Can my dog have an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

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Earlier this week on Facebook I had someone ask if dogs can get Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The answer is yes, unfortunately they can. As a counselor I worked with human cases of OCD due to emotional trauma and as a dog trainer I have also worked with many dogs with OCD at varying points in the spectrum. I’ve worked with dogs that chase lights, lick their owners obessively, spin in repetitve circles, bite their tails to the point that they have to have them amputated. For both human and animal this disorder can contribute to serious health problems and dramatically affect quality of life.

Obsessive Compulsive Order in dogs is recognized and defined as a potentially dangerous medical condition in which a dog engages in normal canine activities in an abnormally, repetitive, frantic and self-destructive manner – sometimes to the point of self-mutilation. Many dogs that develop OCD come from stressful environments, such as puppy mills. In others they have found that genetics plays a role. Experts have come to a consensus that affected animals should not be bred because of this genetic connection.

When clients come to me with a dog who they think has OCD one of the very first things I have them do before I come in for my consult is to take their dog and have him/her checked by their veterinarian. Diagnosing OCD involves ruling out other conditions, including diseases and other medical disorders that could contribute to the observed obsessive behaviors. The person who asked about OCD on Facebook reported that their dog always cried when she ate then would lick her leg repetitively afterward. I worked as a veterinary assistant for 7 years and saw quite a few autoimmune diseases that were very similar to what she was describing. So I recommended that she take her dog in to her veterinarian for a full work up before labeling OCD.

If you have taken your dog into the veterinarian and received the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder it is time to call a trainer. First a trainer will have you ensure that you have eliminated all of the environmental triggers that you can. Pet owners will then need to work very closely with their dogs veterinarian and the dog trainer since every dog is different. Different methods will be used to try and decrease and/or eliminate the behavior. However, in some dogs OCD will be a life long challenge, but the intensity can always be reduced. Some dogs respond well to distractions, others to an increase in an exercise routine, some respond better to alternative treatments such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, massage, etc. Also, some OCD dogs do much better if they are given a job such as a agility, fly ball, obedience, nose work, etc. I provide my clients with contact information for local trainers who offer these services while working in conjunction with me and their veterinarian. Dogs should never be punished for engaging in the behavior, this can actually exacerbate the symptoms and interfere with the dogs ability to learn new non-ritualistic behaviors successfully.

In some cases dogs with OCD will benefit from medications. In most cases the use of these drugs when combined with behavioral modification can be short term. Often times the use of medication depends on the intensity of the behavior. The dog that was chewing his tail off required both medication and behavioral intervention. Today he is doing quite well. He no longer takes medication, he occasionally attacks his tail but can be easily redirected to a more appropriate behavior.

As for the dog on Facebook I’m still waiting to hear what the final diagnosis is, but I am so glad she asked if dogs can get OCD because whether it is an autoimmune issue or OCD the sooner treatments are started the better the prognosis.

NOTE: OCD is a term in the veterinary world that also refers to a condition called osteochondritis dissecans. This is a completely different diagnosis from Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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To Crate or Not to Crate that is the Question?

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Last night we decided to allow Yukon our latest rescue pup to sleep outside of his crate. When we adopted him he was not potty trained and he is also a very big chewer. However, last night he was exhausted from a dog hike earlier in the day in which he rolled in horse poop which landed him a doggie bath. So he was sound asleep on a dog bed. We left his crate open just in case he decided to go in and left him sleeping on the dog bed. About 1am I heard a rustling, Yukon had awoken and panicked to get in the dog crate. In his panic he had shut the door to the crate and was trying to open it with his paw. I got up opened the gate and he settled into the crate and went back to sleep. I can only imagine he woke up, was not sure where he was and then fled to the safety of his crate. In hindsight perhaps we should have woken him an put him in his crate to avoid the panic. Yukon also has many fear issues.

I love crates. Almost every dog does wonderful in a crate. I strongly encourage crate training whether your pup is a puppy or an adult. Crates are a place where your dog can feel secure. If you have children they are also a place your dogs can go when you use the command “crate” and what I refer to as a success station. This is because crates set everyone up for success. They allow your dog to be a part of the family but also provide your dog with a safety zone. We have a 10 month old daughter and our crates are an area that she is not allowed to explore. We also, have a coonhound who has given up his crate for the security of sleeping under the end table. That is his crate. We also do not allow our 10 month old to enter into that area. Our dogs know that these are safe areas for them and that makes it much safer for everyone in our home.

If you are interested in crate training call me today. Our dogs love their crates and yours may too.

Risky Business

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A few weeks ago I had a call from a client who had a new baby in the home and wanted to nurture a safe, happy relationship among all family members both four leggers and human. So I sent them a Behavioral Questionnaire getting more information about their dogs and family and we set up a consultation. I specialize in setting families with small children and canines up for success so I figured this was another training session working with all family members to create confidence and comfort for everyone. However, once I received the questionnaire back I knew we were headed down a totally different path.

The clients had a very aggressive dog who had not only bitten before but had charged at the owners. Mom was terrified to have baby near the dog and rightfully so. I had a very long talk with mom and found out that she raised this dog from a puppy. Even as a puppy the dog had aggressive tendencies. She had worked with other trainers who used shock collars and other aversive methods. These methods which are the wrong methods to use with an aggressive dog, exacerbated the situation. She loved her dog very much but was fearful to have the dog around the baby and wanted me to work with the family to integrate the dog back into the household. I asked mom if there was anything that I could do that would ever make her trust this dog around her child? Mom said probably not. I told mom she had her answer.

