Obsessive / compulsive behavior are the terms used to describe a surprisingly common behavioral issue found in dogs as well as humans. More often than not this behavior has developed simply as a learned response from human or environmental inputs. The dog develops an associated obsession towards a part of its own body, or items within the dogs immediate environment as a response to these inputs. At first glance, some of these behaviors can appear amusing to humans, but often if not dealt with, can lead to self-harming and interfere with the dog's ability to function normally in its social environment, detracting from the dogs overall well being. In any case, provided that an underlying medical condition has been ruled out, effective behavior modification therapy can be employed with excellent results.
This behavior often develops in dogs who are stressed, anxious, or bored, and can be a very frustrating experience for the owner. These behaviors typically result in destruction of items within gardens, households and vehicles, angry neighbors, and sometimes uncontrollable aggression. Symptoms include: repetitive or hallucinogenic behaviors, relentless digging, scratching, continuous biting or licking their own paws, licking the air, ground licking, tail chasing, barking at nothing, and attacking or shying away from inanimate objects.
When boredom is the cause, it often presents as excessive digging, barking, tail chasing and pacing. In these situations, the first step to take is to increase your dog's activity level to discharge energy both mentally and physically. A tired dog is a content dog. Take simple measures such as increasing exercise, engaging in training activities, and providing interactive chew toys and recreation bones. Consider taking longer more interesting walks, and if you find your own busy schedule limits the time you have with your dog, then perhaps consider a doggy daycare or dog walking service. By expending your dog's energy through increased mental and physical exercise you not only ensure that your dog is happy and satisfied, but you also increase the bond you share with your dog, and perhaps even improve your own personal fitness along the way.
There are many other possible causes for compulsive disorders, in some cases, physical frame misalignment or an underlying medical issue may be a contributing factor. The behavior can also be influenced by your dog's genetic make-up. Certain breeds are pre-disposed to these behaviors, such as Dobermans, who are known to suck on their skin, German Shepherds, who are prone to chasing their own tails, and English Bull Terriers, who sometimes develop a habit of sticking their heads underneath objects.
There can be any number of underlying reasons contributing to obsessive behaviors. As with any serious dog behavioral issue, if in doubt consult an expert. The good news is that any learned behaviors can be un-learned under the guidance of an experienced dog trainer. Tom Zebrowitz with Bark Busters Atlanta is an expert on dog behavior, and has the expertise and know-how to diagnose the source of the issue and put the appropriate therapy in place to solve the problem.