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Luescher also recalls a particular Miniature Schnauzer who was both licking an inner thigh and staring at the ceiling. Owner punishment precipitated the behavior. The added difficulty with punishment is that when owners are inconsistent, it adds even more stress than when they are consistent. Says Luescher, “If you don’t have consistent rules, the dog can never figure the rules out.Everyone wants to be successful and control life, to bring about good things and avoid bad things. If they don’t have this ability, they can go into a state of learned helplessness.”

 

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog’s Behavior?

Both Moon-Fanelli and Luescher stress that dogs who exhibit spinning or other compulsive behaviors for short periods of time aren’t necessarily abnormal. But if a behavior such as spinning starts occurring outside of its original context, or for more than a minute per bout, or 3 to 10 minutes per day, then the dog should be evaluated for a compulsive disorder. This is especially so if the behavior occurs out of sight of the owner. If the behavior occurs primarily in the owner’s presence, it may be an attentionseeking activity rather than a compulsive disorder.

 

Unfortunately, most people wait until the behavior significantly disrupts family life—when the dog chases lights for hours, spins and can’t be interrupted, or chews his tail until he has a wound. This delay makes the disorder much more difficult and sometimes impossible to treat successfully.Consequently, it is better to err on the side of caution and consult with a veterinary behaviorist or applied animal behaviorist early on to determine whether your pet has a compulsive disorder and to rule out other disorders.An early diagnosis can prevent the owner from accidentally strengthening the behavior by rewarding it with attention or increasing the anxiety through punishment.Additionally, it’s best not to encourage repetitive spinning or chasing of laser-lights and shadows—the potential long-term consequences outweigh the momentary amusement.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 46: Jan/Feb 2008

Sophia Yin, DVM, is an applied animal behaviorist. A long-time The Bark contributing editor, she is also the author of two behavior books.

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