Studies & Research
Print|Text Size: ||
Spin Out
Canine compulsive disorder is no laughing matter


You've probably seen it on TV or on YouTube. Case One: A dog lies on the couch chewing a bone.His hind leg starts to twitch repetitively.He tenses up and stares back at it anxiously as though it’s an intruder sneaking up on his bone. His raises his lip, he growls. Then blam! He attacks his leg. Canned laughter. $100,000 prize winner, America’s Funniest Home Videos. Case Two: A Bull Terrier spins repetitively in the bathroom and then in the living room. “She loves to spin,” states the owner as she encourages the dog to spin more.“She’s spun around 40 times here.” Case Three: A long shadow of a human with outstretched arms fills empty white cement. In dives an Australian Cattle Dog, attacking the shadow’s hand as though it were the hoof of a lazy cow refusing to keep up with the herd.


Amusing? Perhaps. But if you are a veterinarian trained in behavior or an applied animal behaviorist, these descriptions fire up the warning sirens as they conjure images of similar cases in much more serious form.


“I had one client who had a Bull Terrier who would spin a little,” says Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli, a clinical assistant professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “The owner could easily stop the behavior by calling the dog and then redirecting him to a more appropriate behavior, so she didn’t really think much about it. She just let the dog spin unless it bothered her.” Unfortunately, when this owner went back to work after a number of years of being home, the dog started spinning more and more, and she could no longer stop him.“By this time, he was spinning several hours a day,” reports Moon-Fanelli. “He would spin until he collapsed. Then one night, she came home and the dog was a bleeding mess because he had chewed and ripped off parts of his tail.”


That is just one of many cases Moon- Fanelli has had. One of her earlier cases was even worse. “I saw a dog named Jake belonging to a young couple in New York City. The dog was spinning nonstop for 80 percent of his waking hours. His pads were raw and he was a rack of bones from not eating and then burning calories off. He would get aggressive if you tried to restrain him. They couldn’t even take him for walks because he would spin.He wasn’t a companion anymore.” She isn’t the only behaviorist who has seen such cases.


Dr. Mami Irimajiri, a lecturer at Kitasato University in Japan who studied the effects of drug therapy in treating these disorders while she was earning her PhD at Purdue University, describes one of her cases: “I had an interesting cat patient during my veterinary behavior residency at the University of Georgia. This cat would attack her tail whenever she saw it moving. She was about one year old and had been doing this for about four weeks when she presented to us. She would growl and then attack her tail and bite it. Then she would scream from the pain and run away.”


Dr. Andrew Luescher, director of Purdue’s Animal Behavior Clinic, describes yet another case. “I had one dog that fixated on objects to the point that he could not drink anymore.” Irimajiri, a former graduate student of Luescher’s, elaborates, “The dog would jump into any object he saw.He would see his food and then try to pounce on it or see his water bowl and try to pounce into it. The owner had to feed the dog by hand and give him water by water bottle.”


Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Tufts University Animal Behavior Clinic, describes a similar case. “I saw one dog that was obsessed about his tin bowl.He would only eat if the little bowl was right next to his food. If you took it away he would not eat. It turns out he used to be a rock chewer and then moved to a new house with no rocks. The owners gave him a tin bowl to replace his rocks. The dog was so obsessed with the bowl that he would chew on the bowl whenever he wasn’t eating out of it.”


Some people might consider similar behavior in their own pets to be simply odd behaviors—stupid pet tricks, if you will. But if the signs were to progress to the life-disrupting or life-threatening stages described previously, a mental health disorder might pop up on the owner’s radar. In fact, in each of the previously described cases, the dogs were diagnosed with Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD).


What Is CCD?




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

Remembering Dr. Sophia Yin

More From The Bark

Karen B. London
Karen B. London
Janis Bradley
More in Studies & Research:
Studying Human Behavior in Dog Agility
Smell You Later
Moms Affect Guide Dog Success
How Dogs Are Helping Researchers Cure Color Blindness
Baby Face: The Allure of Cute Dogs
Breeds and Behavior
Genetics of Canine Personality Traits
Interpreting Canine Body Language
It Matters Where Your Dog Came From
First Dog Breeders