Barry's Place
Dog Advice   People's Dogs   Having fun with Dog   Dog Accessories
Doglinks: HOME
Dogs & Kids Health & Welfare Travels with Charlie



back to Barry's Place

Canine stereotypy

My 4 y/o neutered aussie/spitz mix has developed some weird behavior... Kobe now has this behavior that appears that he is "hallucinating" bugs. This behavior happens mostly at night, but sometimes during the day. more.....

Kobe now has this behavior that appears that he is "hallucinating" bugs. This behavior happens mostly at night, but sometimes during the day. He will point his nose at the floor, or a specific spot on carpet or bed, and sniff around as if he's hunting a bug (which he does outdoors).

Sometimes he jumps up suddenly as if a bug has gotten on him. This can go on for an hour or more. He has started pacing at night, and when he lays finally lays down, he starts the "bug thing" all over again. It's exhausting me.

The past 2 nights Kobe has woken me at 2:30am and I haven't been back to sleep. Kobe also chews his right front paw, not 24/7, but in a way that seems OCD to me--not because its dirty or has a stone. I don't know what to do. I'm afraid Kobe will get worse and worse and have to be euthanized. Please help.

Hello, Mars.

I'm sorry to hear about all of Kobe's recent symptoms, but they do add up to a clear diagnosis. Kobe seems to have a version of what is called "canine stereotypy," or in more familiar human terms, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The other members who mentioned the Dodman book are correct--it is the same behavior described in one of the chapters of that book.

In a dog, a stereotypy consists of a set of movements that the dog compulsively repeats. The dog cannot help itself and it is often literally impossible for an owner to physically stop the routine. From you description, Kobe shows other signs that are often associated with this disorder. The paw chewing, technically called acral lick obsession or acral lick dermatitis, is a common stereotypy that develops mostly in larger breeds. The pacing is also a repetitive behavior and illustrates the anxiety that your dog is feeling. Kobe seems to have a variation of a stereotypy called "Fly Chasing" or "Fly Snapping." Dogs who fly chase seem to be seeing invisible flies in the air around them, and they will snap at nothing repeatedly, for many hours. (Other commonly seen stereotypies include Tail Chasing, also called Spinning, and Shadow or Light Chasing, in which dogs will seem as though they are desperately trying to "catch" reflections, shadows, or areas on the floor or walls that are illuminated by light.)

Very little was known about these disorders until recently. Now stereotypies are thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals or micro-seizures--small electrical disturbances in the dog's brain. Be assured that nothing you have done has caused this disorder--it is thought to be primarily genetic. (Particular types of stereotypy are actually more common in certain breeds.)

The bad news is training and behavioral conditioning have shown very little promise in reducing or eliminating stereotypies. Some work has been done on redirecting and rewarding the dog, and this seems to have helped a few dogs, although the improvement may be minor or only temporary. Canine stereotypies are best regarded as medical conditions, disorders which need medical treatment.

The better news is that there have been successes in treating stereotypies with medication, so if I were you, I would make an immediate appointment with a vet so he or she can observe Kobe. The problem, though, is that this is a new area for many vets, so it is probably best if you can find someone experienced in treating stereotypies. If you are near one and can afford it, the best care your dog will get will come from a behavioral clinic at one of the
veterinary schools that are associated with major universities such as Pennsylvania U, Cornell in New York, and Tufts which is near Boston and is where Nicholas Dodman, the author of the book that was mentioned, resides. But a local vet can still be a good first stop. He may be able to give Kobe some temporary medication that will reduce his symptoms, and he may be able to refer you to a larger clinic in your area where stereotypies are treated.

The other option is to find an Applied Animal Behaviorist. AAB's are not vets, but they specialize in behavioral problems such as this and can work in conjunction with a local vet to see that the proper medications are prescribed.

Some of the medications that may be used include anti-convulsants such as Klonopin, SSRI's such as Prozac, and possibly a tranquilizer. Often a combination of medications works best. If your dog is one of those who responds well to medication, you may be able to greatly decrease and possibly even eliminate his stereotypies for the cost of a bottle or two of medication each month. He would probably be on the medication for the rest of his life.

When a dog responds positively to medication, you may then have the opportunity to use training exercises and reward-based conditioning to further improve his condition.

You might want to do a web search for the words "canine stereotypy" or "stereotypy dog." You will find a lot of information on the web about the condition.

As a trainer, I have worked with a number of dogs with stereotypies, and your next step should definitely be to get to a vet ASAP.

If you have any questions and would like to contact me off-forum, please feel free! I know that this disorder can be very upsetting and
heartbreaking to watch.

Copyright © 2002 Barry McDonald


HOME | Pet Education | Working Dogs | Dog Sports | NZ Dog Trainers | K9Clubs/forums | Training Issues | Dog Problems
Health and Care | Food and Welfare | Things to do with dog | Woofer Pages | Lost & Wanted | Breeders | How to...
Pet Travel and Dog Sitters
| Kennels and Dog Friendly Motels | Dog-E-Biz | Add your site or event

Contact Us
© Doglinks 2002 - 2011