Easy Ways To Stop Dog Obsessive And Fixated Behaviors

Published: 22nd January 2010
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Dogs develop fixations for many reasons, often as a result of a lack of exercise, or maybe he becomes obsessed with chasing a ball because he never gets a walk. One of first steps to helping a dog overcome an obsession is to increase his exercise. Obsessive and fixated behaviours can develop because of lack of leadership or just boredom.

A fixation is literally an addiction or obsession. Many dogs with one fixation usually have other fixations for example squirrels, cats, bikes, lorries, push-chairs, lights, Frisbees, shadows, roller blades, toys, food, water, chasing their tails or licking their bodies. It could be anything. Just because a dog likes to play fetch does not mean he has a fixation. A fixation goes beyond normal dog behavior and becomes an obsession that is not only extremely annoying, but a problem for the dog. For dogs, obsessions and fixations can become as seriously harmful as addictions are for humans. When we laugh at a dog that is fanatical over a bone, a ball or toy, a shaft of light, a game of fetch, or the neighbor's cat, it's like laughing at someone who is falling-down drunk. Sure, his behavior looks comical at the moment, but the truth is, he's truly got no physical or psychological control over himself. Someday, he may really hurt himself and those around him. That's exactly what obsessive behavior is to a dog - an addiction.

Identify the Obsession
A normal dog plays well with others - you, your kids, and other dogs. He can like one toy or game more than another, but it's still a game. An obsessive dog will take such games very seriously. His playing will have a whole different level of intensity to it. When a dog is becoming obsessive, his face and body language will visibly change. His body will stiffen. A glaze will form over his eyes - his pupils become fixated and you can't distract his gaze. It appears almost as if he's in a trance. He has entered a zone in which there is no lightheartedness, no relaxation, and no joy in play. Nothing can break his concentration from that object. Obsession is not a happy place to be. It is a zone in which an animal is blind to everything around him that should make him happy.

Some dogs will launch themselves against a fence trying to catch a cat. Others will dig and dig until their paws bleed. Some might chew their bodies obsessively until their skin is raw, oblivious to pain. It is a worry that he can put himself in danger by chasing his prey into a busy street, or over a ledge, hang himself by his collar when caught on a fence or chase another animal that then decides to fight rather than flee.

Prevent the Obsession
Monitor the intensity of your dog's play. Keep the level of play mild so he can still enjoy it. Your dog must understand that there are limits to any game - whether playing with a favorite toy, or stalking small prey in the backyard. Those limits are determined by you, not by him. You must end the playtime. Set rules for when to quit games. If you play for longer periods of time and don't set the end time for the game you will find that he will not quit unless you put the toy away from his sight or he will obsessively search for that toy. He will also do things he doesn't normally do, such as act aggressively or bark obsessively. For example, a dog fixated on food might bite his owner if he tries to take his bowl away.

Correct Obsession by Increasing Exercise
Make sure your dog is properly exercised and is not living with pent-up energy. Most of the time an obsession is something that the dog has discovered can work as an outlet for anxiety, frustration, or suppressed energy. Two 30 minute walks a day and incorporating training and play time will stimulate his mind to prevent his Obsessive and Fixated Behaviours.

Correct obsessive/possessive behavior
It is important that you know your dog, by learning to recognize the physical cues and energy signs when your dog is getting into an obsessive state, and stop this before it escalates to a high level, by correcting your dog immediately to bring him to the highest level of submission. Keep the toy or object of obsession next to him until he moves away from it voluntarily. Most people will snatch a toy away and say, "No!" By doing this, you can escalate the obsession into a highest level - making the object prey, and making you a potential target. Your dog may not want to bite a family member, but he is in a state now where he can't stop on his own.

Distraction
Trying to pull them away from their fixation only intensifies their energy to go after the object even more. Distract him with a healthy treat or favorite toy.

Remember, dogs don't rationalize.

An interesting fact is that the term addiction derives from the Latin word addicere, "to sentence". When we allow our dogs' habits to progress to the point of obsession and/or addiction, we are actually "sentencing" them to a very frustrated, unhappy existence.

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