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  • Writer's pictureThumbs Up Training

Deaf & Deafblind dog training: compulsive behaviors

We are all familiar with OCD in people and how life altering it can be for those affected, but did you know that dogs can suffer from something similar?

In our canine friends it’s referred to as Canine Compulsive Disorder, or CCD and it can present in many different ways.

I’ve been dealing with my fair share of these dogs over the last couple years and wanted to share a little break down to help those who are struggling with something similar.

For me, I’ve worked through shadow chasing and dogs that spin, both of which are extremely frustrating and overwhelming to the owner, and the dog! See video below for an example of said spinning!

What do you see when you look at that video? To some people, they would see a dog spinning like this and think the dog is enjoying it, but it’s quite the opposite here. This dog is in a state of distress.

I will say, the first and most important step of working through these behaviors is enlisting the help of a veterinary behaviorist. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle and these behaviors, especially when they become severe will need medication to assist in your behavior modification plan. These behaviors can occur for many different reasons, but most often happen because of anxiety +/- a lack mental stimulation/enrichment. Sometimes these things also occur with dogs who have spent a lot of time crated/penned, and shadow chasing can occur as a result of playing with a laser light or other light games. I am going to move forward with the example of spinning, but the same methods and ideas apply to shadow chasing and other compulsive behaviors.

The struggle with compulsive behaviors is that they very quickly become self-reinforcing for the dog. One time they spun and it felt a little better, so it does it again, and again, and then we end up with a dog who spins at the slightest environmental change or stress.

Once you have medication on board, your training and behavior modification should begin.

Moving forward with your dog, do everything in your power to prevent the behavior (spinning in this case) from occurring. Sometimes this might mean using a leash in the house and tethering your dog to you. If your dog does begin to spin, interrupt them and bring their attention to something else.

As far as your training plan, think about what the dog is doing (spinning) and what we want the dog to do moving forward.

There is no wrong answer for this part, but whatever your decide should be a behavior that is incompatible with spinning. This means, whatever you decide to teach the dog, should be something that the dog cannot do while practicing the compulsive behavior.

Some ideas: place/mat work, middle (standing between your legs), chin rest, leaning against your legs, or a hand target. The video below show the beginning of place/mat training.

You can see in this video, I am rewarding her very often to encourage her to stay where she is and earn the reward!

The next video shows another incompatible behavior in its early stages of being taught. This incompatible behavior is a chin rest. This can be taught to include you, or to be done on a surface. I wanted to include the use of a person so that she had one behavior that didn’t involve her handler, and one that does. It can be beneficial to have more than one incompatible behavior, but it is not necessary by any means.

In the beginning, you want to keep a very high reinforcement rate to encourage the dog to continue this new behavior, and help shape it into a rewarding behavior in the future. You can also provide your reinforcement in a way that encourages the dog to stay or continue with the behavior.

For example, when working on place, I’ll often put my treat right on to the surface so the dog maintains its position. For the chin rest, I will treat the dog low so that it’s head comes down and is touching the surface so I can easily mark and reward them again.

Now that you’ve begun work on your incompatible behavior, anytime your dog is about to spin, we want to have them do the new behavior and provide reinforcement for it! Working on reinforcing our incompatible behavior outside of potential spinning episodes is also equally important!

Our ultimate goal is to have this train of thought/behavior from our dog: A slight change in environment or a slight stressor occurs that would normally cause the dog to spin, but instead, the dog stops itself from spinning and does the new, incompatible behavior. This can and does work, but you have to be 100% committed to managing the dog and preventing it from practicing the compulsive behavior and building a very strong reinforcement history with the incompatible behavior.

After a few weeks of building up our mat work, Cien is now able to rest on her mat while the other dogs are up and moving around her. Previously, the other dogs moving and bumping into her would cause her to spin frantically.

This is a very simplified and watered down explanation of how to help with this problem. If you are living with a dog that is experiencing any sort of compulsive behavior, please reach out to a force free trainer in your area to begin working with your dog.

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