Stereotyped Behavior in Dogs

Does your dog chase its tail and bite it? Hunt non-existent flying insects or track shadows? Does he growl at himself? Does it attack your plate of food? Do you lick certain parts of your body obsessively? Perhaps their way of acting can be framed within the so-called stereotyped behavior, which can have organic or psychic causes. To prevent your pet from getting hurt, it is important that you urgently turn to the veterinarian to determine the best treatment.

Details on stereotyped behavior in dogs

Stereotypes or compulsive behaviors are repetitive behaviors that always maintain the same sequence and that have no apparent function or purpose, are presented out of context and are often exaggerated and sustained.

It is important to note that they manifest only in domestic animals, farm, zoo and hatcheries, kennels and homes for abandoned pets. Animals that are free do not develop stereotyped behaviors. All roads lead, then, to point out that domestication – and above all, confinement – causes such abnormal attitudes.

The repetition of these behaviors can cause more or less serious lesions in the dogs, either wounded in their tails by bites or acral dermatitis when they limb compulsively lick their limbs – always at the same point – even suffering from ulcerations.

According to the results of some studies, a racial predisposition to develop certain behaviors could be established. For example:

  • Pursue the tail: German Shepherd and Bull Terrier.
  • Compulsive limb licking: Labrador, Doberman, Akita, Maltese, Dalmatian, English Setter, Shar-Pei, Medium Schnauzer and Weimaraner.

Among the organic causes that can trigger this type of behavior, are:

  • Intracranial problems: Hydrocephalus, tumors, meningoencephalitis.
  • Compression of the cauda equine and fractures of the tail.
  • Skin conditions: dermatitis and food allergies or bites.
  • Other causes: viral diseases – such as distemper -, peripheral nerve lesions, eye problems, lead poisoning, and hepatic encephalopathy.

Stress and anxiety as a trigger for stereotypes

If the behavior has no physical origin, it is usually due to a state of anxiety or stress. In these cases, it is important to remember when it began to manifest itself: if it coincided with a move, the arrival of a baby or another pet at home, or if it appears in certain contexts, such as a heated discussion in the group familiar, or when aggressive body language is used with animals, with excessive gestures and screaming.

As a rule, repetitive attitudes are due to a state of frustration or conflict to which dogs are subjected for a while and that causes them an inability to know what is right and to get out of continuous stress situations. An example is to deprive dogs of the necessary stimuli to develop normal behaviors. If they are kept locked up and cannot display normal exploration activity, they are likely to begin developing stereotyped behaviors.

Although situations of conflict and frustration can be frequent, the problem does not lie there, but rather that they continue over time. That is when the adaptation mechanisms are broken and pathological situations arise. In addition to the appearance of different clinical problems, animals will have excessive energy wear that will cause them to burn out.

It is likely that the owners also reinforce these behaviors in dogs when they pay special attention at the time they perform them. Unintentionally, they are causing the dogs to repeat the action as a way to attract their masters’ interest in them. Another less conflicting cause, but not least, maybe boredom.

Therefore, if your dog is beginning to manifest any of these behaviors, in addition to taking it to the veterinarian, try to solve the situations that may be causing these attitudes. In addition, try a routine where physical and mental stimulation prevails through games, walks, toys. Cherish him a lot to calm his stress and look for ways to get him away from his compulsive behaviors. Never do it from punishment. You will only make the situation worse. Arm yourself with patience and give him lots of love and understanding.

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