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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.



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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Submitted by sbt lover | May 10 2011 |

I have a 3 year old staffordshire bull terrier. She licks the washing machine. At first we thought she did it out of stress but it also happends after eating (shouldn't she be realed then?). This happens a few times a week, but no more often than once a day. Now we have a "quiet time" from licking after another dog was introduced into our family (2 weeks). Was that ccd or just trying to get rid of stress?? We tried to get rid of this behaviour by giving her a stuffed kong and it worked.

BTW - great article, I always look forward to new articles on Bark.

Submitted by Lisa | May 11 2011 |

Has anyone ever explored the possibility that some of these behaviours (e.g., the tail spinning) have a physical cause?

Since dogs cannot tell us about their physical symptoms, is it possible that the tail-spinning is actually triggered by an unreacheable itch, pain, muscle spasm, etc.?

I've witnessed my Shar Pei dog suddenly sit up and stiffen, then try in vain to reach her head back to her tail to deal with an itch. When I go to her and scratch her back legs, she seems to get relief and appreciates it tremendously.

However, if the physical symptom is ongoing or chronic, and the dog cannot obtain any relief because it cannot reach the spot, perhaps this could cause the same sort of behaviour as is described in the article?

Has anyone with a "spinning" dog ever tried massaging or scratching their dog's hind end or tail to see if it stops the spinning?

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