Treatment of Compulsive Behaviors in Dogs

Treatment of Compulsive Behaviors in Dogs

By Christine D. Calder, DVM, DACVB
Calder Veterinary Behavior Services,

The treatment of compulsive behaviors in dogs can be a gradual process, and each dog responds differently. Treatment often requires a combination of management strategies, enrichment activities, learning new foundation behaviors through positive reinforcement training, relaxation exercises, behavior modification, and, in some cases, medication.

Foundation Behaviors:
Establishing a foundation of behaviors can help manage compulsive behaviors.
1.    Voluntary Eye Contact: Encourage your dog to make eye contact with you voluntarily by  capturing and reinforcing instances where it naturally looks at you.     

2.    Touch: Teach your dog to target their nose to your hand or a target stick. This behavior can redirect the dog’s focus and provide mental stimulation.
3.    Chin Rest: Teach your dog to rest its chin on your hand or a designated object, such as a chair or ottoman. This behavior promotes relaxation and can help shift its focus away from compulsive behaviors.

4.    Relaxation Exercises: Practice relaxation exercises with your dog, such as "relaxation on a mat " or Control Unleashed® "Take A Breath." These exercises help your dog learn to relax on cue and provide an alternative behavior to engage in instead of compulsive behaviors.

Behavior Modification Treatment Plan:
Developing a behavior modification treatment plan involves working with a qualified professional, such as a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer. The treatment plan should be tailored to the individual dog and address the underlying triggers and root cause for the compulsive behaviors. This may include desensitization and counter conditioning techniques, environmental management strategies, and implementing the learned foundation behaviors and relaxation exercises mentioned above. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key components of a successful behavior modification program.

Medication Choices:
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage compulsive behaviors in dogs. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine, or Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) such as clomipramine, are commonly used to help reduce anxiety and compulsive behaviors. These medications work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can help regulate behavior. However, medication should always be prescribed and closely monitored by a veterinarian to ensure safety and efficacy.

Regular monitoring and follow-up with a professional will help track progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

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