Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) -- Dogs' quirky, unexplainable repetitive behaviors such as tail chasing, snapping the air and licking excessively can be part of an anxiety condition known as canine compulsive disorder.
"We estimate that 2 percent of the dog population has this condition, but with drug therapy and behavior modification they can be treated," Andrew Luescher, director of Purdue University's Animal Behavior Clinic, told UPI's Animal Tales.
"Canine compulsive disorder is when the behavior such as tail chasing occurs all day and behavioral problems make it difficult for the dog and its owner."
Luescher, one of only about 30 board-certified animal behaviorists in the country, explained in many cases canine compulsive disorder is caused by intense stress or conflict, or an illness.
Some dogs have a strong predisposition to compulsive behavior. German shepherds are prone to chase their tails, bull terriers tend to have problems with spinning and spaniels and terriers tend to bite.
"We had a German shepherd who chased his tail all day and it turns out his owner had moved and stored the dog in private storage for a week without water -- the stress on the dog was severe," Luescher said.
"The first step is to always have the animal examined by a veterinarian to rule out or treat a physical problem, said Daniel Q. Estep, a certified animal behaviorist with Animal Behavior Associates Inc. in Littleton, Colo. "We had two cases of dogs that stared into a corner of a room, it turns out they had 'floaters' in their eyes and they were staring at them," Estep told UPI's Animal Tales.
Because the disorder is already an anxiety-related problem, punishment is the worst thing to do because it increases the stress and anxiety making the behavior worse, according to Luescher.
"Behavior modification should always accompany pharmacological treatment for a behavioral problem, even regular behavioral problems such as aggression or separation anxiety," he said. "We use the drugs to allow us to work with the animal and though behavior modification we change the behavior -- then we wean them off the drugs -- the drugs don't cure anything. They just give us a window of time to work with the animal."
For a puppy, that window can be short -- just after their first set of shots at about 10 days until about 13 weeks, when socialization takes place. What happens then can determine a dog's behavior for the rest of its life, said Luescher. "Here at Purdue we run a 'puppy school' that lasts four weeks during that socialization period where the animal is exposed to a variety of people and things."
The puppy school brings together lots of different puppies and owners of different ages and races, along with their children, so the animals get used to different people, he explained.
"First there is free play where the puppies play together and this teaches them bite inhibition because if a puppy bites another the dog it will yelp and give a cold shoulder to the offender and the puppy learns that's not acceptable," Luescher said. "The puppies are handled a lot by different people and they are exposed to all kinds of things such as wheelchairs to familiarize them to objects."
Puppies at this stage are like toddlers, he said: fearless, inquisitive and ready to explore the world. The puppy starts getting more fearful at about eight weeks and frightened at 14 weeks.
"Later we introduce children's toys and play equipment like slides and tents, always luring them with an edible treat," Luescher said. "We grab them by the collar so they get used to that, too."
Although time spent socializing a puppy can avoid a host of behavioral problems later on, some behaviors can be genetic and some fears can exhibit later, such as a fear of thunderstorms.
"Cats are socialized from 2 weeks to 6 weeks and many shelters will not take feral cats -- abandoned pets that have kittens -- because they haven't had human contact," Estep said, adding behavioral problems such as separation anxiety can be treated in a similar way to humans.
"You have to motivate the animal to do what you want it to," Estep said. "You have to make it worthwhile for the dog."
Unfortunately, humans can be well-meaning but they can have bad instincts when it comes to animals.
"In separation anxiety, people have a tendency to do the worst thing, they want to make the dog feel better so they talk to it, pet it, they motivate it to react and then they slam the door in its face," Luescher said. "It's far better to leave the dog alone, give it a chew toy with some food in it so it has to concentrate on getting the food out and then leave quietly."
Aggression is often the result of fear -- fear of other animals, fear of people, fear of something unfamiliar, according to Luescher. "Types of behavior modification differ between each client, and range from creating a consistent, predictable environment to distracting the animal with exercise."
Owners can reduce stress in their dogs by taking them for daily walks. A dog having the run of a backyard is not the same as a walk because a dog's world is about what it can smell and while the backyard stays the same, the smells encountered on a walk change all the time.
"A dog is programmed to check out new things and if it doesn't have the opportunity the dog will be more anxious," Luescher advised. "The exercise also reduces stress."
Luescher and Estep agreed the biggest misconception people have about dogs is the "dominance theory" -- dogs having to be "top dog," to dominate over their owners.
"Dominance theory is written about in many dog books but there's nothing in the research to support this theory," Luescher said.
Estep explained that before World War II, most dogs lived outside; only after the war did dogs become indoor companions.
"Farms and Indian Reservations have always had the best socialized dogs because they have a complex environment -- they had the run of the place, they're around all kinds of people and they're never bored," Luescher said.
Today pets, like people, live in more stressful environments. Pets often are left alone all day, have less interaction with fewer people and often are housebound, which can contribute to bad or compulsive behaviors.
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