I am a trainer, I have limitations and I will ALWAYS be honest with my clients. I am not a miracle worker, my services are not guaranteed because every animal is an individual, and I cannot fix every dog. I wish I could, but that is not reality. You should be leary of any trainer that tells you they can fix and guarantee their training. We can’t. All we can do is offer you all of our knowledge and expertise and promise the best service possible, the rest is up to you and the dog. In the above case I felt that this dog was an immediate threat to the newborn baby. I was very clear with mom that I would be unable to take this case because I would never trust this dog around the baby. I also, told mom that unfortunately this is a case where this dog needs to be euthanized. The behavior it was displaying was dangerous not only to her family but to others. It was only a matter of time before this dog attacked and you could not place a dog that was a ticking time bomb.

I cried when I got off from this call. I hate to see dogs put to sleep. But in some cases that is the answer. You have to think of the human end of things, and your children’s safety needs to come first.

Assistance Dogs vs Therapy Dogs

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I received a call recently from a couple that was requesting information regarding therapy dog certification so that they would be able to take their dog on trips with them which included going into hotels, restaurants, and airplanes.  There is often a lot of confusion between Assistance dogs (Service Dogs) vs Therapy Dogs and then add Hearing dogs and Guide dogs into the mix and it all gets even more confusing.  So that is the origin of this blog, to help clarify the difference between therapy dogs and assitance dogs.

As defined by Wikipedia – “An assistance dog is a dog trained to help a person with a disability in daily life. Many are trained by a specific organization, while others are trained by their handler (sometimes with the help of a professional trainer)”

These are the three types of assistance dogs:

Guide Dog – A guide dogs is trained to assist the blind or visually impaired.  According to Guide Dogs of the Desert  “for the blind, a guide dog means increased freedom, companionship and safety”.

Service Dog – ADI Website Definition – ” Service Dogs assist disabled people by retrieving objects that are out of their reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking for alert, finding another person, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance and many other individual tasks as needed by a disabled person.”

Hearing Dog or Signal Dogs – Hearing or Signal Dogs are trained to assist the deaf or hard of hearing.

As defined by Wikipedia – “Therapy Dog refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas.”

Therapy Dogs are not Assistance Dogs. Assistance dogs are used to assist humans and are allowed in most public areas. Assistance Dogs are legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. However, Therapy Dogs do not provide direct assistance to humans and are not mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act. An institution may invite or prohibit a therapy dog from entering their facilities and usually have rigorous requirements for therapy dogs who are allowed to enter.

So to sum up Guide, Service, and Hearing dogs are types of Assistance Dogs and are trained to help people with a disability in daily life. A Therapy dog provides affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, etc. Assistance Dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and can go most places the public can go. Therapy Dogs are not protected by any federal laws and must be invited in order to enter an institution.  So you can certify your dog as a therapy dog. A Therapy dog will not be allowed to go everywhere with you.  If you have any other questions please give me a call today.  I highly recommend Therapy Dog certification, it is the most rewarding volunteer work you will ever do.

Obesity: A Growing Problem

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When I was growing up my best pal was our Golden Retriever named Cal.  Cal was massive, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  We lost Cal at an early age because of a heart attack. Back then we just didn’t realize the impact his weight could have on him.  Today obesity is the most common nutritional disorder affecting pets.  Surveys now estimate that 25% of dogs and cats in the U.S. seen in veterinary clinics are obese.

Sutdies have proven that obese dogs and cats have a lower life expectancy and are more at risk for many diseases: arthritis, diabetes, joint injuries, heart disease, bladder cancer.  Cats are at high risk for hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).  Also, certain breeds are more predisposed to obesity these include Golden Retrievers, LAbrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Shelties, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels and Cairn Terriers.  Mix breed cats also tend to be more prone to it than purebreds.

So how can you keep your dog or cat healthy?  In many ways:

  • Ignore feeding instructions on pet-food labels.  Every dog is different and needs a different amount of food each day.  The best bet is to consult with your veterinarian to see how much you should be feeding your dog each day.  Cats lose weight faster on wet food, dry food is the equivalent of candy.  Switch them over gradually.  But please note not all cats will eat wetfood and cats will starve themselves which can lead to liver problems.  So try it gradually.
  • Weigh on a regular basis.  Extra pounds can sneak on unnoticed.  Most vet offices will allow weigh-ins at no cost to you.
  • If you have a dog walk, walk, walk.  Play fetch in the yard.  If you have a cat pull a string around the house.  I have a cat who fetches a ball and we play often.  However, please do not use a laser pointer.  Cats have a high prey drive and it is cruel to use a laser because they can never catch their target and this can increase their risk for developing OCD behaviors.  Remember your pets need exercise as much as you do.
  • Trade in those high fat snacks for praise.  This can mean belly rubs and playtime as opposed to a snausage.  Also, most dogs love carrots, they are crunchy.  So substitute carrots for that milkbone.  Ever look up the calories in a milkbone?  Please do you will be astonished.
  • Most importantly don’t try to take the weight off too fast. It took itme to pack it on and it will take time to get it off.  With diligence you will succeed and be on your way to a healthier pet.