seek help from your veterinarian. When compulsive behaviors are treated early and quickly the prognosis is much better than if they have progressed to a chronic state.


Written by Britney Ludwig, Client Care Specialist