Tuesday , 12 December 2017

Ask A Trainer: Can Dogs Have OCD?

Q:   Is there such a thing as Doggie OCD?  My 3 lb Chihuahua is OBSESSED with Fetch, but only with one specific toy. A little yellow plushie ducky. Can a dog have an unhealthy obssive relationship with a toy? You can read the full story here: http://www.montrealdogblog.com/2898

He’s a very eager fetch player. While I understand that he sleeps a large period of the day, and I readily acknowledge this is positive exercise for him and bonding time for us, I question just how focused, how very very obsessed he is with this one toy. We only stop to play when I hide the toy. He will play as long as I play with him. There really does appear to be some deeper connection he has to the Duckie and I wonder should I just play along (pun indented) or should I try and regiment and and limit “Duckie time”?

Must have Duckie, must have Duckie...


Shawn and Santiago

A:  Thanks for writing in with such a great question!  I read your blog post regarding Santi and his special Duckie, with much amusement, as it can seem quite comical!  Regarding your questions though, as to whether a dog can have OCD or an unhealthy relationship with a toy, my answer to both of those questions would have to be a yes.

OCD in dogs is a medical condition where a normal canine behavior is performed over and over again, sometimes becoming frantic, to the point where it becomes abnormal.  For example, it’s very normal for a dog to groom and lick itself, but it’s abnormal for a dog to keep licking his elbows or knees until they are raw and inflamed.  A lot of canine behaviors can become unhealthy, if done ritualistically, and too often.

Acts like barking, digging, scratching, licking, pacing, circling, tail chasing, fence running, flank sucking and chewing are all normal accepted behaviors in a dog.  But all of these behaviors can be overdone, and can be symptoms of possible OCD if there are out of context, and out of control.

Most OCD behaviors also have a destructive side to them as well.  To either the dog itself, or to other objects.  When this happens, you may see open sores, hair loss, bleeding, or items that have been destroyed.

While I am not a vet, I think that your Santi has more of an obsessive behavioral problem, rather than a medical problem, such as OCD.  But I do advise speaking to your vet about it, just in case, to at least rule it out.

Now on to the behavioral side of things.  Yes, dogs can become obsessive.  With their toys, their food, their sleeping place, and their people.  They can pretty much focus on anything. Like the symptoms of OCD, many of these behaviors start out as normal, but graduate into a full blown obsession, which is not healthy for the well being, or mind of the dog.

When I read your post, I couldn’t help but wonder what you’ll do when whatever company makes the duckies stops making them. It reminded me of parents I know who stock up on their child’s favorite pacifiers and/or toys and blankets, to always ensure that their child will always have whatever security items they favor, and that keeps them calm.  You seem to be doing the same with Santi and his Duckie.  Though do you believe that Santi’s Duckie actually calms him, or excite him?  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, obsessive behavior is never calm.

And there always comes the time in a child’s life where their blankie, or pacifier, or thumb has to make way for newer things.  It’s an expected, healthy step in a child’s development.

So, do I think that Santi should learn how to live life without Duckie?  Do I think that he should be weaned off of Duckie?  I know that what Santi is engaging in isn’t hurting anyone. It is not destructive, and can even sometimes seem quite comical.  But I don’t think that an obsessive behavior is good for his mental well being.

Duckie has almost become his security blanket, and where most dogs learn to self soothe, just as children do, I get the feeling that Santi hasn’t learned how to do that, especially given his past.  Seeing as Santiago is a puppy mill rescue dog, we also have to keep in mind that he most likely engaged in some type of obsessive behavior while in those horrible conditions, to keep himself sane.  It may have been barking, pacing, circling, I am not sure which…but had had to have done something while being cooped up in a tiny cage, with no stimulation, as a way to deal with it.

But I do think that it would be a good idea to limit Duckie time, and perhaps even start weaning Santiago from his beloved Duckie.  If you do still play with him with Duckie, make sure that you end the game before he starts becoming frantic.  Try playing with him with other toys.  Ones where he plays normally.  Once you eliminate Duckie, you’ll need to keep in mind that getting rid of the toy might not get rid of the problem, as Duckie wasn’t the problem, Santi’s obsessive behavior was.

Some obsessive behaviors also arise from anxiety and pent up frustration.  I gather that he doesn’t get daily walks, and that he is litter trained, which is fine, especially when it’s cold out, but it sounds like he needs more mental and physical stimulation that relaxes him, not excites him.  Evan daily two 10 minute walks will help!  You will need to give Santi another outlet for his energies, with walks, games and challenges.  Basic obedience is an awesome way to help dogs work.  It builds self confidence, which can be lacking is some obsessive dogs, and gives them direction as well as purpose.

I know that it might be hard for you, helping Santi wean off of Duckie, but I honestly believe that it would be for the better.  I know that you can do it, and I know that Santiago will be happier off in the long run, for it!

Good luck and happy training!


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  1. Thanks for your reply.

    Yes, on his next visit to the Vet I’ll bring it up.

    Actually, since sending in the question I’ve greatly limited his time with Duckie. It’s been almost a month with none at all. All his other countless plushie toys have remained available. He initially would play with only 2 other toys -by the same maker and so have the same size and feel, although different colours. And when the activity returned of the obsessive repetition and the desperate sounding whining they too were removed.

    I’m pleased to report that now he will choose a different toy each day, even swapping toys during Fetch. But once the frantic whining and the insistence, an almost tantrum like display begins, that particular toy is removed.

    Also he now has a step-sister, as my partner adopted a Chi-cross back in October. After a very slow introduction period (about 5 weeks… started with hour visits, to eventual full days, to overnight and then finally a full weekend, and alternating weekends at each house) some of his behaviours have changed and more noticeably this too has had a somewhat calming effect on him.

    I just can’t help but wonder what would happen if I bring you know who back out. I will I think I’ll just take a little more time.

    As for what I’ll do if the company ever goes out of business… I currently have Six. I bought one more last month for his 2 year Dogiversary (the day I adopted him) and he got one for Christmas. I admit it, I know I’m an enabler with this, my own Obsessive Behaviour. But I love this dog more than many people and what would i not do for him….

    I’ll keep you posted in this thread as to what the Vet eventually says, as well as how it goes when I bring Duckie out for a short play time visit in the weekens to come.

    Thanks again

    Shawn and Santi

  2. I am thrilled to hear that things are slowly coming around for Santi! Being with another calm dog is always a great thing, and Peanut is perfect! It might be a nice idea to keep said 6 Duckies all in a row, but in a closet, maybe for making memories….but to not bring them out to play.

    It sounds like you’ve been weaning Santi off of Duckie marvelously, keep up the great work! I just think that Santi will never forget Duckie, and that it might take a long time before Santi is able to NOT revert, or back pedal into his old obsessive behaviors with the toy. And we always want to set him up to succeed, so I think that keeping Duckie away would be the best thing, at least for quite some time.

    And I love how you love him so much, and would step in front of a train for him. That’s why I know he’s going to get over this, with your help and love!


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